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The 5 Most Popular Supplements

By Lisa Moran, Prevention
Fri, Feb 04, 2011

What supplements are inside your medicine cabinet? The most popular products today are fish oil, multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and CoQ10, according to a new survey of over 6,000 serious supplement users from ConsumerLab.com, which conducts independent evaluations of health and nutrition products. The most surprising result? “We’ve been able to see how the popularity of vitamin D has shot up over the past two years,” says Tod Cooperman, M.D., president of ConsumerLab.com. “More and more information has been coming out about the benefits of vitamin D beyond bone health.” Read on to find out whether you should be getting a daily dose of these popular pills too.

A whopping 76% of those surveyed regularly take a fish oil supplement containing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, which is why research has linked them to health benefits related to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and even cancer risk, to name a few. “There’s been so much good evidence about the benefits of these omega-3 fatty acids,” says Cooperman. “There’s very little downside to taking a fish oil supplement.”

Is it right for you? There is no official daily recommendation from the FDA or the Institute of Medicine for a daily amount of these particular fatty acids. Ask your doctor if you might benefit from a fish oil supplement.

While many people still take a multivitamin as a daily insurance policy against potential diet deficiencies, their use has declined in recent years from 74% in 2008 to 70% in 2010, according to the ConsumerLab.com survey. “Multivitamins have been notching down a bit,” says Cooperman. “It’s often better to focus in on the specific supplements that you really need, rather than take a [scattered] shotgun approach.”

Is it right for you? There’s generally no harm in taking a multivitamin, though if you eat a varied diet, you may not need one. A note of caution: ConsumerLab.com has found in the past that not all multivitamin labels list the most up-to-date daily value information for certain nutrients. Look up the IOM’s most recent nutrient recommendations and compare the amounts recommended for your age and gender to what’s in your multi, says Cooperman.

Over half (56%) of those surveyed in ConsumerLab.com’s report take vitamin D regularly (up from 48% in 2009 and 37% in 2008), with more women than men popping this supplement. Vitamin’s D’s surge in popularity is due to the increasing number of studies pointing to its health benefits: Not only is it essential in helping your body absorb calcium, but it may also ward off breast, colorectal, ovarian, and other cancers. Research also suggests that it may play a role in regulating immunity, relieving backaches, lowering diabetes risk, and even fighting depression.

Is it right for you? The IOM recommends that adults 70 and younger get 600 IU of vitamin D daily. Many Americans get this amount from food and sunlight (your body can make the vitamin with 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure.) While certain people (who may be low in D, due to side effects of medications, such as acid reducers that inhibit vitamin absorption) may require higher doses, the IOM stressed the dangers of doses that are too high (above 4000 IU). If you take a multivitamin, factor in the amount of vitamin D you may already be getting.

Calcium supplementation is on the rise, used by over half (55%) of the survey respondents. While calcium is known for building strong bones and reducing the risk of osteoporosis (which is likely why more women than men reported taking this supplement), it may also lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and help keep blood pressure in check. Other research has suggested it can soothe PMS symptoms and rev weight loss, and it may help prevent colon cancer.

Is it right for you? It can be difficult to get all the calcium you need from food sources such as low-fat dairy and leafy greens, and multivitamins often provide only 25 to 45% of the daily recommended amount. In particular, many women fall short of the recommended levels of calcium—1,000 mg a day for women 50 and younger, and 1,200 mg a day for those 51 and over. What’s more, certain medications, including antibiotics and antacids, can deplete your calcium levels. (It’s important to note, however, that calcium can interfere with other mineral absorption, such as iron, so if you take both supplements, be sure to take them at different times.) If you have kidney disease, heart problems, or gastrointestinal issues such as chronic constipation, talk to your doctor, since additional calcium may not be recommended for you.

This antioxidant, known as CoQ10 or ubiquinone, is taken by over half (55%) of respondents—and was more likely to be used by men than women. It’s made naturally in the body (in your heart, liver, pancreas, and kidneys), and experts believe the supplement works by improving energy production in cells, especially those that keep your heart functioning. In fact, CoQ10 has been proven to help treat heart conditions such as congestive heart failure and may be useful in treating hypertension.

Is it right for you? Like many other antioxidants, CoQ10 is found in certain foods, but certain drugs, such as statins (taken to lower cholesterol), may deplete your body’s natural stores. If you’re on statins, it’s worth asking your doctor if taking a supplement of 60 to 100 mg up to 3 times a day might be right for you. Since CoQ10 can interact with certain medications (it can blunt the effects of blood-thinning drugs, for example), talk to your doctor before taking it.

Please seek the advice of a qualified health care practitioner before using any herbs, supplements or other natural approaches to health.

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