** Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor, however I have a degree in food and nutrition sciences so I did learn about supplements throughout undergrad. I recommend consulting with your health care professional before taking any supplements. **

Whether you’re a health and wellness nut, an avid Instagrammer or you’re just up to date on your favorite blogs, you’ve probably heard people talk about supplements. The problem is, not many people actually know what’s in them, what they do or why they should or shouldn’t be taking them.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration [FDA] is responsible for regulating supplements. So, to start, you might be wondering what supplements are. Supplements are anything that contains a “dietary ingredient,” which can be anything from micronutrients [vitamins and minerals], amino acids, herbs or botanicals. People generally take supplements because they feel they may not be consuming an efficient amount of vitamins and minerals from their diet. With a balanced diet full of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, consuming all the essential nutrients should be a breeze. The problem is, many people consuming the Standard American Diet [SAD] do not even consume the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which is where the best sources of vitamins and minerals come from.

An issue with supplements is how little regulation the FDA actually instills. There are no laws that requires dietary supplements to be proven safe before they are sold. THAT should be enough for people to be hesitant about taking supplements. Additionally, the manufacturer / seller does not have to prove the FDA’s claims to be accurate or true before the product is sold.  What you put into your body is so important, and with little regulation on supplements, it may be best to stay away from supplements unless absolutely necessary because we don’t actually know what is in that supplement that we’re putting into our body.

A supplement some may be familiar with, but may not truly realize what it is, is Herbalife. Herbalife is a company that markets nutritional and weight-loss supplements. This product can be found at a lot of pop-up store fronts in college towns with the word ‘nutrition’ in its name. A few examples being ‘Odyssey Nutrition’ in Athens, Ohio or ‘Greens Goodness Nutrition’ in Greene, Ohio — just outside of Akron, Ohio. Recently, Herbalife was reported to be associated with a case of fatal acute liver failure in a young woman in the Asia-Pacific region. Additionally, Herbalife products have been analyzed to find traces of heavy metals, toxic compounds, traces of psychotropic drugs and highly pathogenic bacteria. While this is just one supplement company, it is not the only one to have evidence against it. Liver failure was also found in a patient after using Hydroxycut, another supplement company. Without regulation of the FDA, there’s no way to stop companies like this from putting these products on the market. It’s best to do plenty of research before taking supplement and as always, consulting with a healthcare professional before taking any new supplements. Even the supplements that people may see as harmless are not regulated by the FDA, so do we really know what we’re taking? This goes for supplements like iron, vitamins [A, B, C, D, E, etc.], multivitamins, melatonin, protein powders, branched chain amino acids [BCAAs], pre-workout, fish oil and so on.

While supplements can seem like they’re helping you achieve fitness or lifestyle goals, they could be doing more harm than good. Vitamins and minerals should be coming from food first, then if you’re finding you’re still deficient in an area after proper blood work is done, consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian and see what you can do from there. Your body is important, and so is what you put into it!

For more information about research supporting diseased states after consuming Herbalife supplements, see below:

1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21173910?dopt=AbstractPlus

2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19157382?dopt=AbstractPlus

3] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11606-014-3153-x

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