Supplements; Costly and Not Necessarily Helpful

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Supplements are helpful for some older adults who can’t eat all the nutrients they need – nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Recently, however, some new kinds of supplements have been appearing in stores even though they haven’t been shown to improve health and their safety remains unproven.

Pills of supplements
A balanced diet is the best way for most older exercisers to get the nutrients they need. But some people in the marketing industry are doing a good job of convincing older people that they need expensive nutritional supplements, some of which haven’t been shown to be helpful or safe and some of which most older people may not even need. Some of these claims give older adults the impression that certain supplements can restore youthful energy and strength.

For example, one persuasive clerk at a popular health-food store recently told an older shopper interested in exercise that she should buy certain supplements that cost about $70 a month to increase her energy and her ability to build muscles. The supplements included a protein powder and a vitamin-mineral pill containing the same ingredients as generic-brand vitamins, available at a fraction of the cost at drug stores, and some other substances not proven to build muscles or energy in older people.

This 75-year-old shopper had eaten an excellent diet based on the USDA food pyramid for years, and really didn’t need these supplements.

No one likes to spend money needlessly, but for older adults on a limited income – Social Security, for example — unnecessary expenditures can deprive them of things they really do need (the money to buy whole foods rich in nutrients, for example). What’s more, too much protein puts extra demands on the kidneys and can lower calcium levels. Although protein, vitamin, and mineral supplements are helpful to older people who truly need them, excessive doses can have harmful side effects.

A clerk at another health-food store told the same shopper that, if she planned to start exercising, she should buy a powder made of protein, vitamins, and minerals that cost $19 for a 10-serving bottle. Taken once a day, that comes out to about $60 a month. One of the reasons she needed this supplement, the clerk told her, was that it contained the mineral potassium, and “older people require more of that.”

Taken as directed on the label, the supplement wouldn’t have harmed our intrepid shopper. But the clerk’s scientific sounding advice might have. Overdoses of potassium can cause an irregular heart beat and even death.

For most older adults, standard FDA approved multivitamin-mineral supplements that contain potassium are just fine if taken as directed. It would be virtually impossible for most people to overdose on potassium by eating foods that contain this essential mineral naturally. Some people really do need potassium supplements, as prescribed by a doctor, only, for very specific medical conditions and in very specific, carefully monitored amounts. The point we are making here is that anyone can make scientific sounding claims, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that those claims are true or safe. This caution is especially important for people who are on diets with special restrictions – people with kidney disease, congestive heart failure, or diabetes, for example.

Buyer, beware – and check with your doctor before spending your hard-earned money on supplements that promise to restore youthful energy and strength.
Photo credit : shouldbecleaning

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