I was lucky enough to graduate with two degrees in the biological sciences. While my job prospects haven't panned out as I’d hoped, I did gain one critical skill that’s helped me save a ton of money over the years: discerning fact from fiction. And many health supplements and alternative medicine options are pure fiction. Sorry to puncture your balloon, but they include some of your favorites:
- Vitamin C
1. Vitamin C
Who hasn’t heard the advice from well-meaning friends and relatives to get more vitamin C during the winter?
Unless you’re a scurvy-prone pirate subsisting on a diet of hardtack and salt beef, you can skip this unnecessary supplement. Except in rare cases, if you eat a varied diet full of healthy items like lean meats, fresh vegetables, and whole grains, you’re going to get enough dietary vitamins and minerals of all kinds to keep you healthy, including vitamin C.
But doesn’t taking high daily doses of vitamin C help prevent or shorten colds? As it turns out, that’s another health care myth.
In a series of meta-analyses on vitamin C and cold frequency and duration, the authors found that high daily doses of vitamin C had no effect on cold frequency unless you were an elite athlete. Vitamin C did, in fact, shorten cold duration by about eight percent in adults, but over the course of a weeklong cold, this translates to a puny 13 hours.
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Is it worth it? For me, no. A box of 90 vitamin C packets sells for about $40 on Amazon, and because vitamin C is water-soluble, anything extra beyond what your body can use (virtually all of the packet) literally gets flushed down the toilet in your urine.
It turns out that Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory was right when he said, “What you have there are the ingredients for very expensive urine.”
2. The Great Detox Scam
The health care industry has gone bonkers recently with the hype around “toxins” and “detoxification.” The truth is that toxins aren’t a black-and-white entity. Literally anything can be a toxin in large enough doses — even purified water and air!
Because “toxin” isn’t a well-defined term, it’s easy to hoodwink unsuspecting consumers into buying things they don’t really need, like detox drinks and diets. These products make big claims to cleanse and purify your body, but if you look closely, you’ll never see any specific claims as to which toxins or how much they’ll remove because the marketers themselves have no data on the subject, and thus no idea what effect their products will have.
The world’s best toxin removal system is your liver working happily with your kidneys. To keep it healthy, all you need to do is basically stay hydrated, eat a healthy and varied diet (are you seeing a trend here?), and avoid excess alcohol intake.
There are some toxins, such as lead or mercury, that tend to accumulate in your body tissues and stay out of your bloodstream. To get rid of those, you’ll need special treatment provided by your doctor. No amount of herbal honey-ginger tea is going to help you get rid of those toxins!
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3. Homeopathy: Not So Hot Anymore
The idea behind homeopathy is that you can treat someone’s disease by giving them some other substance that produces the same symptoms as the disease, but in doses so small that, mathematically speaking, often not a single molecule of the original substance makes it into the final product.
Yeah. I’m gonna let you chew on that one for a second.
In fact, one leading homeopathic flu remedy sells for about $20 on Amazon. The active ingredients? Duck heart and liver extract.
Furthermore, these products simply don’t work any better than the placebos, as showed by a comprehensive meta-analysis examining over 14,000 patients.
Within the past few months, the United States' Federal Trade Commission has even gone so far as to change its policy on homeopathic products: They will no longer be allowed to be sold in the U.S. unless they carry visible claims that these remedies are not supported with scientific evidence and not accepted by modern doctors.
Bottom Line: Proven Alternative Medicine Is Just Medicine
Comedian and skeptic Tim Minchin couldn’t have said it better: “Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine!”
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When purchasing supplements, it's important to do your due diligence. This includes researching a given product, as well as ensuring that you buy it from a reputable company. For example, if you're looking for help with weight control, you may be interested in using protein supplements to help augment your diet.
However, you want to make sure you visit a trusted company like GNC that has been around for a while, and that has a reputation for good results. Doing your research and using proper resources will save you money and heartache in your supplement use.