Are we suckers for supplements?

Many people buy supplements in an attempt to improve their health.   Every year, American spend billions of dollars a year on these products.  Unlike medication, supplements do not undergo FDA testing for safety or effectiveness of their ingredients.  Here are some popular supplements that have not been proven to be helpful:


Prevagen:  This is a supplement made from jellyfish, and is marketed to improve memory and to prevent dementia.  There are no high quality studies to date that demonstrate benefit from this supplement (the only study on Prevagen was done by an employee of the manufacturer).   Consumers have spent $165 million on this supplement over the last 10 years.


Gingko:  This ingredient comes from the Ginkgo tree.   Studies have not demonstrated any benefit for this supplement, and it can interfere with other prescription medicine. If eaten in large quantities, it can cause toxicity.  Americans have spent $107 million on gingko products since 2007.


St. John’s Wort:  This is a plant found all over the world.  It is used for a number of issues such as for mood and focus.  While there may be some benefit for mood,  medical studies have not demonstrated consistent effectiveness for depression.   Side effects include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and confusion.   Americans have spent $57 million on this supplement.


Glucosamine and Chondroitin:  These supplements are widely marketed for pain relief from osteoarthritis and joint pain.   Medical studies to date have not demonstrated any benefit from these supplements for these conditions.  Americans spend $171 million a year on glucosamine and chondroitin.


Probiotics:  These are microorganisms that are sold as capsules or put into food such as shakes or granola bars.  Studies to date show they may have some benefit for irritable bowel syndrome or antibiotic-related diarrhea, but there is no evidence that they improve overall health.  Americans currently spend $36 billion a year on these products.  Of note, there are foods that contain natural probiotics, such as yogurt, pickles, peas and sourdough bread.



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