In the first two articles in this series, we reviewed what a clinical trial is, and why clinical trial evidence showing that a supplement does what you want it to do in humans is the most important reason to choose a supplement.
Now, we’ll take you through a couple of examples to illustrate the best way to use this knowledge to choose the right supplements, and to avoid useless ones.
Example: Resveratrol: Not ready for prime time
Observational (but not interventional) clinical trials suggest that drinking red wine is associated with longer life. Several years ago, scientists found that resveratrol, a natural substance found in wine, could make mice live longer.
This study hit the worldwide news media, and soon, resveratrol was showing up in supplements everywhere, being touted as a fountain of youth, promising a longer, healthier life. Just about everyone wants to live longer and healthier, right?
What’s wrong with this picture?
- Only a small percentage of things that work in mice also work in humans
- Daily, mice were given the amount of resveratrol found in 20 gallons of wine
- The currently marketed supplements have only a tiny fraction of the resveratrol amounts used in the mouse study
Why would you even think of taking resveratrol?
- No evidence whatever that it extends life in humans
- Even if it did work, the dose is way too low
- As it is largely untested in humans, it could be toxic
- It’s expensive and has to be taken every day
Example: Psyllium husk: the right stuff
There are many patients who have slightly high cholesterol, and/or have constipation. The doctor suggests getting it down with diet and exercise. When that doesn’t work, what do you do? Wait until it gets so high you need drugs?
Psyllium seed is a good choice
- Multiple high-quality clinical studies show it lowers bad cholesterol and prevents constipation
- Provides dietary fiber that is sorely lacking in American diets
- Not expensive or toxic, and no side effects
Important points when turning to supplements:
- Specifically, what do you want from a supplement?
- Are there human, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies that show it can deliver exactly what you want, without side effects?
- Is there enough of the active ingredient in the supplement?
- Are you willing to take it regularly, as directed?
- If there are no supplements that meet all these criteria, then try something else to address your problem. Don’t compromise.
If you pay attention to these points, you’ll choose the right supplement. You’ll find then that supplements are not so confusing, since you can ignore about 98% of them as unproven, and maybe even unsafe.