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How to Research Vitamins and Supplements

Updated on March 26, 2012

Before taking any vitamins and supplements that you are not familiar with, you should look it up on reliable unbiased sources. Vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the United States as drugs. They are categorized as food. Not every vitamin and supplement on the store shelve is safe. In fact, there are supplements on the store shelves that had FDA warnings issued about it.

Many supplements can negatively interact with other medications that you are taking. So do not take certain combinations. Some tell you not to take if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have other particular conditions. And some supplements are downright so dangerous that you should never take them at all.

Therefore one has to always do one's own research before using. You can not simply Google the name of the supplement. That would not be considered good research. Because you will end up getting some websites that are trying to sell these supplements. And they are likely to highlight all the positives and neglect to mention the negatives.

Some good sources of information are ...

Search Office of Dietary Supplements

First off, you should NOT take kava. But let's say that you want to research the supplement kava on the Office of Dietary Supplements website, you would type this into the Google search field...

site:ods.od.nih.gov kava

The "site:" search prefix tells Google to search for pages in the domain name ods.od.nih.gov

At the time of the writing the first page that comes up is a page titled "FDA issues consumer advisory for dietary supplements containing kava" linked here.

Kava is sometimes suggested as a sleep aid. It is an herb. It does not require a prescription and can be purchased on Amazon or in a store shelf. But if you did not do the research, you would not have found the FDA warning of possible liver damage.

Kava is in fact listed by Consumer Reports in 2010 as among the 12 supplements that you should avoid.

Search WebMD

Similarly, you can do learn about chaparral by searching WebMD by ...

site:webmd.com chaparral

WebMD will have tabs giving information on uses, dosing, drug interactions, and side effects. You always want to look at "side effects". And when you look there, you find that it says ...

"Chaparral is UNSAFE. There are several reports of serious poisoning, acute hepatitis, and kidney and liver damage, including kidney and liver failure." [WebMd]

Even if WebMd said a product is safe, you still want to look at the "drug interactions". For example, WebMd says "Ginkgo LEAF EXTRACT is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth for most people."

However, when you click to the "drug interactions" section, you see for the supplement Ginkgo Biloba ...

"Major interactions. Do not take this combination.. Ibuprofen interacts with Ginkgo. ... Warfarin (Coumadin) interacts with Ginkgo." [WebMD]

Ibuprofen doesn't go with Ginkgo Biloba. These are two very common bottles on store shelves. Some bottles may not even list this potentially dangerous interaction. Perhaps some doctors might not even be aware. This is why one must do own research on supplements.

Both these drugs decreases blood clotting. When used in combination, it increase risk of bleeding.

WebMD goes on to list half a dozen more "moderate interactions" for ginkgo biloba.

Search MedlinePlus

MedlinePlus is part of the National Institute of Health and is located at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/

There you can type in supplement names. But if the URL is too difficult to remember, just type in something like this into Google...

medlineplus calcium

More often than not, you will get information about calcium on MedlinePlus. There you will find all sorts of information including links to research journal articles, statistics, tests, and more.

Search Wikipedia

Because Wikipedia often provides an unbiased neutral view and it often will mention any controversy about a topic, you might also want to check Wikipedia.

For example, simply typing "wikipedia ubiquinol" into any search will most likely bring you right to the correct page in Wikipedia even without using the "site:" prefix.

Here on Wikipedia for example, you find that the ubiquinol supplement is the reduced form of Coenzyme Q10 and that ubiquinol has greater bioavailability than Co-Q10, which means that it can be better absorbed. Wikipedia even shows you the molecular structure (for those who are into bio chemistry). It goes on to tell about ubiquinol's role in energy synthesis and its positive effects on cardiovasular health.

The nice thing about Wikipedia is that it provides references of where it sourced it information from. So you can go to the actual NIH (National Institute of Health) study to read more. And you should look into the actual references, because Wikipedia is edited and written by just anyone.

Search YouTube

YouTube is the second most searched engine after Google. But like any search engine and like the web, there are good information and there are bad information. So you have to do your own filtering to determine if what you found is reliable.

If you put "Magnesium" in YouTube, you get the video on the right by Dr. Mark Hyman which explains why magnesium is the most power relaxation mineral and is a good one to take.

Next, you want to Google the doctor's name to determine how authoritative he or she is. And you might find that Dr. Hyman has a private practice, has been on the Dr. Oz show multiple times, written articles on HuffingtonPost, has given a talk at TEDMED, and a talk at Google.

Also he has written these books ...

So based on these secondary research that was found, one now has more confidence of the information provided by the doctor in the video.

One should always be wary of videos on YouTube that are attempting to sell you a product.

Search Books

Go to Google Books at http://books.google.com/

And search for, say, "omega-3". Depending on the book that came up, you can search within the books for passages telling more about omega-3. Sometime books can be more reliable than web articles since they are usually written by an reputable doctor, agreed to be published by a publisher, and proof-read by an editor.

A good book to search through would be the "Encyclopedia of dietary supplements".

Search Google Scholar

Go to http://scholar.google.com and type in, say, "alpha lipoic acid".

What you will get are research papers and academic articles detailing studies of the supplement and its efficacy. Sometime you get to see the full paper. Other times the paper needs to be purchased. But in most cases you get to see an abstract or brief conclusion of the paper regardless.

Search for Danger Phrases

Sure there will be lots of people saying good things about a lot of supplements. But you also want to find out what negative things people are saying. Make sure you try web searches with phrases like ...

"Dangers of Vitamin A"

"DHEA Warnings"

Also before believing anything you find on the web, cross reference searches so that you get two different reputable sources saying the same thing before believing it.

Search for drug interactions

Many medication and supplement combination are potentially dangerous when taken together.

For example, some people may be taking Ginkgo Biloba supplement for cognitive enhancement. And if they start taking aspirin on a regular basis, there could be a potentially dangerous risk of internal bleeding, since they both thin the blood.

Do a web search for "aspirin ginkgo biloba" and you would find that Drugs.com says to "generally avoid" this combination. Just because both are non-prescription over-the-counter drugs does not mean that they are safe to take in combination. This is just one example of many of these drug interactions.

For every vitamin, supplement, medication that you are taking, do a search of every pair combination as in the example above. But understand that if a search come up empty that does not necessarily mean it is a safe combination.

Note that dosage tolerances varies from individual to individual as well. Consult with a medical professional before taking any vitamins, supplements, or medication for your particular situation.

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