Over-the-Counter Health Supplements: Hype or Hope?

You probably wish you could turn back the clock to a mystical past in which you felt younger, stronger, and more vital. Whether you ever actually lived in that past is another story, but the folks responsible for marketing and distributing the growing array of over-the-counter health supplements sure are good at bringing it to life. If you’re considering buying one or more of the products you see on TV, online, or on the shelves at your local health-foods store, take a moment to consider whether these supplements are anything more than hyped-up sugar pills.

Defining Health Supplements

Also known as “dietary supplements,” most of these products come in pill form and are readily available on the shelves of your local supermarket or health food store at a variety of price points. Some, like “B-complex” and “immune booster” pills, are little more than cocktails of everyday vitamins that retail for a few dollars per bottle. Others are more complex, containing a variety of obscure herbal compounds, and are correspondingly more expensive.

In any event, the Food and Drug Administration defines the “dietary ingredients” in these supplements as anything that can be considered a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, or “extract.” As you can imagine, some perform their stated functions better than others.

Regulation and Fact-Checking

Since their active ingredients have the potential to cause serious harm when not taken properly, prescription medications are tightly regulated by the FDA. Not so with health supplements: the companies that market these products are not required to disclose the results of studies that test the efficacy of their constituent compounds. In other words, you’re taking the supplement at your own risk.

What Works, What Doesn’t

Most health supplement ingredients are not actively harmful; more often, it’s merely a question of whether or not they work. A quick rundown of some effective and not-so-effective supplements follows.

  • Joint health. The two most common joint health compounds are chondroitin and glucosamine, both of which occur naturally in human cartilage. Although initial claims that they actually help rebuild joint cartilage that wears down due to rheumatoid arthritis have been proven false, they do appear to reduce pain and inflammation in sufferers of the disease.
  • Heart health. These supplements contain everything from Vitamin E, garlic extract, and Omega-3 fish oils to green tea and red yeast rice. Only red yeast rice has been proven to reduce “bad” cholesterol, but that’s only because it mimics an active ingredient in popular prescription medications like Altoprev.
  • Memory. Most of the supplements that claim to improve cognitive function contain gingko biloba, a naturally-occurring plant extract. It has been conclusively proven to improve the memories of dementia patients and increase blood flow to the brain, but it carries the risk of side effects including bleeding, dizziness, and vomiting.

Even the most effective over-the-counter health supplements, like gingko biloba, have drawbacks that should not be taken lightly. Many more simply don’t do what they claim to. Before buying any non-prescription supplements, do your research, talk to other users, and make an informed decision on your own terms.

Tamera Mulkey is a freelance blogger, who writes about health topics. If you want to make a career in the health industry, Tamera recommends getting a master of science in nursing online.

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Stretching and Warming Up Before Sports and Exercise

Stretching before sports and exercise is one of those things which is sorely underestimated in terms of importance and which has often dire results when ignored.

Stretching before exercise is a highly important way to avoid injury and it achieves this by helping to increase the elasticity of the muscle fibers and ligaments.

How Stretching and Warming Up Prevent Injury

Basically when we exercise we are always going to cause some microtears in the muscles and this is a completely normal and expected result. This is in fact necessary in order for muscle growth to occur – and it is when the body repairs these tears using the amino acids that come from the protein in your diet that it manages to improve the thickness and the strength of those fibers.

Unfortunately though a sudden movement or too much strain can have a negative result, and this is to cause too many of the muscle fibers to tear to the point where it can result in severe pain and the muscle going out of action. This is in fact what we call a pulled muscle. Worse, if you should move too suddenly without the proper preparation this can also cause the ligaments and other connective tissue to tear resulting in what we know as a sprain which leaves the limb too weak and too uncoordinated to be used properly.

Stretching and warming up helps to avoid this problem significantly by gradually increasing the elasticity of the muscle fibers and the connective tissues allowing them to become more flexible and to move more easily without tearing. This is actually very important, and if you ignore this preparation then you will greatly increase your chances of pulling a muscle or causing other damage to the limbs.

Other Benefits

But that is not the only benefit of stretching and warming up. While many people think of it as purely a way to avoid injury, it is actually important to bear in mind that you can also use stretching and warming up in order to improve circulation to the muscles. This then will help to encourage your body to deliver your muscles with the all important nutrients and vitamins they need, as well as with ATP (energy) in order to improve function. In short by doing a brief warm up you can ensure that your muscles are more energetic and more ‘ready to go’ when you begin.

Further, stretching will also help to improve your flexibility and this will help you to improve your performance in a range of sports and exercises. In most sports games increasing your reach is very important and it’s highly useful that you can do this with stretching and increased flexibility. However at the same time you will find that you improve your training this way too – as by increasing flexibility you increase the range of motion through which you can train muscles resulting in a more complete growth in muscle size.

How to Warm Up and Stretch

Warming up is a simple matter of getting your blood flowing around your body without exerting yourself too much. A light jog here can work great, as can gently bouncing up and down or even doing some shadow boxing.

For stretching it’s possible to find lots of exercises online, but it’s important to ensure that these are all stretches that involve gradually increasing your reach – rather than ‘bobbing up and down’ into the movement as some people recommend which can actually result in injury and damage themselves. Stretching should be a slow and gradual process.

Meanwhile make sure that you stretch every muscle group and don’t leave any out which can further result in injury. That means you need to include twisting and back exercises – even if there is no use for the back in your chosen activity or sport.

Chad Moreau is very good at giving online hockey training programs on his blog. He is also involved with one of the sports club and likes to share his training skills with fellow members.

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