Do Supplements Aid Fitness?

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Do Supplements Aid Fitness?

New NIH publications separate facts from hype

By Working Nurse
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Are you mystified by the array of dietary supplements purporting to help weight loss and promote physical fitness? The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) now offers useful fact sheets to help you cut through the hype.

Quick Reference

Collectively, we buy more than $7.5 billion of weight loss and fitness support supplements every year. The galaxy of products, claims and endorsements is dizzying — and so is trying to separate the truth from the talk. If your patients ask you about a particular supplement or if you’re curious yourself, the ODS fact sheets are a great place to start. Offered in different versions for consumers and healthcare professionals, the fact sheets are a quick reference guide to the active ingredients of different supplements, discussing their function, effectiveness and safety concerns.

For example, you might be wondering about the popular sports supplement creatine. The healthcare professional fact sheet notes that there is clinical evidence that creatine boosts energy and strength in “short-term, predominantly anaerobic activity,” but the supplement is “of little value for endurance sports” and promotes weight gain through water retention. 

Limited Evidence

A common theme is that many supplements have little actual research supporting their claims and the research that’s available is often of limited value. Clinical trials are frequently small and don’t address issues like how mixing two or more ingredients might affect their efficacy.

Another problem: Trials of sports supplements typically involve trained athletes who already have regular workout regimens. A supplement that helps professional bodybuilders might not be useful for couch potatoes looking to become more active. The ODS fact sheets don’t seek to answer such questions, but these references will tell you what is and isn’t known about specific ingredients so you and your patients can make more informed decisions.

You can find the fact sheets at

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