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Separating Scams from Supplements

Finding your way through the health-food store

Boost your immune system! Re-Energize! The claims in the aisles of the health food store can get pretty lofty. All the bottles look the same, and they carry names that sound like comic book characters. But how do you know what all these pills can do for you? The bottom line is: You just don't know. That's why it's so important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

Here's a list of the five supplements our patients ask us about most. Use it to start the conversation with your health-care team about what's best for you.


What It Is

Why We Love It

Why We Hate It

Should You Take It?

Green Tea An unfermented tea produced by steaming fresh leaves at high temperatures. Extract also sold in pill form. The American Institute for Cancer Research has shown green tea contains antioxidants that may help repair cell damage, but it's unclear whether it protects against cancer. Green tea extract supplements have been linked to liver toxicity. It can interact with drugs, making blood thinners less effective, and with other supplements, like iron. Not in supplement form. However, drinking one or two cups of green tea per day is probably safe for most people and may fit into a cancer-fighting diet.
Mangosteen A tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia. Sold as a juice and in capsule form. We don't.No studies exist to show mangosteen is beneficial to humans. It may interfere with chemotherapy and radiation treatment. No. The FDA has issued a warning to distributors of mangosteen products citing concerns over unprovenclaims.
Coenzyme Q-10 A compound made naturally in the body and found in all human cells. Particularly high levels occur in the heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas. Researchers are interested in it for its antioxidant properties, which may fight cancer, but no studies are available yet. Trials have shown it may help prevent heart toxicity caused by Adriamycin chemotherapy. It may interfere with some chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It also can interact with blood thinners and medications for high blood pressure.Ask your doctor. You can also enrich your diets with small amounts of Coenzyme Q-10 by eating seafood and meat.
A dietary supplement usually obtained from shells of shrimp, lobster and crab. Some studies have shown it to be effective in managing osteoarthritis pain. It may interfere with chemotherapy and blood thinners. Not while you're in treatment.
Glyconutrients Glyconutrients are marketed under the brand name Ambrotose and refer to eight kinds of plant carbohydrates: galactose, glucose, arabinose, glucosamine, mannose, xylose, rhamnose and fucose. We don't. No evidence exists to support claims that the supplement restores the immune system. None of the glyconutrients have been shown to fight cancer. No. Mannatech, the company that markets Ambrotose, is listed by Quackwatch, a non-profit organization that monitors health-care fraud.

A good multi-vitamin may be appropriate, but make sure it never contains more than the recommended daily value, a standard set by the federal government. You'll find this column on the back of the bottle; the number should not exceed 100 percent.

To make sure you are buying the most pure dietary supplement and getting the best value for your money, check the supplement bottle for the U.S. Pharmacopeia Verified label. This means the supplement has been tested by the USP, which verifies that it does not contain harmful levels of contaminants and that it has been manufactured using good practices.

Go back to the Summer, 2007 issue of Thrive.

Learn more about supplements, nutrition and cancer

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Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2007