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5 Things Supplements Can’t Do

Vitamins, minerals and supplements can offer many health benefits, but it's important to note their limits—and to question some of the more extravagant claims in their marketing. If you're counting on supplements to achieve these five results, think again.

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Weight loss supplements don't workPhoto: Shutterstock

Supplements are not weight loss miracles

Supplements promoting weight loss may be popular, but it’s questionable whether any of them can help you shed those extra kilos without the right food choices and regular exercise. Products that claim to “burn fat” won’t burn enough on their own for significant weight loss.

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Supplements aren’t meal replacements

As the word itself suggests, “supplements” are not meant to replace the nutrients available from foods. They can’t counteract a high intake of saturated fat (linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer) and they can’t replace nutrients found in foods you ignore. Also, although scientists have extracted a number of disease-fighting phytochemical compounds from fruits, vegetables and other foods, there may be many others that are yet undiscovered—ones you can get only from foods. In addition, some of the known compounds may work only in combination with other natural chemicals found in various foods, rather than as the single isolated ingredients available in supplement form.

Don’t miss our ultimate guide to healthy grocery shopping.

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Supplements aren’t magic lifestyle bullets

Supplements won’t compensate for habits known to contribute to ill health, such as smoking or a lack of exercise. (Here are the signs you need to move more.) Optimal health requires a wholesome lifestyle—particularly if, as people get older, they are intent on aging well.

Find out 14 foods everyone over 50 should be eating.

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Supplements are not performance boosters

Claims of improving performance, whether physical or mental, are also very difficult to back up-and any “enhancement” will be a limited one at best in a healthy person. Although a supplement may boost mental functioning in someone experiencing mild-to-severe memory loss, it may have a negligible effect on the memory or concentration of most adults. Likewise, a supplement that combats fatigue isn’t going to turn the average jogger into an endurance athlete. Nor is it clear that “aphrodisiac” supplements favoured by many men today are effective for enhancing sexual performance if you aren’t suffering from some form of sexual dysfunction.

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Supplements are not cure-alls

To date, no supplements have been found to cure any serious diseases—including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. The right supplement, however, may help relieve symptoms associated with chronic conditions, such as pain or inflammation. Some supplements are also good for treating minor wounds and burns and, of course, they may help your body to avoid developing serious diseases in the first place.

The important thing to remember is that, before using supplements for any ailment, consult a health professional for treatment, whether it be a doctor, pharmacist or alternative health-care practitioner.

Next, find out if your supplements are doing more harm than good.