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Are supplements safe and do they work?

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The story of a man who ended up needing a liver transplant after taking green tea capsules has brought the topic of dietary supplements back into the news. What are some of the dangers of supplements and what are the health benefits?



When Jim McCants started taking green tea pills he had hoped he was giving his health a shot in the arm.

Instead, it appears the pills caused such serious damage to his liver that it required an urgent transplant.

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Experts point out that experiences like that of Mr McCants, are “extremely unusual”.

In the UK, supplements are subject to EU regulations over their safety and the health claims manufacturers make about the products.

Approved supplements bought from reputable businesses are almost always going to be safe, provided the manufacturer’s instructions are followed, doctors say.

But it is wrong to assume that food supplements do not sometimes have the potential to be harmful, says Dr Wayne Carter, from the University of Nottingham.

If you take supplements in quantities above recommended levels there are risks.

While in many cases excess levels of a supplement will be excreted, there is the potential for it to be toxic, particularly to the liver, which detoxifies the substances we consume.

“I think sometimes the idea that people take on board is ‘this is good for me, therefore if I take even more of it, it will be even better’,” Dr Carter says.

There is also a potential danger in indiscriminately taking many supplements at the same time, says Dr Carter.

Sometimes they can interact with one another – that is, one supplement may strengthen the effects of another – while in other cases they might contain one or more of the same nutrients, potentially leading to excess levels.

Some of us may be less able to metabolise certain substances effectively, which can also influence how they affect us.

“The caveat with taking a supplement is it could be safe in a broad population, but not in everyone,” Dr Carter adds.

But if these are some of the potential risks, what are the health benefits?

Supplements for child health

There are some supplements that are widely acknowledged by experts to be of benefit across the population.

The NHS recommends that women who are thinking of having a baby should have a folic acid supplement, as should any pregnant woman up to week 12 of her pregnancy, to prevent common birth defects in babies.

The government this week said it would consult on adding folic acid to flour, following repeated calls for the move from experts.

Vitamin D supplements are also recommended in babies, children between the ages of one and four, and people who are not often exposed to the sun.

This includes those who are frail or housebound or usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors.

The rest of the population is advised to consider taking a Vitamin D supplement.

A lack of vitamin D, which we mostly get from the sun, can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, a consultant paediatrician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, said: “A hundred years ago most children in London had rickets. That was basically abolished by the practice of giving children a vitamin supplement.”

An injection of vitamin K is also offered to babies within the first 24 hours of their life to prevent a rare but serious blood disorder.

‘Constantly evolving science’

Dr Jacobs said supplements are also important for people with either restricted diets or allergies.

For example, the NHS says vegans might need a vitamin B12 supplement, because it is only found naturally in foods from animal sources.

However, in many other supplements the evidence of there being a benefit for most people is less clear.

For example, the NHS says that most people do not need to take other vitamin supplements and can get all the vitamins and minerals they need, apart from vitamin D, from a balanced diet.

The benefits of fish oil pills, a supplement linked to a wide range of purported benefits, from improved heart health to boosted brain power, are also not conclusive.

A recent review of scientific trials found the evidence that fish oil pills protect the heart was flimsy at best.

Sam Jennings, a director of Berry Ottaway & Associates Ltd, a consultancy that works with supplement manufacturers, said nutrition was a “constantly evolving science, there is always new data emerging”.

She added: “What has become clear is that with supplements the benefits aren’t always going to be obvious in all people, because it’s going to depend on that individual’s own make-up as to whether they will receive benefit from having an extra nutrient of some kind.”

Dr Carter said his own advice would be for people to look at what kind of scientific evidence there was in support of a particular supplement before taking it and check whether there are any warnings.

Tips for taking supplements

  • Buy supplements from reputable suppliers – they should have gone through rigorous quality assurance

  • Check if they have been tested in clinical trials with a cohort of people that is similar to them (comparable age, sex)

  • Look for warnings – for example, people with heart conditions would want to check the supplement is not toxic for the heart

  • Be cautious about taking multiple supplements at the same time

  • Stick within recommended doses

Source: Dr Carter

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Health & Lifestyle

Effects of Hot baths on inflammation, glucose metabolism

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According to new research, a hot bath could have effects that extend way beyond mental relaxation. According to the authors, regular hot baths might reduce inflammation and improve metabolism.

Over recent years, hot baths, saunas, and other so-called passive heating therapies have received growing attention from scientists.

Scientists now believe they offer some potential benefits, including improved vascular function and sleep.

Because hot baths are low cost and unlikely to cause significant side effects, understanding any benefits that a hot bath might have could be a quick win for medical science.



Recently, researchers set out to understand whether hot bath immersion could have an impact on metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.

 Almost 20 years ago, a paper concluded that hot water immersion of individuals with type 2 diabetes enhanced insulin sensitivity. However, it is still unclear how this might occur.

In the most recent study, the researchers dug a little deeper into the mechanisms at work. They theorized that the influence of a hot bath over glucose metabolism might revolve around the inflammatory response.

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Inflammation and insulin resistance

There is some evidence that chronic, low-level inflammation increases insulin resistance. In other words, inflammation reduces a cell’s ability to respond to insulin, potentially contributing to the development of diabetes.

Conversely, exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity — meaning that the body has better control over glucose levels.

Although doctors often recommend exercise to reduce the risk of developing metabolic disorders, not everyone can exercise — perhaps due to health conditions or physical capacity. It is, therefore, essential to find alternative ways to improve insulin sensitivity for these people.

Exercise, as with other physical stressors, sparks a brief inflammatory response, followed by a more extended anti-inflammatory response. The researchers wanted to see if a different type of physical stressor — a hot bath — might have a similar effect on the immune system.

For this study, the researchers investigated the impact of a hot bath on overweight, mostly sedentary men. The findings were published recently in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

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Hot bath intervention

Each participant immersed themselves in a water bath set at 102°F (39°C) for 1 hour. Scientists took blood just before and after the bath, and then 2 hours later.

Also, the researchers charted the participants’ blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate every 15 minutes.

 Over the following 2 weeks, the participants had a further 10 hot water immersions.

The researchers found that a single hot water immersion caused a spike of interleukin — a marker of inflammation. Similarly, there was an increase in nitric oxide (NO) production.

The spike in NO is important because it causes blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure. NO also improves glucose intake into tissues, and scientists think it has anti-inflammatory properties.



As expected, the 2-week intervention saw a reduction in fasting blood sugar and inflammation. In the same way that exercise influences inflammation, the researchers saw an initial increase followed by a long-term decrease in inflammation.

The researchers also write that it “might have implications for improving metabolic health in populations unable to meet the current physical activity recommendations.”

It is important to note that the people who took part in the study did report some discomfort. This was either due to the length of time that they were required to stay in the bath or the high temperature. Future research might investigate whether shorter periods or lower temperatures might have similar benefits.

Of course, hot baths alone cannot treat metabolic disorders, but they may be a simple, cost-effective intervention that can run alongside other treatments.

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Health & Lifestyle

Experts recommend natural remedies to Diabetes.

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Medical practitioners have recommended some natural remedies that could curb the increasing rate of diabetes in the country.

The practitioners offered the remedies in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.

They spoke against the backdrop of this year’s World Diabetes Day, which is celebrated globally on November 14.



The practitioners said the awareness had become imperative because diabetes is a condition that impairs the body’s ability to process blood glucose.

“Diabetes usually is prevalent in middle aged and older adults but now becoming common in children. Adults are still at the highest risk than children,’’ Dr. Iorwuese Charles told NAN on phone.

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He said that diabetes has to do with an increase sugar level in the blood caused by an absolute deficiency of insulin that affects one out of three adults.

Charles, a medical practitioner at Police Hospital Ado, Ekiti State, said that diabetes is a group of diseases that usually ends up in too much amount of sugar in the blood.

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He advised families to always maintain good lifestyle habits to curb diabetes in their homes.

Charles said the symptoms in diabetes include increased frequency of urination, increase thirst, dry mouth, increase in eating with weight loss.

Other signs, he said, are: “Blurring of vision, tiredness, fatigue, mood swings, irritability, frequent urination at night and headaches.”

According to him, the symptoms of diabetes are endless with no permanent cure but with proper maintenance one could live a healthy life.

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