If the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl this year, we’ll hear a number of reasons why. Maybe they practiced harder. Maybe they ran better plays. Or maybe quarterback Tom Brady’s nutrition was key.

Brady’s TB12 program emphasizes diet, exercise and a number of health claims best described as “unsubstantiated.”

Whether or not they’re trying to play professional football after age 40, more than 170 million Americans take dietary supplements.

But is it all a waste of money? Research on supplements deflates some of their lofty health claims. And these claims can be perilously opaque. As the University of California, Berkeley, notes:

• A label can say “helps improve your mood” but can’t say “reduces depression.”
• It can say “maintains a healthy circulatory system” but not “prevents cardiovascular disease.”
• It can say “maintains cholesterol in a healthy range” but not “lowers cholesterol.”
• It can say “supports the immune system” but not “helps prevent colds and flu.”

Sometimes, the labels aren’t even accurate. In 2013, a study found that many healing herb pills were filled with “powdered rice and weeds.”

That’s not to say it’s all junk, though. The frequency of new studies on various supplements and vitamins shows that there’s some interest in finding the truth. But … what do we know now, and how can it help us make smarter decisions about what we’re buying and taking?

Guests

  • Dr. Peter Lurie President of CSPI, the Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • Dr. Anne McTiernan Cancer prevention researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
  • Steve Mister President and CEO of CRN, the Council for Responsible Nutrition

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