The Best Supplements for Your Health

Heart Health
Brain Health
Bone and Joint Health
Mood Health
What to Look for in a Multivitamin
Supplement Do's and Don'ts

To hear some people tell it, dietary supplements are the be all and end all to what ails you, whether it's allergies or aging itself. Listen to others, and you'll hear that supplements -- the whole lot of 'em -- are an unproven, even dangerous sham. Neither extreme is correct, of course, and like any vast, varied group, the "supplements" category is too broad for generalizations. But even for those who rely on natural medicine, sorting hype from hyperskepticism can be difficult.

Still, there's a lot that medical experts do know. For starters, supplements are meant to supplement. No pill or potion can replace a healthy diet. An orange, for instance, provides not only vitamin C but also beta-carotene, vitamin A, calcium, and fiber; a vitamin C pill contains just vitamin C. That said, "the reality is that most of us aren't eating 9 to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables each day," says Dr. Brent Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic and editor of "The Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine." It makes sense, then, to fill in the nutritional gaps with a supplement -- in this case, the multivitamin, which a recent Harvard Medical School report in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommends to cover nutritional shortfalls.

Yet supplements can do more than pinch-hit. "There are potential dangers, yet there's also excellent research to show that certain nutrients can be helpful in treating and preventing disease," says Dr. David Rakel, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health. The place to sort it all out is not the vitamin aisle, where a dizzying array of products promises everything from better sleep to a smarter brain. Better to arm yourself with the facts beforehand. To that end, we've asked medical experts to winnow down the most promising (and least risky) supplements for six top health concerns: heart health, brain heath, bone health, joint health, digestion, and mood. You won't need every supplement, but if you have certain conditions or are at high risk of developing them, use the relevant entries as a starting point for discussions with your health-care provider. (Be sure to do this before changing your regimen.)

Text by Jennifer Pirtle

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