Athletic trainers often advocate treating a sports injury with nutritional supplements. They also sometimes recommend supplements to help prevent orthopedic problems. This topic is a controversial one, however, among some members of the medical community as well as the general public.
But what does the medical evidence say?
Many amateur athletes and weekend warriors question the true benefit of vitamins, minerals or other over-the-counter nutritional supplements.
So are supplements a waste of money? Might they actually be harmful, or are they a cure for sports injuries?
Some Supplements May Be Beneficial in Sports Injury
The empirical research on dietary supplements appears to demonstrate some proven benefits.
For example, one study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a division of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, indicates that supplementing with vitamin E may help to reduce muscle damage from strenuous exercise.
Other studies indicate that an inadequate intake of vitamin C may lead to an increased risk of sports or orthopedic injury.
As for treating a sports injury, studies have shown that certain dietary supplements may be beneficial.
According to one NCBI report, zinc plays a key role in healing, and a deficiency can interfere with recovery. Another study indicates that taking glucosamine sulfate may speed the healing of bone fractures.
Let the Buyer Beware
Many medical researchers believe that evidence is inconclusive on the true benefit of supplements, and that further research is necessary.
Many of the statistics used by natural product and supplement manufacturers have been taken from limited studies. Until the results of supplement use can be studied across large populations for long periods of time, it may be difficult to state with any degree of confidence how they affect the body or whether they can be used effectively to prevent or treat sports injuries.
In fact, many of these products may be ineffective or even dangerous.
The current statute regulating supplements, known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, does not require that supplements get Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before they are marketed and sold to the public.
Both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission are currently working to regulate vitamins, minerals and other supplements more closely. But with limited budgets, it is difficult to enforce regulations and perform safety tests.
Only about 1 percent of the 65,000 dietary supplements on the market today have been spot tested for safety, purity or the accuracy of stated ingredients.
Manufacturers also are not required by the FDA to prove that their products have an effect on health. Action to remove a supplement from the market is usually only taken after consumers have suffered adverse health effects.
Should You Take Dietary Supplements for Orthopedic Treatment?
Many supplements are regarded as safe and effective by the medical community.
The FDA recommends that before starting a supplement regimen, consumers check with their doctors. Some products can exert strong biological effects and may not be safe for people who suffer from certain health conditions.
In addition, dietary supplements can negatively or dangerously interact with some over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Before you begin taking a dietary supplement, see your doctor or schedule an appointment with the orthopedic medicine experts at Steward Health Care: Centers of Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. We are your local specialists in sports injury prevention and treatment.