4 Health Remedies You Might Be Wasting Money On

Some vitamins, supplements, and natural remedies can be costly to your budget and your health.
Pill Jars

There are plenty of products that promise a quick cure without a visit to the doctor. A promise like that may have you picking up a bottle of pills without thinking about whether they really work. And while there are certainly products that work, many vitamins, supplements, and remedies exist solely to put a hole in your pocketbook.

So stop wasting your money. These products — which you're likely to find on the shelves of your local grocery or drug store — probably won't do anything for your health.

America Spends Billions on Snake Oil

The biggest cash cows are dietary supplements, including vitamins, herbs, and homeopathic remedies. Americans spend a staggering $36 billion a year on dietary supplements. But while we happily shell out cash for the promise of health, many supplements have little or no effect.

In one study, only 21% of the supplements tested contained the ingredients listed on the packaging.

A product's packaging might make bold promises, but if you read the fine print you'll find this on the label: "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease." That said, even though products can't promise a cure, they can absolutely suggest one with lofty phrases like "supports bone health" or "helps immune function." It's easy to mistake such claims for guarantees.

Because supplements aren't actually drugs, the FDA doesn't review their effectiveness — or even their contents. In fact, when the New York State attorney general's office looked into herbal supplement sales in the state, it found that just 21% of the supplements tested contained the ingredients listed on the packaging.

Woman Holding Pill

Vitamins and Multivitamins

Taking vitamins seems like a quick fix for getting the nutrients you need, but most studies say they don't prevent disease or increase your lifespan. Worse, vitamins can have health risks: both Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Mayo Clinic advise caution with vitamins.

If you don't eat well (by the way, we have tips on how to eat healthy for cheap), follow a limited diet (like vegetarian or vegan), or have a medical condition that prevents you from eating (or your body from absorbing) certain nutrients, a vitamin can help you fill in those nutritional gaps. The best way to find out if you have nutritional needs is to consult a medical professional. A doctor will be able to tell you exactly what kinds of vitamins you need, so your body is getting enough — but not too much — of every vitamin and mineral.

SEE ALSO: How to Eat Healthy on a Budget in 2020

If you feel you absolutely need to take a multivitamin, look for one that doesn't overload you with nutrients — 100% of the FDA recommended amount is usually plenty. Check the label and (unless your doctor advises otherwise) skip vitamins that go well over your daily requirements. Don't be fooled by fancy packaging or over-the-top health claims, either: such vitamins may well contain the same ingredients as more modestly packaged (and cheaper) vitamins.

And skip the gummy vitamins. These candy-like vitamins don't do anything a normal vitamin doesn't; they simply cost more and are loaded with sugar.

Powder medicine

Immune System Boosters

Vitamin C and zinc are often touted as immune system boosters that can help cure the common cold. But if your doctor can't cure your cold, can an over-the-counter option really help?

You'll typically find these vitamins in products like Airborne and Emergen-C, both of which claim to "help support the immune system." But do these products actually work? Airborne handed over $30 million to settle a lawsuit about misleading advertising claims. According to the lawsuit, there was no evidence that Airborne could "prevent or reduce the risk of colds, sickness or infection; protect against or help fight germs; reduce the severity or duration of a cold; and protect against colds, sickness or infection in crowded places such as airplanes, offices or schools." Still, Airborne remains on store shelves, next to tons of similar products. And while there haven't been any studies on these specific remedies, a lot of research has gone into their ingredients.

Airborne handed over $30 million to settle a lawsuit about misleading advertising claims.

The primary cold-fighting ingredient in most of these supplements is vitamin C. But the reality doesn't live up to the hype: at best, vitamin C is "moderately beneficial." On top of that moderate benefit, doses above 2,000 mg per day can cause nausea and abdominal pain — and most "immune boosting" supplements contain 1,000 mg per dose.

When it comes to zinc, some studies say it can reduce the duration of colds, but there hasn't been enough research for doctors to give it their seal of approval. Zinc can also have unpleasant side effects that could be worse than your cold. Not only can it cause nausea and stomach cramps, but it can reduce the effectiveness of certain prescription medications (including antibiotics and treatments for rheumatoid arthritis). Zinc nasal sprays can even permanently damage your sense of smell — though they're harder to find since the FDA started pulling them from store shelves.

If you're desperate to get rid of your cold, these so-called immune boosters won't do harm in low doses (save the zinc nasal sprays), but don't overdo it — and ditch the pricier immune system boosting supplements. A glass of orange juice, bowl of fortified cereal, or a simple multivitamin could offer the same benefits.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal Remedies

Some herbs can have health benefits, but they haven't been as well researched as prescription and over-the-counter medications — which means doctors don't know enough about them to recommend them. That means you're on your own to find out whether a particular supplement can actually meet the claims on the bottle. Still, what harm could these plants do?

It turns out herbs can do quite a lot of harm, and to more than just your pocketbook. While you may see these pills labeled as "natural" remedies, natural doesn't mean "safe." Many so-called miracle cures have side effects or interactions with prescription medications — if they actually include the ingredients on the label, that is.

Herbal remedies can do quite a lot of harm; some have even been banned by the FDA for causing health problems.

For example, let's consider one popular herbal remedy: St. John's wort. Commonly advertised to help with depression, the herb has a long list of side effects and drug interactions. It can make many medications — including antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs, birth control pills, and anticonvulsants — less effective, causing potentially dangerous health problems. The Mayo Clinic says that while herbal supplements marketed to treat depression show promise, you should take them with caution.

Some herbal remedies have even been banned by the FDA for causing health problems. The herb ephedra, marketed to help with weight loss and improve energy, can also lead to heart problems — including heart attack, stroke, seizure and death.

These supplements can be pricey, and the potential benefits may not outweigh the risks. If you really want to try a herbal supplement, be careful. Do some research on your own and talk to your doctor to be sure there aren't any health risks. Then, just like you would with any medication, watch out for side effects or allergic reactions — and stop taking the supplement and contact your doctor immediately if any occur.

Herbal Pills

Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies are the most questionable cures on this list, and yet homeopathy is a billion dollar industry. As with herbs, homeopathy is often touted as a "natural" cure. You may take this to mean these products are safe, but, again, that's not always the case.

Homeopathic remedies include harmful substances in very low doses with the theory that "like cures like." And while those low doses shouldn't be enough to cause harm, sometimes they do. Homeopathy has even led to death, as with homeopathic teething products for babies. These products contained belladonna, which you may be more familiar with under the name "deadly nightshade."

SEE ALSO: 7 Ways You Can Prepare for Unexpected Medical Expenses

If you think it sounds ridiculous to call anything with "deadly nightshade" on the ingredient list a health cure, scientists agrees with you. The National Institutes of Health notes that "several key concepts of homeopathy are inconsistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics." And if that wasn't enough to discourage you from homeopathy, the NIH adds, "there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition."

Our advice? Skip homeopathy entirely.

Readers, how do you stay healthy during cold and flu season? Do you think there's any harm in taking a couple vitamins every day? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Elizabeth Harper
Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


Leave a comment!

or Register
Elizabeth's comments appear to be basically derived from FDA and M
DA attack pieces on the supplement industry. So, if all is true why does pharma companies own large areas of the supplement field? It's easy to say something doesn't work because someone else says so but where's all the research? Let it be said, I feel safer with my health foods store around than being limited to Rx prices. Question? What's Elizabeth's creds for nutrition?
Try looking up homeopathic dilutions. If you read the label and see something with 24X (which is typical), that means that there is only a 60% chance of having a SINGLE MOLECULE of that substance in a 12 gram sample.

A pill or crème will have milligrams of whatever substance and thus literally does not even contain the stuff on the label.

They "work" because of the inactive ingredients. A homeopathic moisturizing crème will work just as well as a regular crème for example.

The author is not taking credit for all this advice. They are presenting research and results from others. Maybe you noticed all the many many underlined links which take you to the original source?
Hey, snaimpally, vaccines and homeopathy ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WORK THE SAME WAY! Go take a science class, for Pete's sake! You're putting other people's health at risk by promoting such utterly false ideas.
After reading this article I have only one question, what credentials the author has to influence my decisions on lifestyle and healthcare?
michael bonebright (DealNews)
As we note in the article, when an item isn't regulated by the FDA you should always do your own research. In some cases, there's a wealth of peer-reviewed studies on a product, but current laws prevent the FDA from issuing guidance on that product. Regardless, we strongly urge you to treat any health remedy as you would any other medication -- seek the advice of your doctor first.
Go dealnews and thanks for the article! Not surprised that people push back on the premise of the article. I'd be lying if I said that I never use supplements -- but I know that many can do more harm than good. And the lack of FDA oversight is in fact very concerning... ... you really don't know what you're getting.
People need to learn to do their own research- For example-
Here SAM-e is a supplement however in most of the European countries it is a prescription and has been for a while. Our FDA is not the only one out there. look at other countries you trust such as Britain, Germany, France- see if they have approved it to be used in a hospital setting, you would be surprised
Unfortunately, both the FDA, the pharmaceutical companies, and most of the medical profession try to carefully avoid the advertising the truth. Which is that medical error and side effects of prescription medications are the THIRD leading cause of death in the US. But they DO warn of us the dreadful consequences of taking supplements. Yes, there is absolutely a lot of "snake oil" being sold. I suggest being on the lookout for it, especially from sources where you might least expect it.
Excellent article!! So nice to see in the face of an onslaught of pseudoscience and snake oil, an honest voice pushing back with facts.
Everything in this article is true. You can check the sources.
The worst article I've ever seen from dealnews. Tough when a website you like so much does something like this... huge reduction in respect.
Lots of disinformation here in this article. Many homeopathic remedies work wonders. Yes there are some that are absolute BS but many have helped or even cured people where conventional pharmaceuticals have failed them.
Excellent article! The FDA should test and regulate to protect consumers, but have been successfully dissuaded so far. The placebo effect is real, and lots of companies are making money hand over fist on mere promises. I guess a sucker is born every minute....
This article is absolutely ridiculous and false information!!! It talks about side affects of supplements, but they are far less than side effects from medication. Many people have had life changing results from different natural treatments that they turned to after mainstream medicine failed them.
Very misleading article. Homeopathy is still used because it works. Homeopathy works in a manner similar to an inoculation - a minute portion of a substance that causes a certain condition in healthy people is introduced into people who exhibit that symptom. For example, Allium Cepa is derived from onion. When a healthy person cuts open an onion, they experience water eyes and a runny nose. Allium Cepa can be taken to reduce the symptoms from a cold or allergies that cause someone to have water eyes and a runny nose.