Feeling tired? Want to lose weight? How about using food supplements to make you feel better and slim down? There are certainly lots of products available online and without prescription at health food stores and even your local pharmacy. But how safe are food supplements? Prescription drugs need to pass very strict testing to demonstrate that they do not cause harm and that they do what the manufacturer says they do. Food supplements do not need to pass the same test. Consumer Reports just published a list of 15 supplement ingredients to always avoid.
With the help of an expert panel of independent doctors and dietary-supplement researchers, Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients that are potentially harmful. The risks include organ damage, cancer, and cardiac arrest. The severity of these threats often depends on such factors as pre-existing medical conditions as well as the quantity of the ingredient taken and the length of time a person has been exposed to the substance.
Many of the ingredients on this list also have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin and generic).
The first rule of medicine is to first do no harm and that is what the law has demanded for a century for U.S. prescription drugs. It took another 70 years or so for the law to demand that prescribed medications do what they are meant to do. Unfortunately food supplements are, well, considered to be food and do not fall within the governance of the food and drug administration. The only time that FDA rules apply to food supplements is when the manufacturer makes claims about medical benefits. But the makers and sellers of food supplements get around this by publishing testimonials from people who state that they felt better, lost weight or achieved other benefits from the supplement. No proof is offered. The end result is that there are food supplements being offered that can result in illness and even death. Here is the list from Consumer Reports.
- Caffeine Powder
- Greater Celandine
- Green Tea Extract Powder
- Pennyroyal Oil
- Red Yeast Rice
- Usnic Acid
We wrote about green coffee extract on our Consumer Help Dept website a couple of years ago. We noted that you might, according to the purported evidence, lose weight briefly if you used the extract, ate less and worked out but that the weight would not stay off unless you continued exercise and watching your diet. Shortly thereafter the same site published an article noting that the original research was bogus! In general our view of dietary supplements is that they work only if you diet and work out and that there is no lasting weight loss for free. The concern with green tea extract powder according to Consumer Reports is that you can get dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced iron absorption, worsened glaucoma, higher blood pressure and heart rate, liver damage and even death from this product!
In fact of the 15 products listed 9 could possible cause death. That is how safe food supplements can be. Read the article and check any food supplements that you have purchased.
According to Cleveland.com a group of brewers wants more specific beer-label information.
The Beer Institute says the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative encourages brewers to list calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat and alcohol by volume on products by including a serving-facts statement. In addition, brewers can provide freshness dating and disclose ingredients via a list, a website reference or a QR code on the label or packaging.
The Washington-based institute says it will “encourage its member companies to display specific consumer information on products, packaging or websites.”
The Beer Institute counts as members Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, HeinekenUSA, Constellation Brands Beer Division, North American Breweries and Craft Brew Alliance which are responsible for 81% of the beer sold in the USA. The issue is that there has been no standard for what needs to be on a beer label. Brewers have put on their labels information aimed at increasing sales. New rules by the Food and Drug Administration require labels to include serving size and vitamin content as well as other info.
Do You Really Drink Beer for the Vitamin Content?
It would seem important if you have high blood pressure to know how much salt is in a serving of beer. The answer by the way is about 14 milligrams and the daily recommended intake of sale is about 2,300 milligrams. So you would need to drink a lot of beer for its salt content to be an issue. How about calories? A typical can of beer contains 154 calories. A can of coca cola by the way has 140 calories. And then there are the vitamins in beer. Medical Daily reports 4 health benefits of beer. Beer it turns out a good source of B vitamins.
Any contemporary reader of Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms will possibly be surprised to read that Catherine’s doctor recommends she drink beer while pregnant. Believe it or not, doctors did that in 1929, when the novel was published. Beer was known to be a source of B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, and folate, which scientists now understand can help guard against birth defects of the brain and spine. In fact, a single bottle of beer (12 oz.) provides up to 12.5 percent of the recommended requirement of vitamin B6, which is known to be generally helpful on a cellular level and also heart-healthy.
In addition beer contains silicon which increases bone density, reduces the risk of kidney stones and taken in moderation reduces the risk of heart attacks. The key words here are taken moderation.
Drink During Pregnancy?
The label on any bottle or can of alcohol says not to consume if you are pregnant. Although doctors in 1929 may have suggested drinking beer, that is not the case today. Official medical advice is to abstain from alcohol before and during pregnancy. If you want your B vitamins eat fish, poultry, meat, eggs, bread or cereal made with enriched flour or dairy products. Or simply take the vitamins that your doctor recommended.
In the eternal quest to lose a few pounds, or more, we try all sorts of things. Two of the things you will commonly hear proposed for losing weight are weight loss pills or creams. But, do weight loss pills or creams work and are they safe? Street Directory asks if these products are really effective or just a rip off.
The main premise behind a weight loss cream is that it will serve as an alternative method of helping the body to reduce fat, especially bulges around the waist, the buns and thighs.
These products are promoted as “fat burners.” What are really being promoted are chemicals that increase your metabolic rate. If you do not increase your calorie intake but increase your metabolic rate you will lose weight. Your system will break down fat store as a source of energy because you are not eating enough support your metabolic needs. If a weight loss cream or pill contains a chemical that increases your metabolic rate and if that chemical is absorbed into your system and if you do not eat more to compensate, you may lose weight. However, there is no evidence anywhere that you will keep the weight off once you start eating more and stop using the chemical. The other question is do weight loss pills or creams cause problems?
Weight Loss Product Recall
Pharmacy Times reports that Dream Body Weight Loss products have been recalled. These are:
Dream Body Extreme Gold 800 mg, 30 gold capsules
Dream Body 450 mg, 30 white capsules
Dream Body Advanced 400 mg, 30 purple capsules
Sibutramine, an appetite suppressant, was withdrawn from the US market in October 2010. The ingredient is known to increase blood pressure and pulse rate, which can cause problems in patients with a history of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or stroke. In addition, sibutramine can interact “in life-threatening ways” with other medications a patient is taking, the FDA noted in a press release.
The presence of sibutramine was discovered after FDA sampling and testing. This undeclared ingredient means Dream Body Weight Loss’ products are unapproved new drugs.
Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant related to amphetamines. The evidence for amphetamines is that they increase your metabolism and reduce your appetite and help you lose weight. And that weight comes back on when you quit the medicine. Amphetamines are dangerous and addicting with long term use and are contraindicated for use as appetite suppressants. Sibutramine was used until 2010 for weight loss but was pulled from the market when it was found that had a host of bad side effects including dangerous interactions with other medications. The issue with Dream Body products it that they were putting Sibutramine in their product without mentioning it on the label. The FDA discovered this and forced the company to recall the product.
Do Weight Loss Creams and Pills Work?
If your long term goal is to lose some weight and keep it off you need to eat less and exercise more. Trying to trick your system into burning more calories without any effort from you can be dangerous and no short term diet tricks using such chemicals will result in long term weight loss.
Summer is here and so are weddings. And with weddings come expenses. How can you reduce expenses for the whole thing? For that matter how much does it cost to do a backyard wedding? The Abilene Reporters News offers a few tips to help cut costs. Things to look at include the following.
- Photography, Videography, Entertainment
- Food and Catering
- Flowers, Invitations, Favors
- And All the Rest
If you don’t want to break the bank consider renting a designer wedding gown. If you are having the reception catered get your estimate for the minimum guest count and aim for a low demand day and season for a better price. Destination weddings help you trim the guest list and there is nothing wrong with going to a local restaurant if your party is not all that large.
Think about what you really want for pictures and shop around for prices. Once the photographer has taken the formal wedding shots send him home!
Those of us who were married out on the prairie in the old days had the reception in the church basement after the service. A donation to the church for use of the kitchen and money for food was all that was required. And having the reception in the church gets you off the hook for buying booze.
Who needs limo? When the married couple leaves the church it can be in their own car, cans tied to the bumper and all.
When planning a wedding show your list of things to do to someone who has recently gone through the same experience. That will you will learn from their experience and not forget crucial details.
How Much Does It Cost to Do a Backyard Wedding?
If you go the backyard route for your wedding you can skip paying for use of the country club. You will have trimmed down the guest list to a few friends and family and can save on the food bill. And there is nothing wrong with asking family and friends to bring a casserole, salad, chips or soft drinks depending on their culinary skills. Anyone who can’t cook can pay for takeout.
You will need to pay the judge or minister to perform the ceremony and should agree in advance on how much to pay. Because you are getting married in a less formal setting the two of you can get by with his best suit and a new dress for her.
Pay to Attend
An old country custom is for guests at the wedding to give cash instead of a gift. Guests will find out how much the father is paying (per guest) for all aspects of the wedding. Then they will place an envelope containing that amount of cash per guest in the bride’s hand in a reception line after the wedding. This way the newlywed couple has funds for starting their new life. This approach works for formal wedding and when the wedding is in the back yard as well.
If you are having problems with student loan debts there is a new source of help. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help with student loan debt.
You’re not alone if you’re confused about your student loans or feel stymied by your student loan servicer. More and more resources out there can help, but you can’t use them if you don’t know they exist.
We talked to Seth Frotman, who works at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as student loan ombudsman and assistant director of its Office for Students and Young Consumers. The CFPB was created to help consumers after the financial crisis of 2008; Frotman’s office collects consumer complaints about student loans, publishes reports about the industry, and drafts policy recommendations to improve student loan servicing.
According to the CFPB about one in four student loan borrowers are behind in payments or in default. But the fact of the matter is that there are affordable repayment plans available that many are simply not aware of. How to reduce student loan debts, catch up or have loans reduced starts with the CFPB student loan playbook.
The playbook is a common sense guide stating in the beginning that payers have a right to choose different payment plans than the one that they have. One can pay monthly payments for ten years based on loan balance or pay based on income over as long as 20 years. Changing payment plans can be done at no cost to you.
Student Loan Forgiveness
There is public service loan forgiveness available under certain circumstances according to the Federal Student Aid page of the U.S. Department of Education.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.
This web page explains qualifying employment, full time employment, types of loans that qualify and how to pursue help under this option.
A Complete List
The web site Student Loan Hero provides a “complete” list of student loan forgiveness programs on options. The loan forgiveness categories are these.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness
- Teacher Cancellation for Federal Perkins Loans
- Special Teacher Forgiveness Programs by State
- Special Forgiveness Programs for Doctors by State
- Special Forgiveness Programs for Lawyers by State
- Forgiveness with Income-Based Repayment
- Forgiveness with Pay as You Earn
These folks also provide a list of lenders who will refinance student loans.
How Much Do Former Students Owe?
According to Market Watch 70% of bachelor degree recipients leave college in debt. The sum total of student loan debt runs to about $1.2 Trillion. Only mortgage debt surpasses this number for person US debt. Because of the economic consequences of this amount of debt the government has initiated the programs that we mentioned and more may be in the works as pressure on politicians grows. Many are saddled with excessive student loan debt. The first step is to find out your options.
When personal computers were invented experts predicted that one day each of us would have an Apple computer or a PC that would run our home. It turns out that computer chips are showing up in more and more parts of our lives although they are not necessarily connected to our home computer. Rather the so-called internet of things exits which is network of physical objects. These are devices, vehicles, buildings and lots of other things that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity. Thus these objects collect and exchange information. According to the Global Standards Initiative the Internet of Things (IoT) is the infrastructure of the information society. The thing is do you really want the internet of things in your home and especially connected to things outside of your home? From the world of business there is an example of how the internet of things can cause problems.
Target Security Breach
Around Christmas of 2013 the American retailer Target suffered the biggest security breach in US history. Hackers stole 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million addresses, phone numbers and other person info. This case of identity theft started when hackers gained access to Target’s computer via an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) vendor. Krebs on Security reported how the hackers used an HVAC company to get into Target’s computers.
Target told reporters at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters that the initial intrusion into its systems was traced back to network credentials that were stolen from a third party vendor. Sources now tell KrebsOnSecurity that the vendor in question was a refrigeration, heating and air conditioning subcontractor that has worked at a number of locations at Target and other top retailers.
Now we suspect that you do not have credit card info for millions of people stored in your home but the point is that using the internet of things hackers can move from point to point in search of something to steal, something to control or something to damage.
Smart Object, Dumb Idea
A FRIDGE that puts milk on your shopping list when you run low. A safe that tallies the cash that is placed in it. A sniper rifle equipped with advanced computer technology for improved accuracy. A car that lets you stream music from the Internet.
They go one to cite the example of security researchers shutting down the engine of a car on the highway. The selling point for the IoT is convenience and safety. Is that really so?
The early Internet was intended to connect people who already trusted one another, like academic researchers or military networks. It never had the robust security that today’s global network needs. As the Internet went from a few thousand users to more than three billion, attempts to strengthen security were stymied because of cost, shortsightedness and competing interests. Connecting everyday objects to this shaky, insecure base will create the Internet of Hacked Things. This is irresponsible and potentially catastrophic.
So, what can you do when you would like the convenience and safety of the IoT and not the dangers? PC Word offers 5 steps to keep your smart home from being hacked.
They suggest using a cloud service to store data and routinely updating passwords on your router. For home automation equipment they recommend Nest and Hive products and services.
Did your microwave simply stop working or did your clothes washer spring a leak? Both appliances are out of warranty and you really don’t have the cash to buy new. What do you do? Repairs might be expensive so does that mean heating water on the stove and washing clothes by hand? Maybe you need a home warranty for repairs. A good option is to check out Choice Warranty for a free quote before your refrigerator dies and the air conditioner goes off on the hottest day of the summer.
Home Repair Warranty Coverage
You will be paying a small fee every month for a home repair warranty. Make sure when you get your quote that everything that you want covered is included. Here is a basic list of what a home warranty should cover.
- Air conditioner or system
- Water Heater
You may want to include a few other items in this list as well:
- Vacuum cleaner
- Garbage disposal
- Range Hood
- Ice maker
- Garage Door Opener
- Garage Door
- Sewing Machine
- Digital Camera
- Home Theater
- Exercise equipment
- Lawn mower
- Snow blower
It is unusual to find a service that covers outside appliances such as a lawn mower or your furnace. Check with your natural gas supplier for your furnace as many will offer maintenance and repair plan with monthly charges on your gas bill.
Timely Service at Your Home
Make sure when you sign up for a home warranty plan that it prompt home visits and all repairs possible on site. If an appliance needs to be taken into the shop the home repairs warranty should cover that possibility at no extra cost. And there should be some sort of guarantee as to the promptness of getting repairs completed and your appliance back at work in your home.
Getting Your Money’s Worth
A home repair warranty should be cost effective. In this regard take a look at this price list comparing replacement versus repair costs for various items in your home. As a rule of thumb if you have older appliances expect to be fixing one or two of them yearly for several years. As a rule repair instead of replacement is more cost effective.
|Household Item||Replacement Costs*||Repair Costs*|
|Heating with Ductwork||$2,885||$390|
|Main Electrical Panel||$651||$210|
If you want the job done right a cheap service that does not show up on time and does not do the repairs properly is useless. Checking with the Better Business Bureau is a good idea before buying a home warranty. Our suggestion is to check out Choice Warranty for a free quote.
Home ownership is better than renting. Whether you own a house, condo or an apartment the cost is less and in the end you have something that you own, free and clear. Sometimes it is hard to buy a home because of credit issues or a low income. If you are having trouble getting into your own home you may want to consider help with low income housing. Do you qualify for low income housing? HUD.gov provides the government’s definition of those who need affordable housing.
Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.
The HUD web site is a good place to start when looking for rental, home buyer and homeowner assistance. Another useful resource can be found at Low-Income-Housing-Help.com.
Credit Issues or Rent to Own
Sometimes the issue is not so much one of low income but bad credit. If this is the case you may want to work on how to repair your credit score.
A credit score is an attempt to match a number to the likelihood that a person will pay off his debts. Specifically the point is to predict how likely it is that a person will go 90 days past due on his bills, or worse, within the following 24 months.
How can you repair your credit score? First of all you can get a free report and look for mistakes or you can work with someone whose work it is to repair credit scores. If the damage to your credit score is severe you may wish to work with someone who does this sort of work for a living.
A common approach is to get a secured credit card from your bank and routinely pay on time. Over the months and years your credit score will progressively get better. Another approach is to rent to own.
Rent to own is also called rental-purchase. It is a type of legally documented transaction in which tangible property, such as furniture, consumer electronics, home appliances or a home is leased in exchange for a weekly or monthly payment, with the option to purchase at some point during the agreement.
This approach is a more immediate solution to getting into your own home than the sometimes tedious process of improving your credit score.
Getting Helpful Advice
It turns out that there are a lot of resources available if you qualify for low income housing. The problem is finding out where to start and how to most efficiently proceed. Here is where a resource like at Low-Income-Housing-Help.com comes into play. These people help folks like you and me find and qualify for low income housing on a daily basis. Check with them before trying to plow through a lot of government red tape.
Many people believe that by the time they retire there will be no social security or that social security will in no way cover their retirement needs. If you are concerned about your later years it is just as important where to save for retirement as how much to put away on a regular basis.
How about Saver’s Credit?
If you simply want to put money away every year toward retirement make sure to take advantage of the retirement savings contributions credit, called saver’s credit. This credit can be obtained through an IRA or your employer’s 401k plan. Money that you contribute up to $2,000 a year is tax deductible and appreciation over the years is not taxed. You may get a matching employer contribution as well with your 401k and you are taxed only when you withdraw funds in retirement when you tax rate is at its lowest. The Motley Fool has a nice article about how save more for retirement in which they explain this.
The majority of Americans save for retirement through their employer’s plan, such as a 401(k). And, the most common 401(k) contribution rate is just enough to take advantage of the employer’s matching contributions. While this is certainly a good way to lower your tax bill and build a retirement nest egg, it may not be enough on its own. With that in mind, here are three things you may not have known about retirement saving that could give you the tools or the motivation to save more.
Tax advantaging your retirement savings is a good first step.
How about the Stock Market?
Too many younger investors and quite a few old ones too saw their portfolios dwindle or even disappear in the 2008 market crash. However, over the long haul stocks outperform most other investment opportunities. Market Watch writes about 8 lessons from market history. It turns out that if you invest and stay invested over the years you tend to make money. And the sooner you start the better it is.
The first 10 years of this century has been regarded as a “lost” decade for stock investors, largely because of large-cap growth stocks and a couple of serious bear markets. But in that decade, a portfolio that was divided equally among these four asset classes (S&P 500 Index fund, large cap stocks, small cap stocks and small cap value stocks) wound up being a moneymaker, with an average gain of 6.7%.
Read the article. It shows how stock investors fared over the years and is a good guide for where to save for retirement.
Home mortgage interest is tax deductible which is for many Americans the best investment deal they can get. You need a place to live and it is cheaper over the years to own your own home than to rent. And home ownership is a means of forced saving for retirement. Where to save for retirement in this manner makes a big difference however. A young woman in my mother’s family moved to Southern California with her husband in the 1950s where they purchased a home for around $10,000. Meanwhile the president of the bank in her small town in the Midwest built a nice home, also for around $10,000. Fifty years later the woman in California sold her home in California for about $1,000,000 while the heirs of the banker sold Dad’s house in their home town for $10,000. In each case the homeowners benefited from the home mortgage interest deduction and the fact that it is cheaper to buy than rent. But from the perspective of where to save for retirement by owning your own home the girl who moved to Southern California won hands down!
An HSA (Health Savings Account) is a so-called tax-advantaged medical savings account. These are available to taxpayers in the United States if they are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). The funds contributed to an account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. What else is good about an HSA and how else does an HSA help you save money on taxes?
Tax Savings Times Three
An HSA is like an IRA in that you fund it with pre-tax dollars. But, unlike an IRA that money is not taxed when you take it out providing that the money is used to pay medical expenses. And, like with an IRA, the money you put into an HSA accumulates within the account without being taxed.
What Is a High Deductible Health Plan?
An HDHP or high deductible health plan is health insurance with low premiums and high deductibles. You can find out more about this kind of plan and how to get one at HealthCare.gov.
High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)
A plan that features higher deductibles than traditional insurance plans. High deductible health plans (HDHPs) can be combined with a health savings account or a health reimbursement arrangement to allow you to pay for qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses on a pre-tax basis.
Many people prefer this sort of plan, especially if they have no chronic medical conditions and simply want coverage for an unlikely but financially catastrophic illness. When you get this sort of plan you are paying for insurance on the off chance that you will get really sick. And you will not be paying the overhead that is part of submitting and getting reimburses for lots of routine medical expenses. Those are simply paid out of pocket or from your HSA.
Is This Something You Should Do?
Consumer Reports has a nice article about HSAs and suggests that an HSA can help you save for retirement. They say that three things are important is picking an HSA.
Can You Afford to Put Money in an HSA?
Can You Cover Your Medical Expenses Today?
Should You Invest the Money in an HSA?
To save for retirement in an HSA, you must have signed up for a high-deductible health plan either on your own or through your employer. About half of all large employers in the U.S. now offer these plans. According to Mercer Consulting, 66 percent of large employers are expected to offer them by the end of 2017.
Every year, you add money to your HSA from your pretax income, the same way that you might add money to a traditional IRA or a 401(k). The idea is that you don’t spend it on your current medical expenses but instead leave it in the account until you retire.
If you have the money to fund a Health Savings Account and do not have huge and routine medical bills you might want to consider one. An HSA is a rare case in which the government lets you invest your money, let it grow and then use it (for medical expenses) tax free.