Evaluating Dietary Supplements
I was recently given a couple boxes of various dietary supplements, from vitamins and minerals, to concoctions for digestive health, thyroid health, brain health and even some Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concoctions.
As I sorted through all the bottles, I couldn’t help but reflect back to the beginning of my nutrition-related studies, and the use of dietary supplements in particular. When it comes to supplements, safety is the number one concern. If recommended by your healthcare professional, that’s fine. However, a person should not just jump in and take something just because “someone,” a friend, or an article recommends it. Supplements are now a billion-dollar plus industry, with thousands of products on the market, and new concoctions coming out constantly. It can all be very confusing! But there are a number of considerations you can begin with, before taking any type of supplementation:
First of all, is the supplement something you actually need—will it be useful for your well-being? Yes, many people take and need multivitamin/mineral supplementation due to not getting the appropriate nutrients from their diets, but beyond that, it is vitally important to carefully research (and if required, consult with your healthcare professional) as to whether a certain supplement is right for you. There are many that won’t hurt you, there are many that could cause harm, and there are many that will have no effect, and are essentially a waste of money. But overall, there are several factors that come into play as to whether a certain supplement is necessary, including your diet, your activity level, age, gender, body composition, health issues, etc. Be sure to do the necessary research based on your actual needs, or again, consult your doctor—he or she can order a blood work-up, which can reveal various deficiencies.
Another very important question that needs to be addressed, is if you are taking any prescription medications, will the supplement interact in an adverse way (referred to as a contraindication). For example, many herbs can react with certain medications, causing either a strengthening or a reducing effect of the medication. There are many online resources available for doing this type of contraindication research (please see my Resources page), but when in doubt, I strongly recommend talking to your doctor or other healthcare provider before taking anything!
If the supplement is something you are not familiar with, be sure to research the claims made by the manufacturer. Dietary supplements are not subject to FDA review (in the US), and so the makers can claim any number of benefits. Don’t fall for celebrity endorsements, or recommendations by high-profile physicians at first. Be sure to do the research to verify claims. Are the claims reasonable and backed by independent scientific research? What is the purity and potency of the supplement? Answering these questions will help to make sure the supplement is safe and of a premium quality.
Lastly, be sure the supplement is legal and does not contain any banned substances, of which there are many in the US, Europe and others. This is especially a concern if you are a competitive athlete. You do not want to inadvertently get involved with any performance-enhancing substances that are banned! And of course, there could be adverse health issues brought on by their use. Dietary supplements sold through reputable, well-known sources are fine, but be cautious of the “shady” websites and other sources out there. Again, do the research—investigate the seller!
So always remember the three keywords when evaluating dietary supplements: Necessary—Safe–Legal!
If you would like individualized guidance through the dietary supplements maze, feel free to contact me about my wellness coaching services.
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