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To supplement or not?

When your husband starts asking about supplements, you notice. When you are in a conversation with another business owner and they ask you what supplements you take, you pay attention.

So what is all the hubbub around supplements?

Should we take them? Are they necessary? Or are we just creating some expensive “pee”?

According to a 2012 National Health Information Survey conducted by the NIH, almost 18% of adults take vitamins or supplements. This has probably increased significantly since then, with the pandemic, an aging population, and more information overall on the value of supplements for certain conditions.

For example, we know that pregnant women are prescribed folic acid to decrease the risk of birth defects, and it is often recommended we take calcium and vitamin D, particularly as we age, to maintain bone density. The top most used natural products are fish oil/omega 3/DHA, EPA fatty acids, with glucosamine and chondroitin right behind it. And who hasn’t tried melatonin for jetlag or to get to sleep? Or taken a probiotic or prebiotic for better gastrointestinal health?

Let’s dive deeper into adding supplements to your diet and see if it is worth it.

First of all, supplements are minerals, vitamins, herbs and many other products that are offered to support your overall health, such as enzymes or glandular extracts. And they come in many forms, such as pills, powders, energy bars, drinks, and capsules. None of which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way medication is safeguarded. The FDA does not extend the same rigor to the manufacturers of supplements that they do to pharmaceutical companies.

Therefore, you need to be an informed consumer to make the best choices. Fortunately, there are many sites you can check for not only efficacy, but safety as well.

You particularly want to check before taking a supplement to make sure it doesn’t interfere with medications you are taking or that the dose is appropriate. While some supplements are vitamins, such as C, D, and B12, other dietary supplements are combinations of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and also contain fillers and binders or may be herbal medicines and botanicals.

Why do we need supplements anyway? Isn’t it true that if we just eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, we should get all the nutrients we need?

Well, no. According to an article in Scientific American, our soil is depleted and the same vegetables that you ate as a child have less nutrients in them now, so sadly it may be a good idea to supplement to make sure you are not deficient. This doesn’t mean don’t eat your vegetables. You are still getting nutrients and fiber from eating whole food, just not as much as before. And they taste different too, don’t they? Or is it just me?

It is always a good idea to consult with your physician or pharmacist to make sure the supplements are suitable for you, the dosage is correct, and it is not interfering with other medications you may be taking.

If you are planning a surgical procedure, make sure your doctor is aware of the supplements you are using.

Natural products sound harmless, but taken in the wrong quantity, comfrey and kava for example, can harm the liver.

And we are probably all aware that St. John’s Wort can interfere with anti-depressants, but did you know it can also interact negatively with birth control pills or antiretroviral medications?

Supplements are just that; something that adds to your intake of necessary vitamins and minerals you may be deficient in. They are not medicine and do not cure disease. It is always better to eat a well-balanced diet that consists of whole foods, as the foundation of your overall health. If you need assistance with that, feel free to reach out to me for a free consult.

I remember a few years ago I found that my Vitamin D level was low and was given a much higher dose of vitamin D for a short period of time to get back to a normal level. Now I supplement my diet with a much lower dose, especially in the winter, when we are not outside for as extended a period of time as we are in warmer weather. And I believe I am due for a revisit to check my levels soon.

Full disclosure, I also take other supplements that I feel are helpful for my overall health. However, most of what I take have to do with "gut health" because without a healthy gut, whatever we eat will not be processed as effectively or used as efficiently in our bodies. This is based on testing, with an reputable research organization and is individual to myself. If you are interested in exploring this or finding out more, feel free to reach out.

Which leads us to how to make sure we take quality supplements. You can always go to this NIH page on complementary and integrative health to find out about product or practice safety. You can also check the FDA website for recalls or tainted products.

These organizations offer quality testing:


  • NSF International

  • U.S. Pharmacopeia

Oftentimes, the supplements that are marketed to help lose weight, bodybuilding, or increase sexual performance, may contain harmful ingredients such as hidden prescription drugs or compounds, and may be unsafe. A good rule of thumb is that if something seems “too good to be true” it probably is, and you would be wise to avoid it.

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) has this nifty form (below) you can use to track your supplements, medications and over the counter medicines that you take. Hope this helps you make informed decisions about adding supplements to your diet.

Download PDF • 156KB

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