1. Consider your goals.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 50% of Americans take a vitamin- or mineral-based supplement. However, many people do not know why they are taking the supplements (aside from “I saw it in a magazine/ on TV”), and most have not actually looked at the ingredient list. There is conflicting information as to whether or not multivitamins and other supplements are actually beneficial (I explain why I take them anyway in that post as well). So, before you decide to take a supplement, I recommend that you know exactly why you want to take the supplement. Maybe you’re feeling tired or fatigued, maybe you keep getting painful leg cramps when you’re sleeping, maybe you suspect that your diet leaves some specific nutrient gaps. There are many, many reasons to take supplements, but you need at least one! supplements pile(picture source).
2. Examine your intake.
I believe that whole food is always the best way to get your nutrients. There are several studies to show that concentrated supplements do not work as well as receiving the same quantity of nutrients from real food. (For example, lycopene is a powerful antioxidant touted to reduce risk of cancer, and it’s prevalent in tomatoes. However, taking a lycopene supplement will never work as well as eating a tomato, due to the interaction of the lycopene with the other nutrients in the tomato). So, if your regular dietary intake is already giving you enough of any particular nutrient, there is absolutely no need to take an additional supplement. If you eat tons of dairy and leafy greens, you likely don’t need a calcium supplement, but if you’re a vegan, you may benefit from a Vitamin B12 supplement. It’s also important to check on interactions with any other supplements or prescription medications that you’re taking. supplements and food(picture source)
3. Research the claim.
As I mentioned, the FDA regulates supplements as food. This means that the FDA certifies that the substance is safe, uncontaminated, properly labeled, and produced with good manufacturing processes. The FDA does not check or confirm that claims made on the package are necessarily true, or show the effectiveness of the ingredients included. Claims called “Structure/ Function claims” are unregulated … so any product can claim something like “promotes healthy cholesterol level” even if that is unsubstantiated (they cannot, on the other hand, say “lowers cholesterol level”). This stuff is tricky and confusing, so do your research or talk to someone who can help. FDA-Approved(picture source).
4. Consider how much of the active ingredient is contained in each dose.
“Megadosing” (or taking more than the recommended daily value of each nutrient) has become popularly advertised. However, in most cases, we cannot absorb more than the recommended daily value, and for some vitamins and minerals, taking too much can even be harmful. Aim to hit 100% DV for most nutrients. (There are some exceptions, such as Vitamin D, which is often given healthily in larger quantities). pills in hand(picture source).
5. Check the ingredients label.
Yes, another thing to check up on. Unfortunately, labels like “pure,” “natural,” and “quality-assured” are also unregulated by the FDA. Some supplements on the market contain fillers such as hydrogenated oils, and others contain artificial colors or flavors that you’re better off avoiding. There’s been a lot of debate about magnesium stearate, which is often added to supplements but has been shown to block absorption in some cases. For now, I’m not worried about it, but in general, I like my supplements to contain ingredients I recognize. supplement label(picture source).
6. Weigh any potential side effects.
Some supplements have side effects – from fatigue to digestive issues to hair loss, and anything in between. While most people don’t actually experience any listed side effects, it can be helpful to weigh the potential effects, and consider whether or not the side effect is worth the benefit to you personally. (picture source).
7. Consider your unique situation.
Supplements are a huge part of my belief in bioindividuality: there is no one protocol that is right for everyone. So, the fact that your friend is loving her new supplement and seeing great results does not mean that it is right for you. Consider everything as a package: your goals, your diet, your other supplements and medications, your budget, and your unique body chemistry, and then consider whether the supplement makes sense.Always-Remember-You-Are-Unique(picture source).
FIGURING IT ALL OUT
If all of this seems overwhelming, that’s because it is a bit confusing, so have patience with yourself as you learn (and remember that in most cases, the biggest risk is only that you’ll waste money and the supplement won’t be absorbed). If you are new to the whole supplementation world and don’t have time to research but think that supplements could benefit you, I encourage you to talk to someone who can help you. (As a Health Coach, I’m happy to discuss vitamin and mineral supplements, but I do not prescribe medications or give you advice on your prescription drugs).
There are also a few resources you can check out:
- Consumer Lab has some great supplement reports (some have a fee).
- The FTC publishes some consumer information on supplements.
- The Mayo Clinic or WebMD can give preliminary information on many supplements, and The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database can give you some advice on interactions.