6 Key Points of Supplementing Responsibly
If you are into supplementing to enhance your health, there are some things you need to know about those vitamins and minerals you take on a daily basis.
The supplement industry, which also includes protein powders and multivitamins, is worth nearly $125 billion, and it offers “the next big thing” every year. Most of them have flashy catchlines and claim to offer various benefits. Even for people who otherwise don’t need supplements, all the marketing is rather alluring, as we’re promised that we’re just a supplement away from better health and wellbeing.
On the other hand, there are people who are unable to meet their nutrient needs through diet and thus have a legitimate need for supplementation. But even they shouldn’t blindly take everything that is offered without reviewing the ingredients and consulting a doctor. If you have doubts about dietary additions, this article can give you some useful insights.
Is your body missing key nutrients?
The first question to ask yourself when you’re thinking about taking supplements is: is your body missing some key nutrients that you need to compensate? Here are some common symptoms to look out for and the nutrient deficiencies they might suggest:
- Brittle hair and nails (vitamin B7)
- Cracks in the corner of the mouth and/or mouth ulcers (thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, iron)
- Bleeding gums (vitamin C)
- Poor night vision (vitamin A)
- White growths on the eyes (also Vitamin A)
- Dandruff and/or seborrheic dermatitis(zinc, niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine)
- Hair loss (iron, zinc, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), niacin, biotin)
- Keratosis pilaris (vitamins A and C)
- Restless leg syndrome (iron, magnesium)
If you have some of these symptoms, you shouldn’t rush to take supplements without consulting your physician. You can, for starters, do a standard blood test to check everything from glucose and cholesterol to liver and kidney function. If everything seems normal, there is no need for further testing, but if something is off, you should consult your doctor about further testing.
Understand your specific position
There are some specific conditions or periods in life when you need additional amounts of some nutrients. Here are some of the most common, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- Pregnant women, as well as women who are planning pregnancy, could benefit from taking a folic acid supplement. Still, they should first try to add foods fortified with folic acid to their diet. Folic acid is useful for lowering the child’s risk of some birth defects.
- Adults over age 50 should include foods rich in vitamin B-12 to their diets or use a vitamin B-12 supplement.
- People who don’t get much sunlight exposure, people with dark-colored skin, and older adults, should eat foods fortified with vitamin D (orange juice, breakfast cereals, soy products, some dairy products) or take vitamin D supplements.
- Additionally, if you follow a vegan diet, you might need extra vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K-2, zinc, and iodine.
If any of these recommendations apply to you, you should still discuss taking supplements with your doctor.
Understand the risks and the effects of supplements
Supplementing won’t magically make all your problems go away. They serve to, as their name suggests, supplement a healthy diet. And they do not come without any risks. According to the FDA, dietary supplements are beneficial for your health, but they carry some risks, depending on how you’re taking them. Here are some supplementation mistakes that can lead to unwanted side effects:
- Using supplements with over-the-counter or prescription medication: Some supplements can lessen the effect of the meds.
- Combining different supplements without researching the potential interactions they could have: Certain supplements can interfere with the absorption of others.
- Taking too much of some supplements, such as iron, vitamin A, and vitamin D
- Taking supplements before, during, or after a surgical procedure
Unlike prescription and over-the-counter medications, the supplement market is poorly regulated, so you need to be very careful when reading the labels. Here’s a quick guide:
- Serving size is measured in softgel, and in that case, “two softgels” will give you twice as much of each ingredient.
- Calories break down the fat content – a very important factor when it comes to fish oils.
- Key ingredient potency shows you how much of the ingredient is used in the supplement (it is usually bolded on the label).
- The percentage of the daily value is shown in two columns: one shows how much of the ingredient is contained in one serving, while the other one shows the recommended daily intake of that nutrient.
- Additional ingredients are not vital to nutritional benefits. However, some of them may be allergens, so you need to pay attention to that.
- FDA-approval is always a good confirmation to have.
If the supplement doesn’t inspire trust even after thoroughly reading the label, you might want to consider making your own capsules. The benefits of this option include affordability, ingredient transparency, and low-cost initial investment.
The more is not the merrier
We’ve already briefly mentioned the possible side-effects of mixing your supplements and combining them with prescription medication. We cannot stress enough how important this is, so let’s go through some of the most dangerous combinations and their potential consequences:
- Zinc and copper; iron and green tea; vitamin K and blood thinners; magnesium and calcium; potassium and calcium – when taken together, these supplements interfere with each other’s absorption.
- Combining several stress-relieving supplements can lead to too much sleepiness.
- Red yeast combined with niacin can cause liver damage.
- Omega-3s taken along with garlic and ginkgo-based pills may cause uncontrolled bleeding.
- John’s Wort can lower the effects of anti-depressants, pills for an organ transplant, HIV treatment, and heart disease medication.
Bottom line: Take supplements only when you need them
Most experts agree that the majority of nutrients you need for a healthy body and mind can be acquired from a healthy diet. Do your research about your recommended daily nutrient intake, the food you’re eating, and the nutrients it contains. Only when you confirm that it’s impossible to get the necessary nutrients with a regular diet (because of a health condition or a dietary habit) should you enrich your diet by supplementing these helpful dietary additions.