Fish Oil: Good For Furry Friends Too!

Mollie2endless summer

My rescued Golden enjoying the summer shade a few years ago

As a practicing dietitian/nutritionist, I recommend fish oil to my patients all the time.  While my credentials and experience let me call myself an “expert” in human nutrition, I would never make the same claim for animal nutrition.  Animals are not humans, and while some aspects of human nutrition can and do cross-over to recommendations for our pets, I do not pretend to have the expertise in animal nutrition to know which principles of human nutrition would apply equally to our beloved furry friends.  Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3-fatty acids, which in humans, are documented as having the following general health benefits:

  • Lowers blood triglycerides, decreasing cardiovascular disease risk
  • Fights inflammation, a cause of pain and disease
  • Seems therapeutic for certain skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema, and just plain old dry skin

I have a very dear Golden Retriever that was rescued from a shelter at the age of one.  She is now a senior canine.  A recent trip to the vet along with a xray of her back showed osteoarthritis and disc degeneration.  The standard Rimadyl was started (an analgesic and anti-inflammatory) along with Dasuquin for joint support. While my options for therapy seemed limited, a vet tech at the office made a comment to me about fish oil.  He said human fish oil supplements were good for dogs, and the dosage would be the same as for humans.

Sounding like a benign and economical option, I did some reasearch.  Digging a bit into the literature, it seems fish oil supplementation for dogs is a very common practice.  As a practicing dietitian, I frequently run into incorrect supplement dosage recommendations made for people, and often those dosage recommendations are made by physicians.  For supplements to be therapeutic for humans, dosing does matter.  Too much of a supplement may foster a toxic situation or promote interference of other important nutrients essential to health.  Too little, and there may be no clinical impact.  So a bit of digging lent me insight into the dosing for dogs.  To figure out how much fish oil to give your dog, take your dog’s weight in pounds and multiply by 20.  So, if your dog weighs 75 pounds, the dosage of fish oil would be 1500 mg.

No special doggie fish oil is necessary.  Human fish oil supplements are fine.  Many pills are on the larger side, so you may pierce the pill and put on food.  Or, if your dog is like my dog, she will eat anything in a piece of bread.  Nature Made brand Fish Oil “pearls” are on the smaller side and 500 mg per pill.  This smaller size and dosage pill makes dosing and administration of fish oil easy!

I am hoping with this process to cut Mollie’s dander and ease her joint pain while also decreasing or eliminating her prescription medication.  For your beloved pet, please check with your vet before self-prescribing the fish oil because there may be health issues that need to be discussed first.

To Supplement or Not: 5 Facts To Factor

supplements from a bottleNews coverage over the last few days seems to be revolving around the weather, the holidays, Obamacare, and of all things nutritional supplements!  While I can’t comment about most of this current list of media topics, I do have a few words to say on the topic of supplements!  If you listen to the media hype over the last few days, there are some recurring  statements from the so-called experts being interviewed.  Some “experts” note most of our nutrients should come from food, come from “natural” whole foods put into pill form, or just be avoided altogether.  The truth and correct answers are most likely somewhere in between the primarily black and white general statements made by these so-called experts. Sadly, despite this topic of supplements airing over many news stations for the last few days, not one “expert” ever suggested that each person should be evaluated on a case by case basis in order to really assess the need and benefits from supplements. To determine if supplements are right for you, consider these tips:

  • Supplements are meant to fill in for dietary shortfallsIf you eat a healthy diet (include dairy or source of calcium, fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains), there is a fairly good chance you can skip taking pills!  If you are lactose intolerant, hate dairy products, don’t eat any foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, or you are vegan, then you may benefit from a supplement.  Consulting a licensed/registered dietitian can help you sort out what you may or may not need to be doing regarding supplements.
  • Supplements are of benefit to your health if you have a documented deficiency of a nutrient!  Wondering if you should really be taking vitamin D supplements?  You should have a blood test to determine if you need to be taking a supplement.  Once blood work is done on my clients, most have turned out to be deficient.  Once a deficiency of any nutrient is determined, it is easy enough to replete the diet through both food and supplements (or sunshine in the case of vitamin D).
  • Be aware of upper limits of safety!  More is definitely not better for you in most cases.  In fact, many people who take multiple supplements forget that they may be doubling or tripling their intake of a given nutrient because it is in several of their supplement formulas.  Beyond a certain limit, it can be dangerous to take the nutrient. Some nutrients can even be toxic if taken in excess.  Your favorite dietitian can be your best resource for this information!
  • Food is your best source of nutrients.  Nature has an uncanny way of packaging foods and one food is loaded with many nutrients that actually work together to maximize your nutritional status.  With that stated, those people who eat a lot of processed foods and a limited diet may indeed benefit from specific supplements.  An evaluation of your diet and eating habits is the best way to move forward with accurate supplement recommendations.
  • Did you know there is no regulation of supplements?  If a supplement has been implicated in causing harm, it will be pulled from the shelves, but until then it is buyer beware!  With that stated, the savvy consumer choosing to take supplements should consider well-know brands that have a reputation to protect.  Using lesser known brands may result in less quality control.  Over the decades, some supplements have been known to be tainted with arsenic and lead.  Choosing a name brand product can potentially protect you!

Not all supplements are good or bad for that matter.  Not all people need supplements, and many people do!  Consulting with a professional who is educated on this topic and takes the time to evaluate your diet prior to making recommendations will be time well spent in improving both your health and nutritional status!

Another Shot at Weight Loss: Is B12 the Magic Bullet or Bunk?

Last evening the topic in my college nutrition class was vitamins.  As we came to the topic of vitamin B12, several students inquired about B12 for weight loss.  One student said her former pediatrician suggested she take B12 to help with weight loss.  Several  students in other course sections asked repeated questions about B12 shots for weight loss.  I must admit I was stumped as to why they would even ask about this. THEN, the spa Groupon email came this morning advertising B12 shots.  The Groupon ad suggests B12 injections as an additional therapy for boosting energy and the body’s metabolism for those looking to lose weight.  The price: a mere $69.00 for 12 vitamin B12 injections.  This a major savings from the original hefty retail value of $480.00!  This all begs the question as to if there is any benefit to B12 injections for weight loss.

We do like to take pills and look for magical methods to lose weight easily. Unfortunately, I would have to say this is just another one of those gimmicks.  I can find no sound scientific basis for suggesting additional B12 from supplements or injections to aid in weight loss.  If someone is tired from the anemia due to a B12 deficiency (called pernicious anemia), then administration of B12 will indeed give that person more energy because the person needs the B12 to treat that specific type of anemia.  But, for the rest of us, that B12 will neither give us more energy or boost our metabolism.  There are ways to boost one’s metabolism, but chowing down on more B vitamins or injecting them is not a way to raise our metabolic rate.  We get energy from the calories in our foods and resting our bodies.  B vitamins do not give us energy, they are needed in small amounts to help the biochemical reactions that occur in our bodies to release energy from foods-that gives us energy!

Most people who eat animal protein are getting more than sufficient amounts of B12.  B12 is derived from animal protein, and since many Americans eat more protein than recommended, B12 is not usually an issue.  For vegans,  it may be necessary to take a B12 supplement to meet requirements.  However, many foods are fortified with B12 (such as cereals which may have 100% of B12 requirements provided in a single serving) so not all vegans would necessarily need to be taking a supplemental form of B12.

Have you tried B12 shots for weight loss?  Did you see any benefit?  Right now over 200 Groupon deals have been sold!  Is this a waste of money or helpful for your waistline?





Is Your Dietary Supplement Downright Dangerous? 5 Tips to Protect Yourself!

While many Americans naively pop vitamin and mineral supplements and guzzle various types of protein supplements and powders thinking they are helping with overall health and vitality, the reality is that many of these supplements can be downright dangerous!  In fact, according to last week’s Chicago Tribune headliner, the 28 billion dollar supplement industry has serious and widespread manufacturing flaws that have the potential to harm our health.  From quality control issues to formulary issues, the product you are ingesting may not be what you are thinking it is.  There may be much more or too little of a specific nutrient, or even contamination with lead, arsenic, or rodent feces. 

As a potential consumer, it needs to be understood that the supplement industry is a self-regulating industry.  That means the government does not directly oversee the quality control of a supplement. In fact, quality control issues are largely left to the company producing the supplement.  Under current laws, the FDA does not screen supplements for safety before they hit the consumer market. The FDA only takes action regarding supplements on the market once there is a documented issue with the supplement.  In fact, the FDA is also relying on manufacturers themselves as well as consumers to report those adverse effects.

So, without hiring a lab to test your own supplements, here are some proactive steps to take to protect yourself:

  • Buy name brand supplements.  Well-known brands may have better “in-house” quality control standards because the reputation of the company is at stake.  Steer clear of companies you have not heard of.
  • Look for the USP label.  This label means that the supplement has been at least evaluated for ingredients stated on the label and it will dissolve in your digestive tract rather than passing straight through your body.  The symbol does not guarantee any other health or safety advantages of the supplement.
  • Look at the Nutrition Fact Label on the supplement.  Note the percent daily value of the nutrients.  If you see values of many nutrients far exceeding 100%, don’t be duped into thinking this is a good thing. Consumers need to understand that too much of a nutrient can be very harmful.  We have upper limits of safety for many nutrients and we should avoid exceeding those upper limits of safety.
  • Consider using the Internet to investigate your supplement before taking it.  Consumer Labs is an independent testing lab that evaluates supplemental products and makes the test results available for a small subscription fee.  The analyses and data are extensive and informative.
  •  Consider having a dietitian evaluate your current diet.  A dietitian can evaluate nutrient shortcomings and make appropriate recommendations to meet those dietary deficits with the correct dosages of nutrients.  Or better yet, a dietitian can help you find the foods you like to eat to give you the nutrients you need!  Afterall, mother nature does the best nutrient packaging of all.

 Click video information on this topic!

Do you ever think about safety issues regarding supplement use?

5 Dietary Supplements for Baby Boomers!


While daily use of multi-nutrient supplements has fallen out of favor by some health professionals due to some recent studies, there are five supplements many of us 40+  may need. While food is always the best source of nutrients, certain circumstances with aging may warrant adding these supplements to your diet!  Here are the 5 supplements baby boomers may need to consider taking:
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids– We have too little of these essential fatty acids in our diet.  While fish can be a good contributor of omega-3-fatty acids, eating fish a few times a week is not necessarily going to be insurance your requirements are met.  We have some other food sources such as walnuts and flaxseed, but consistency is key and that is where a fish oil supplement at least a few times per week may be helpful.
  • CoQ10– We make this nutrient, but we make less of it as we age. If you are taking a statin drug to lower your cholesterol level, the statin drug will limit your body’s ability to make this nutrient. So, if you are aging (and we all are), and taking cholesterol lowering medication, there is no logical reason to avoid this supplement and every reason to take it.
  • Magnesium– While distributed in a wide variety of foods, I have noted that my clients are often consuming too little of this nutrient through foods. Magnesium may be easily washed and peeled away from foods during processing, and a limited calorie consumption means less is being consumed through food.
  • Vitamin D– It is best to get your baseline blood vitamin D levels checked, but chances are you will benefit from at least some additional supplemental vitamin D.  While we can make this vitamin, we make less as we age. Increased use of sunscreen will further decrease production of vitamin D.  With mounting evidence that vitamin D plays roles in promoting strong bones, healthy blood pressure, fighting infection, and decreasing inflammation and cancer risk, supplementation is warranted if blood levels are low.
  • Calcium- If you skip out on the dairy group, there is a pretty good chance you may not be meeting your calcium requirements.  Calcium is important for more than our bones-it also protects against colon cancer and high blood pressure.  If you opt out of drinking regular milk and eating dairy products, simply choose soy, rice, or almond milk and make sure the brand you choose is fortified with calcium.  If you avoid these products altogether, consider a supplement.  Up to the age of  50, it is recommended you consume 1000 mg; for 50+ the requirements increase to 1200 mg.

While my preference is always going to be to get nutrients through food, eating less as we age, medication, and lifestyle may impact our ability to obtain the noted nutrients.

Any one have other supplements they think we should be taking as we get older?

Be a Savvy Supplement Shopper- 5 Tips To Smarter Supplementation!

We are a pill popping society, and we know it.  It is what Americans seem to love to do.  Recently, there has been a lot of press about the fact that perhaps we should not be taking multi-nutrient supplements-and that they may actually be harmful to our health.  I have even had patients come to my office telling me that their physicians have flat-out told them to stop taking supplements altogether.  The wise approach, however, is most likely somewhere between constantly popping supplements and never taking a supplement.  People who would benefit from supplements include those who have validated nutrient deficiencies (blood work can evaluate this), women of childbearing years, habitual dieters, the elderly who are on certain medications or have limited food intake for medical reasons, and those that skip over entire food groups. While it is always best to have your nutritional requirements met through a healthy food selection, appropriate dosages of supplements can “supplement” your diet by filling in the gaps.

The bad news about supplements is that overdoing dosages can be harmful to your health.  Many people have the “if some is good, more is better” mentality.  The truth is that scientists have documented upper limits of safety, and beyond those limits you are putting your health at risk.  Mega doses of supplements are actually categorized as drugs, and excessive amounts of supplements can cause symptoms ranging from nerve damage to liver failure.  Another little known fact is that just because you can purchase a supplement at a store, doesn’t mean it is safe.  Supplements sold in this country have virtually no regulation in terms of safety.  Under current law, the FDA is responsible for taking action on unsafe supplements already on the market, but does not need to screen or pre-approve a supplement before it is gets to the store shelves.  This means you need to be a savvy supplement shopper if you decide to take supplements.

Here are 5 tips to help keep your supplement selection safe:

  1. Look at the Supplement Fact label (example in above photo); choose a multi-nutrient supplement that does not have very high percentages of nutrients (around 100% Daily Value (DV) would be safe, if around 200% or higher, move on to a different supplement).
  2. Look for the USP symbol or text on a label.
    The USP symbol or text means that the supplement will dissolve in your digestive system, and the ingredients are guaranteed.
  3. Supplements with added ingredients such as parsley, alfalfa, and herbs offer no added health benefit to the consumer.  There would be too little added to the supplement-best to just eat the parsley!
  4. Don’t let terms such as “stress relief”, “time release”, or “natural” drive your brand selection-as these terms are only marketing terms!
  5. Because there is no regulation on supplements prior to arriving on the store shelves, consider purchasing supplements that are name brands.  These companies are more likely to have their own internal high quality control standards, as they have a reputation to be protected, which can also ultimately protect the consumer.

If in doubt about whether to supplement or not, a registered/licensed dietitian can assist you!

What are your thoughts about supplement use and safety?



Do You Have the “New” Vitamin Deficiency?

Research suggests that 75% of teens and adults in this country may be deficient in the so-called “sunshine vitamin”.  Vitamin D is made in the body when the sun shines on skin unprotected with sunscreen – hence the term the “sunshine vitamin”.  With more pollution, increased sunscreen use, and less outside activities, the impact on our vitamin D levels has become quite evident to the medical community.

While we can eat foods containing vitamin D, those foods may be limited in the typical American diet.  Milk, some enriched cereals, fortified orange juice, and some fish can provide vitamin D.

Many people already know that vitamin D is important for strong bones, but fewer people are aware that the importance of vitamin D extends well beyond bone health. Research is hinting that vitamin D deficiency could potentially impact heart disease, blood pressure, infections, various forms of arthritis, certain cancers, mental health, and even cause our muscles to ache more!

Take charge of your health and ask your physician to check the vitamin D in your blood. After those results are available, consult with a knowledgeable health care providerA dietitian may be your best guidance for correcting your deficiency with a combination of food, lifestyle, and supplements if warranted.  All too often, when the deficiency is diagnosed, I hear of an inappropriate dosage of vitamin D suggested to correct the deficiency!