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 stating that perhaps we should not be taking multi-nutrient supplements at all. Further stating they may actually be harmful to our health. I have even had patients come to my office telling me that their physicians have told them to stop taking supplements altogether.
The wise approach, however, is most likely somewhere between constantly popping supplements and never taking a supplement. It’s best to be a savvy shopper, as there’s no sense in making poor supplement choices that may hurt you and your wallet.
Who might benefit from supplements?
People that would benefits from supplements include: those with nutrient deficiencies, women of childbearing years, or the elderly on certain medications. People with low calorie intakes and those that skip entire food groups might also benefit. 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 on supplements
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, it does not need to screen or pre-approve a supplement before it 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:
- 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 many nutrients are 200% or higher, consider selecting a different supplement.
- 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.
- 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!
- Don’t let terms such as “stress relief”, “time release”, or “natural” drive your brand selection. These are only marketing terms!
- 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! And remember, you are still getting nutrients from foods that are fortified, like cereals.
What are your thoughts about supplement use and safety?