To Supplement, or Not?
Being a Wise Consumer of Dietary Supplements
We all want to live our best life, regardless of age or health status. One way many people, even Christians, are attempting to improve their health is through supplements. If you walk into the vitamin and supplement aisle, you are probably just as overwhelmed as I am. Just walk into a GNC, VitaCost, etc., and angst rises that such a store exists! How about the natural food stores? Most brands don’t even look familiar unless you’ve patronized these establishments! Supplements have garnered so much attention and praise I thought it would be a good idea to share with you what I’ve learned as a fitness pro so you can make a relatively well-informed decision about them.
What are Supplements?
First, a supplement is an ingestible product for additional dietary benefit (NETA, 19). Nutritional supplements are usually measured in grams, except vitamins and minerals are measured in micrograms and International Units for the amount of the vitamin or mineral, and then list the inactive ingredients. Their statements of effectiveness usually appear as claims or testimonials. Independent laboratories test some but are not tested by the FDA. Some have a caloric value, while others may not. Where you purchase them doesn’t matter; these facts remain the same. Their quality can vary, even those from natural and organic stores.
Are Supplements Tested for Safety and Effectiveness?
The FDA “regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering “conventional” foods and drug products.” (FDA.gov). However, drugs are regulated more stringently. The FDA doesn’t investigate UNLESS there are several complaints of problems caused by individuals taking them (FDA.gov). For example, ephedra caused severe problems for individuals taking it, so the FDA banished its sale and use in the USA. The FDA website has several resources you can check out regarding supplements.
NOTE: Look for third-party verification on dietary supplements: GSCG Certified Drug-Free, Informed-Choice, NSF Certified for Sport, and UPS Verified (NETA, p.18). Avoid supplements with “proprietary blends” listed in the ingredients.
What Supplements are the Hottest on the Market for Active Agers?
Mid-lifers and beyond fill supplement aisles looking for anything that will alleviate pain, improve digestion, restore youthful appearance, improve sexual function, and add years to their lives. Here are a few of them:
Collagen—usually found in powder form but sometimes as caplets, supposedly helps improve the health and appearance of skin, hair, and nails. It is also consumed to alleviate joint pain and stiffness.
Hair & Nail—primarily contains biotin. Some companies add other ingredients that may or may not enhance the effectiveness of the biotin. Supposedly, it promotes hair and nail health and growth. It can, however, it can interfere with tests for Hepatitis A & B, among others (testing.com).
Glucosamine Chondroitin—The Arthritis Foundation has promoted this combination for many years but has recently taken a non-committal approach. It supposedly helps reduce the pain and swelling of arthritic joints. One caution is that it often contains ingredients from shellfish, a common allergen.
Weight loss supplements—some suppress appetite while others supposedly increase the metabolism for weight loss. Some come as pills; others are shakes or powders added to drinks or foods. Some of them can have serious side effects. Some from the past were banned in the US due to their dangerous side effects.
Tumeric—often promoted to reduce joint pain and inflammation, is sold as pills and powders.
Black Cohosh—often used for menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings. Sometimes, it is part of a combination of herbs that claim to help with menopausal symptoms.
Aren’t Supplements All Natural?
Although many compounds used in supplements are found in nature, they have side effects. They can have harmful interactions with other supplements and drugs you may take. Remember that belladonna, arsenic, and hemlock are poisons and natural (Brittanica). During medieval times, women used arsenic to keep a pale complexion but were slowly poisoning themselves!
It’s also important to remember that many drugs were originally found in nature but synthesized to reduce toxic effects, purify the main ingredient, or protect the natural source. “All Natural” is a marketing ploy and shouldn’t be a deciding factor.
Words to the Wise
Before taking any new supplements, please talk with your healthcare provider about them to be sure they aren’t causing issues or interfering with the effectiveness of your medications. If you currently take supplements, ask yourself if you’ve seen a positive difference since taking them versus not. For example, I take Plaquenil, calcium, and magnesium. But I can’t take them together because calcium and magnesium can reduce the effectiveness of Plaquenil for my autoimmune disease. A doctor also recommended that I take probiotics for my many food intolerances, which didn’t work for me. Still, an enzyme supplement has been spot on to help reduce symptoms for some of my intolerances. My doctor was happy that I found it. Safety and effectiveness are essential.
It’s also important to eat a healthy, low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet. Many health issues can be eliminated or alleviated since our bodies absorb more food nutrients than they can from supplements. Also, remember that some digestive problems can make absorbing some vitamins and minerals complicated, a problem for me with celiac disease. You could be wasting hundreds to thousands of dollars on vitamins and minerals while starving your body or causing overdoses of some oil-soluble vitamins and trace minerals. Multivitamins should only be taken if your doctor recommends them.
If you are considering weight loss supplements, look at what you already eat and your activity level. Check your mood when you eat comfort foods. Use a journal to track your food intake and how you feel while eating them. For example, suppose you are super stressed and eat a whole bag of potato chips. In that case, you may need to change your lifestyle and choose healthy, crunchy foods like fresh vegetables instead. Also, a counselor for eating disorders like binge eating may prove valuable to losing those extra pounds. Medically supervised plans through your local hospital are beneficial for people who have a lot of weight to lose. Also, hiring a personal trainer and Christian wellness coach can help you with your weight loss goals Hire Me. The trade-off in expense is money better spent toward health improvement rather than throwing your hard-earned cash away on supplements that may or may not work for you.
We can never outdo God in His creation of all good things for our health. James 1:17 NIV states,
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Before we consider trying to Improve on what Nature intended, ask yourself, “How did God create our bodies to function, and what has He already provided through healthy foods and exercise?” Start here before doing anything else. May God bless you!
Nutrition Coach Specialty Certification Manual by the National Exercise Trainers Association. Section 3: Dietary Supplements p.p. 17-19. Copyright 2021.
FDA Dietary Supplements https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements
Others appear as links within the text.