There has been ongoing discussion for years from different corners with regard to the taking of nutritional supplements. Are they safe? Are they effective? What supplements should you take? Do you need supplements at all or is a healthy diet good enough? Government agencies, politicians, scientists, health gurus, friends and relatives have all had something to say about these questions. We want to weigh in on this debate to say this: You need to ask questions beforehand to determine if you should use any supplement.
A primary objective of our pharmacy is to promote a proper attitude toward supplement use. Taking supplements should not be a random experiment or a frivolous choice based upon hearsay or some television hype. Rather it requires you know a bit about how your body operates, about what you intend to put into your body and why. Safety when you take a supplement should be an important concern. Obtaining the maximum effectiveness, selecting appropriate strengths or combinations, and understanding possible limitations from using a supplement are other parameters for you to evaluate. We observe that when forethought, knowledge, and understanding are lacking, supplement users often get less than satisfactory results.
What is a nutritional supplement? We’ll define it simply as something your body needs to obtain from what you eat or that it must make so that your body can possess a high level of health. The terms “nutritional supplement” and “supplement” are used in this blog to mean the same and broadly include vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants, sports nutritionals and homeopathics. An example is coenzyme Q-10 or CoQ-10 that is made in your liver so you don’t necessarily have to take a pill. By comparison vitamin C is necessary to take in your food or as a supplement each day because your body does not have the capability to produce it.
Key Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide if a Supplement is for You
Here are some guideline questions to ask. Your answers can then serve as an information/knowledge base to help you decide if you should supplement, what supplement(s) to choose, and how often/how long should you or are you able to use a supplement.
1. Do you know how a specific supplement functions in your body? Often supplements perform multiple jobs. Example: Vitamin C helps you avoid colds but it is essential to the health of varied tissues and organs such as your eyes, skin, and joints.
2. Can a nutritional supplement be obtained from choosing different foods as part of your regular diet? Example: Laxative herbs such as senna help clear the bowel of toxins in feces. So will increasing your fiber intake to the requisite 25 – 30 grams per day as you increase vegetable consumption. Also vitamins C and the B – family are found largely in vegetables.
3. How old are you? As you live longer be aware there will be changes to your body. Your brain may not be as sharp as it once was. Eating a meal may leave you feeling bloated with gas more often. Example: Learn what foods provide critical nutrients for your brain such as sardines, nuts, blueberries and certain spices. And when you eat observe what foods cause problems. Sometimes you need to chew more thoroughly, drink less liquid with a meal or consider taking digestive enzymes when you eat.
4. Are you on medications? Daily use of medications can cause what are called nutrient depletions. Your body metabolizes medications in order to break them down or to excrete them. In the process, many nutrients are used for this purpose which then leaves fewer vitamins, minerals, etc. available to the rest of your body to run on. A feeling of lower energy may be symptomatic of this. Example: Adjust the kinds of foods you eat to include those more nutrient-dense such as vegetables and nuts Vitamins in the B-family are some of nutrients used up more rapidly to clear out medication residues.
5. If you are on medications, are there interactions between a specific supplement and the prescription you take? Example: Anti-depressants and St. John’s wort don’t go together. Also blood thinners and too much garlic. And the same thing with certain weight loss products and heart medications.
6. What is your family history? Do family members have health issues such as heart disease, anemia, dementia, cancer, diabetes? While these and many other diseases have genetic basis, you are not necessarily preordained to get them. There is the good probability that you can ward them off. Successful case histories abound where people, through self-education and/or the help of caring health professionals have prevented onset or reversed the course of these diseases. Example: Diet high in fats, animal protein, and excessive starches/sugars with few vegetables may leave you prone to elevated cholesterol and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Change your food habits first. Exercise more to move your body’s metabolism to a higher notch whereby it burns blood sugar (glucose) and fats more quickly. If you are Type 2 (adult onset) prediabetic there are supplements to help manage blood glucose levels such as certain extracts of cinnamon. A combination of aerobic and resistance workouts can also do wonders to lower your glucose.
What we advocate is that you evaluate the pros and cons of supplements before you use them. Marketers on TV infomercials want you to buy products. Their emphasis is on hype whereby you make decisions based on emotions and not too much knowledge. They don’t direct your thinking to ask questions like those above or others you may have. So ask questions first and be sure to get quality answers. You can be more confident when you make decisions to use or not to use nutritional supplements.