This week I was a bit stumped about what topic to discuss. Lately, I’ve engaged in several conversations about dietary supplements and their perceived purpose in our lives. Instead of delving into the infinite number of supplements in the market, I decided to create a short checklist of things to consider before taking a dietary supplement.
1. Want versus Need. It’s important to decipher if you want to take a supplement versus if you need to take a supplement. For example, you may have conducted research about a product that helps you burn body fat and suppress your appetite. Do you NEED a product to help you burn fat and suppress your appetite or do you WANT something that claims to achieve these outcomes? And is a supplement the answer or is it good old fashion exercise, a clean diet, and discipline to achieve your health goals?
Here’s another example. You have a gastric by-pass surgery coming up and your doctor has directed you to purchase a specific type of whey protein with no vitamins and low sugar. A basic whey protein shake will be used in conjunction with other methods of nutrient consumption within the post-operative healing process. Do you WANT whey protein or do you NEED whey protein?
Remember, oftentimes we want a supplement and actually don’t need it and can just as easily consume foods rich in a variety of nutrients to meet our recommended daily intake requirements.
2. Prior and Current Health Conditions. Several supplements may improve or magnify a current or prior health condition. For example, you’re diabetic and want to take a supplement to help burn fat and curb your appetite. Losing weight is your intended purpose for taking the supplement, but an indirect outcome may be not eating enough food, thus significantly lowering blood sugar levels placing you in diabetic shock.
Another example relates to statin drugs (e.g., several blood cholesterol lowering drugs). A common warning on the labels of statin drugs is “do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while taking this medication.” This is because grapefruit (a citrus fruit) negates the effectiveness of statin drugs. How does this relate to supplements? Well, some supplements are infused with citrus fruits (read the fine print) and can potentially be counter-intuitive to the drug’s intended purpose.
3. Lower and Upper Tolerable Limits. Several credible national health entities (e.g., Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies) have defined upper tolerable limits for the majority of micro and macronutrients. Recommendations are provided for a variety of demographic groups separated by age group: children, males, females, pregnancy, and lactation.
Vitamin B-12 is a very popular nutritional supplement associated with energy. As a water-soluble vitamin, B-12 is not stored in the body and is readily excreted in urine. Also, it is important to note that vitamins do not provide energy. Instead, they help our bodies maximize nutrients that yield energy. B-12 vitamin toxicity is uncommon, but consumption of high doses may result in negative health outcomes (e.g., numbness, tingling, insomnia).
4. Medical Professional Consultation. In my experience, I’ve noticed several people have not and do not plan to consult a medical professional prior to ingesting any type of dietary supplement. I have to admit that I have fallen into this category. Several of us search the internet for facts about various dietary supplements and are oftentimes content with what we are able to find. Although it is great to conduct research, but I encourage us all (myself included) to consult a medical professional prior to taking any supplements. It’s important to know supplements are not required to be approved by the FDA. Therefore, most medical doctors will not advocate or support the majority of supplements.
Also, remember you have the option to ask specific questions (free of charge) about supplements and potential drug interactions with any pharmacist at a local drug store or grocery store. And of course, you can consult other medical and health professionals (e.g., medical doctor, nurse, nutritionist). Let’s all make thoroughly informed choices and do our diligent research.
5. Listen to Your Body. Last but not least, listen to your body. Most of the time our body tells us exactly what it needs more and less of to function optimally. Together with a healthy support system and the expertise of medical and health professionals we are equipped to live a healthier lifestyle.
What’s missing from this list? What are some other things to consider BEFORE consuming a dietary supplement?