Supplements. Have you ever found yourself in the supplement aisle at a store (or worse, in an entire store just for supplements) staring at the 20 varieties of the same item in different doses, types, mixtures and preparations? Perhaps a doctor, dietitian or naturopath told you to take vitamin D or fish oil. Maybe a friend told you that elderberry cured her flu and that you should try it, too. Hormone balance. Bone building. Immune supporting. Skin improving. Inflammation slashing…..why are we taking these products? Do they work? Are they worth the money or are we (literally) flushing money down the drain?
I’m here to help with my discussion about are supplements helping or hurting? As a nutrition expert trained in the subject, I’ve got you. Let’s chat.
I remember when I took a class entirely on supplement in my masters in nutrition program at Bastyr University here in Seattle and our professor told us that one day, when we were dietitians, that a patient would come to us with a bag full of supplements, drop it at our feet and say: “what do I do?” This struck terror in our hearts of course. It’s SO complicated! With such a lack of regulation in the US regarding quality or efficacy, what’s to be trusted and how can we know what someone needs or doesn’t?
Just a couple years later, working at in integrative cancer care center, this is exactly what happened. Every day. Baskets, boxes and backpacks FULL of supplements of all variety dropped at my feet. Are supplements helping or hurting? “Help me”. And I could! Because there are some really simple things you can do when you’re trying to figure out what to do with all your supplements. Toss out expired ones. Look to see how many times an individual ingredient is showing up in several different products (adding up to dangerous levels sometimes). And my personal favorite: get blood testing!! It’s the absolute easiest way for me or any provider to understand exactly what you need. Vitamin D, ferritin, cholesterol and triglycerides, CRP/inflammation – these are so helpful in understanding what might be needed for you as a unique individual.
I absolutely love talking supplements with people. It requires a deep knowledge of biochemistry, guidelines, regulation and the needs for different dietary patterns, stages of the lifecycle and health conditions. Please, PLEASE, don’t take advice from someone who isn’t medically trained or who has a benefit to them in selling you supplements. Don’t listen to testimonials or individual recommendations – what’s good for one person isn’t necessarily good for another. Get professional guidance. That’s what people like me do for a living!
Are Supplements Helping or Hurting?
The bottom line on whether or not supplements are helping or hurting is: it depends (sorry). You can take too much of pretty much any supplement. And when people tell you “you just pee them out”…well, there are biochemical interactions happening in the body before that happens so that is not really a truthful statement. It’s impossible for me to know what you need by just looking at you. I need a lot more information and hopefully some data from blood tests, too. Generally, a healthy person with a balance diet probably needs little to no supplements. It’s amazing what you can get through food. But there are many people who really need supplements: kids/teens (picky eaters), pregnant and lactating women, people over 50 years of age, those at risk for bone density problems, people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglycerides, those with chronic diseases like autoimmune or cancer, athletes, vegans, people on the keto diet…..and many more.
Reading More About Supplements
If you want to read more about a variety of supplement topics, I talk about it a lot in interviews for publications. Here are some of my favorites. I’m featuring these and many more on my facebook and my twitter accounts this month so please follow me there to stay part of the conversation!
Washington Post – are single agent cures for real? Celery juice and beyond
Readers Digest – top superfood supplements
Healthline – Ashitaba and anti-aging
Foodtrients – benefits of medicinal mushrooms for your health
Readers Digest – supplements that nutritionists don’t take
Food&Nutrition Magazine – Vitamin K for bone health
Please let me know what you think in the comments! I’d love to hear your questions and feedback about supplements. I talk about this a lot so make sure to hit me up on my site or direct message on social media to chat further about your unique needs. And please sign up for my newsletter so that you can follow along with important topics like this one in the future!
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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