With the abundance of conflicting information available about dietary supplements, it is more important than to sort the reliable information from the questionable. Scientists now recognize that even mild nutritional deficiencies can create subtle symptoms of disease. In fact, it has been reported that approximately 78% of all degenerative disease is diet related.
It has also been found that through detoxification, dietary improvements and nutritional supplementation the signs of deficiency can be easily improved and remedied. But, it is important to understand which foods, vitamins, herbs, and health practices will give you the optimal health and longevity you desire.
Nutritional deficiencies rob the body of its own natural resources and can manifest as symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings and insomnia. Many times, these symptoms are taken for granted as a natural sign of aging. When left unchecked, however, these same deficiencies can contribute to diagnosable diseases such as arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis.
Dietary Supplements – More Than Vitamins
Today’s dietary supplements are not only vitamins and minerals. They also include other less familiar substances, such as herbals, botanicals, amino acids, antioxidants, probiotics and enzymes. Dietary supplements come in a variety of forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, energy bars, or drinks.
Scientific evidence supporting the benefits of some dietary supplements (e.g., vitamins and minerals) is well established for certain health conditions, but others need further study. Whatever your choice, supplements should not replace prescribed medications or the variety of foods important to a healthful diet.
If you do not consume a variety of different foods, some supplements may help ensure that you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients or help promote optimal health and performance. However, dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases; therefore, manufacturers may not make such claims. In some cases, dietary supplements may have unwanted effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other dietary supplements or medicines, or if you have certain health conditions.
Unlike drugs, dietary supplements are not approved for safety and effectiveness by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is the responsibility of the supplement manufacturers/distributors to ensure that their products are safe and that their label claims are accurate and truthful.
Fundamentally there are two broad groups of supplementation. The first group is considered to be therapeutic intervention. These are specific forms of nutrients taken in specific forms for specific periods of time. The goal of this intervention is to alter the gross inequities found in the evaluation by assisting and supporting the impaired mechanisms. Generally these nutrients are not taken for periods of longer than ninety days.
Once the appropriate response has been achieved your original assessment should be reviewed to determine what must be done to maintain the progress achieved and ensure continued improvement. Often times this involves dietary and lifestyle changes in conjunction with the second broad group of support supplements called foundational nutrients.
Typically these are core nutrients associated with the five basic supplements most people need to take on a daily basis for extended periods of time to ensure that adequate nutritional resources are available to fuel the fundamental systems of the body. These five sub-groups include a multiple vitamin, multiple mineral, digestive enzyme, probiotic, and antioxidant.
These are the five basic nutrients agreed upon by all experts for inclusion on a daily basis in the diets of the population at large. They are necessary because they have been depleted from the food chain by virtue of the techniques utilized in contemporary farming, production, and manufacturing, such as, pasteurization, flash freezing, heat preservation, cold preservation, dehydration, fermentation, food additives, food irradiation and packaging.
Therefore, following your initial nutritional assessment two distinctly different types of recommendations may be considered. The first is that of therapeutic intervention for the purposes of restoring normal function. Due to the biochemical individuality of each individual there are a vast number of choices available in this arena.
For this reason the highest quality and most specific nutrients must be supplied to effectively impact the internal environment as efficiently as possible. This is also the reason for recommending periodic re-evaluation to monitor changes and progress over a predictable period of time.
The requirements for the second group of foundational nutrients is somewhat less specific and stringent in that the only requirements are that they be comprehensive, high quality, broad spectrum, and biologically active. It is for this reason that the GMP rating on supplement labels is imperative before a choice for long-term use is incorporated.
Once your biochemical goals have been achieved it is easy to maintain what has been created by simply having the appropriate nutrients delivered automatically through the ongoing support provided by these core nutrients. When selecting nutritional supplementation for long-term use there are a number of considerations you should keep in mind.
At times, it can be confusing to tell the difference between a dietary supplement, a food, or an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. An easy way to recognize a dietary supplement is to look for the Supplement Facts Panel on the product. Learning to read and interpret labels is critical to purchasing a quality supplement.
Potential Risks of Using Dietary Supplements
If you choose to use the information produced by your nutritional evaluation to design your own supplemental program there are certain things you will want to remember. Although certain products may be helpful to some people, there may be circumstances when these products can pose unexpected risks. Many supplements contain active ingredients that can have strong effects in the body. Taking a combination of supplements, using these products together with medicine, or substituting them in place of prescribed medicines could lead to harmful, even life-threatening results.
Also, some supplements can have unwanted effects before, during, and after surgery. It is important to let your doctor and other health professionals know about the vitamins, minerals, botanicals, and other products you are taking, especially before surgery.
Here a few examples of dietary supplements believed to interact with specific drugs:
- Calcium and heart medicine (e.g., Digoxin), thiazide diuretics (Thiazide), and aluminum and magnesium-containing antacids.
- Magnesium and thiazide and loop diuretics (e.g., Lasix®, etc.), some cancer drugs (e.g., Cisplatin, etc.), and magnesium-containing antacids.
- Vitamin K and a blood thinner (e.g., Coumadin).
- St. John’s Wort and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs (i.e., anti-depressant drugs and birth control pills).
Consider these tips before constructing your own supplement program:
- Safety First. Some supplement ingredients, including nutrients and plant components, can be toxic based on their activity in your body. Do not substitute a dietary supplement for a prescription medicine or therapy.
- Avoid chasing the latest headline. Sound health advice is generally based on research over time, not a single study touted by the media. Be wary of results claiming a “quick fix” that depart from scientific research and established dietary guidance.
- Be Aware of False Claims. Remember: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Some examples of false claims on product labels:* Quick and effective “cure-all.”
* Can treat or cure disease.
* “Totally safe,” “all natural,” and has “definitely no side effects.”
* Limited availability, “no-risk, money-back guarantees,” or requires advance payment.
More may not be better. Some products can be harmful when consumed in high amounts, for a long time, or in combination with certain other substances.
The term “natural” doesn’t always mean safe. Do not assume that this term ensures wholesomeness or safety. For some supplements, “natural” ingredients may interact with medicines, be dangerous for people with certain health conditions, or be harmful in high doses.
For example, tea made from peppermint leaves is generally considered safe to drink, but peppermint oil (extracted from the leaves) is much more concentrated and can be toxic if used incorrectly.
Is the product worth the money? Resist the pressure to buy a product or treatment “on the spot.” Some supplement products may be expensive or may not provide the benefit you expect. For example, excessive amounts of water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and B vitamins, are not used by the body and are eliminated in the urine.
Last But Not Least
- Do not self diagnose any health condition. Work with your health care providers to determine how best to achieve optimal health.
- Check with your health care providers before taking a supplement, especially when combining or substituting them with other foods or medicine.
- Some supplements can help you meet your daily requirements for certain nutrients, but others may cause health problems.
- Dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure disease, or to replace the variety of foods important to a healthful diet.
A Final Word
Regardless of how you choose to implement supplementation into your self-help program think seriously about having some form of nutritional evaluation performed to establish a baseline. If anything can cause anything you’ll never know what’s causing what without a concise assessment of your current biochemical status.
The right assessment along with appropriate recommendations can help you to create optimal health and vitality.