What's Up With Supplements?

These days both the amount and variety of vitamins and nutritional supplements on the market are enough to make you dizzy. While some claim to cure depression and others promise to reduce blood pressure, endless options make you wonder if you’re getting enough nutrients. We’re here to help you separate fact from fiction so you can make informed decisions about what you’re putting into your body.

Food Vs. Pills

Let’s dive right into the million-dollar question: Do you need to be taking a daily multivitamin?

The short answer is that most of us don’t need dietary supplements at all. Not even a multivitamin. If you are able to maintain a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein sources, chances are you are getting adequate nutrients. Making the most of your diet should be your number one goal, because taking a synthetic vitamin is not the same as nurturing your body with nutritious foods. Whole foods optimize your health by providing your body with a synergy of nutrients. A single fruit or vegetable contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which an over-the-counter supplement does not identically mimic. Take a vitamin C pill and a serving of blueberries, for example. The blueberries will deliver antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C and a host of other nutrients. If you opt for the pill, you're missing out on the other benefits that the whole fruit naturally offers. 

Of course, the pill offers a concentrated dose of a given vitamin or mineral which a single food usually doesn’t provide. The catch is that your body probably doesn’t need the mega dose.

So who does need to take a supplement?

As with most rules there are some exceptions. Those of you who are at risk of becoming deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral would likely benefit from a supplement. You may fall into in the “at risk” group if you are on a restrictive diet, you are a vegan or a vegetarian, you are an older adult (50+), you are pregnant, or if you have a medical condition that limits your food choices or increases your need for a specific vitamin. For instance, a majority of vitamin B12 sources come from animal protein so vegans and vegetarians tend to be at higher risk for B12 deficiency. Alternatively, pregnant women have higher needs for folic acid so they often benefit from folic acid supplements. We want to let you know that probiotics are a different ballgame. We will discuss pre and probiotics in another post, so stay tuned! 

But taking more of something can’t hurt, right?

Nope. False. Untrue. Taking too much of anything can have detrimental consequences and supplements are no different. This is especially true if you are taking medications that may have nutrient interactions that alter the effectiveness of the meds. For example, calcium supplements can interfere with thyroid med absorption, so it may be dangerous for thyroid meds to be taken with calcium.  

You also have to be sure that you are taking supplements for the right reasons. Many people believe that vitamin C will cure the common cold. Though we wish this were the case, scientists seem to agree that there is no valid evidence to verify this claim. Plus, taking more than 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day can lead to kidney problems. On the other hand, vitamin C does boost iron absorption and can be helpful if you are anemic.

We feel it is our job to give you the 411 on supplement regulation – or lack thereof. There are not as many regulatory requirements imposed on nutritional supplements as there are on pharmaceutical drugs. Companies therefore are at liberty to make claims that may not be 100% true, as there are fewer legal ramifications. In other words, supplements may not contain all of what they promise to. This doesn’t mean that all supplement labels are false; however, they can most definitely be misleading. 

What should you do next?

You probably know the saying “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.” Well, the same applies here. It is important to understand that it is not beneficial to take a supplement without an indication. If you are at risk for a nutrient deficiency, talk to your physician and dietitian (aka us!) about developing a nutrition regimen that is both safe and effective for you. In the meantime, put those pills away and EAT your nutrients.