The Ins and Outs of Supplements

Understanding the proper use and different qualities of supplements can help you use them correctly or not at all.

Supplements have become a massive industry with many enthusiastic promoters. But despite all the research telling us how certain vitamins and nutrients affect our bodies, taking supplements may not always yield the results we can hope for and expect.

“In my clinical experience, supplements are most effective when tailored to an individual’s unique nutritional needs,” said Dr. Tamara Darragh, naturopathic physician licensed by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.

Darragh says that given the range of benefits and needs, getting expert advice from a knowledgeable provider can be important in any supplement regimen.

Such an expert may consider a wide variety of factors, including age, gender, genetics, family history, disease, lifestyle factors, and more. It may also be prudent to test for any nutrient deficiencies.

Value for the dollar

With so many different types of supplements available, and with new ones hitting the market daily, beyond expert advice, how can you be sure you’re choosing a safe, high-quality product that could actually deliver benefits?

One way to verify product quality is to look for products that have been tested by an independent third party, such as ConsumerLab, NSF, or the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG). Third-party testing is not required by law, but some manufacturers still choose to have their products tested by third parties as a sign of their commitment to quality and transparency.

These independent groups test for illegal substances, validate that the ingredients listed on the label are actually what’s in the bottle, test the potency of the product, and provide a Certificate of Analysis (COA) showing the results. Some manufacturers, such as Nutrigold, make the COA of their products available to consumers on their website or via a QR code on the product label.

Unlike prescription drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the safety or quality of dietary supplements before they are marketed. Instead, it is up to each manufacturer to ensure that safety standards are met and that the supplement actually contains the ingredients and potency listed on the label.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, a 2012 government study found that 20% of supplements marketed for weight loss or immune system support made illegal label claims. The FDA has also found prescription drugs in thousands of products sold as dietary supplements.

The FDA plays certain roles. It can inspect supplement manufacturing facilities, and it monitors adverse event reports that are submitted by the companies themselves, health professionals, or consumers. The agency also prohibits supplement makers from making false claims or exaggerating the effectiveness of their products.

But because the human body is so complex and people are so different from each other, science itself is sometimes uncertain.

The results of studies on the safety and effectiveness of many supplements are mixed and often contradictory, and some nutrients may pose serious health risks or be toxic in high doses. That’s why it’s important to consult a trusted health care provider about your individual nutritional needs and to purchase supplements from a trusted manufacturer. Take all hyped health claims with a healthy dose of skepticism and don’t assume that words like “natural”, “standardized”, “clean” or “verified” are a guarantee of quality.

Strictly complementary

According to Darragh, the quality of a supplement depends on a variety of factors, including the quality and purity of the raw materials, the formulations used, the inclusion or exclusion of unnecessary fillers and colorants, and quality control during the process. Manufacturing.

An important point to keep in mind is that dietary supplements, by definition, are intended to “supplement” – not replace – the nutrients provided by the diet. Many health experts believe that for most healthy individuals, it should be possible to get all the nutrients necessary for good health from a varied and nutrient-dense diet.

According to the FDA, a supplement is a product that is taken by mouth and contains one or more “food ingredients”. It’s not technically a food or a drug, but can include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, plants (derived from plants), or live microbes (like probiotics). Supplements may also contain a combination of these ingredients.

Dietary supplements can be a powerful tool for the health and well-being of those who may need to fill nutritional gaps. And when chosen and used carefully, they can play an important role in promoting the health and well-being of many people. But they are not the panacea that some promoters, marketers and so-called experts claim they are.

There are conditions in which it may be necessary to obtain additional nutritional support through supplementation. People with nutritional deficiencies or medical conditions that cause poor nutrient absorption may need supplements to meet all of their nutritional needs.

Vegans may benefit from supplementation, especially with vitamin B12, which is found primarily in animal products. Also, pregnant or breastfeeding women, who have increased nutritional needs, and those who have limited access to healthy foods can benefit.

The backstory

It’s important to note that while dietary supplements may be “natural” in the sense that they come from leaves, roots, or another substance found in nature, that doesn’t mean they are risk-free. The same goes for those that are synthesized in more industrial processes.

And although herbs and other medicinal plants have been used medicinally for thousands of years around the world, it wasn’t until the last century that the dietary supplement as we know it today gained traction. importance.

It wasn’t until 1912 that scientists began to discover that the world of nutrients contained more than the macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The following decades led to the gradual discovery of an increasing number of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, which were gradually isolated, extracted and soon after synthesized in the laboratory. In the years that followed, they were commercialized.

The progression over the decades has taken the dietary supplement industry from obscurity to ubiquity. The Council for Responsible Nutrition, which conducts an annual consumer survey of dietary supplements, reported that its latest results, from 2021, showed a new high in supplement use, with 4 in 5 Americans using a kind of dietary supplement.

And this change is not without risk.

Questions and problems

Since supplements are concentrated forms of specific compounds, it is possible to overdose by taking too much, either in a short time or over the long term.

For example, a study published December 22, 2016 in Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin showed that excessive amounts of vitamin A harm bone health, increasing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

And beyond the huge variation in supplement quality, the simple fact is that sometimes the body cannot effectively utilize certain vitamins or minerals in supplement form. They may need to be taken with other nutrients, dietary fiber or when certain biological conditions are met. This means you can spend a lot of money on supplements and get little to no results.

Numerous other studies have found that taking various supplements, including folic acid, retinol, and multivitamins, had no effect on disease prevention or actually had harmful effects. And, according to the FDA, some supplements can negatively interfere with prescription drugs; others can interfere with lab tests and have dangerous effects during surgery.

One of the most popular forms of supplements is the multivitamin. And while taking multivitamins daily won’t hurt, there’s not much evidence that it does any good either. As the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states on its website: “Most research shows that taking multivitamins does not lead to longer lives, slow cognitive decline, or reduce risks of cancer, heart disease or diabetes. .”

“I wish there was a magical extra ‘insurance policy,’ but the reality is that health is far too complex,” Darragh said.

“Nutritional supplements can be part of this quest to prevent disease and health problems, but I think they’re overemphasized. They work best when taken as part of a holistic plan comprised of daily habits that include, but are not limited to, nutrient-dense diet, movement, sleep, stress resilience, balance, joy and community.

Zrinka Peters has been writing professionally for over a decade. She holds a BA in English Literature from Simon Fraser University and has been published in a wide variety of print and online publications, including Health Digest,, Today’s Catholic Teacher and

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