The Ins and Outs of Supplements

Knowing the correct use and different qualities of supplements can help you use them correctly – or not at all

Supplements have become a huge industry with a slew of enthusiastic promoters. But despite all the research that tells us about how certain vitamins and nutrients affect our bodies, taking supplements doesn’t always deliver the results we hope and expect.

“In my clinical experience, supplements tailored to an individual’s unique nutritional needs have been most successful,” said Dr. Tamara Darragh, a licensed naturopathic physician with the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.

Given the range of benefits and needs, getting expert advice from a knowledgeable provider is important for any supplementation program, Darragh said.

Such specialists can take into account a variety of factors, including age, gender, genetics, family history, disease, lifestyle factors, and more. It may also be prudent to test for any nutritional deficiency.

dollar value

With so many different types of supplements to choose from, and with new ones hitting the market every day, how can you be sure you’re choosing a safe and high-quality product that actually offers some benefits, in addition to expert advice? ?

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

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

Unlike prescription drugs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the safety or quality of dietary supplements before they are marketed. Instead, it is the responsibility of 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. A 2012 government study found that 20 percent of supplements used for weight loss or immune system support made illegal claims on the label, according to the National Center for Free and Integrative Health. The FDA has also found prescription drugs in thousands of products marketed as dietary supplements.

The FDA does play a role. It may inspect supplement manufacturing facilities and monitor adverse event reports submitted by companies themselves, healthcare professionals or consumers. The agency also prohibits supplement manufacturers from making false claims or exaggerating the efficacy of their products.

But because the human body is so complex and so different from one person to another, sometimes science itself is uncertain.

The safety and efficacy studies of many supplements have been mixed and often conflicting, and certain nutrients may pose serious health risks or be toxic in large doses. That’s why it’s important to consult with a trusted healthcare provider about your individual nutritional needs and buy supplements from a trusted manufacturer. Treat any hyped health claims with a healthy dose of skepticism and don’t think words like “natural,” “standardized,” “clean,” or “proven” are a guarantee of quality.

Strictly supplement

According to Darragh, the quality of supplements depends on a number of factors, including the quality and purity of the raw materials, the formulations used, the inclusion or exclusion of unnecessary fillers and dyes, and quality control during the manufacturing process.

The important thing to remember is that, by definition, dietary supplements are meant to “supplement” rather than replace nutrients provided through the diet. Many health experts believe that for most healthy people, it should be possible to get all the nutrients needed for good health through a varied, nutrient-dense diet.

According to the FDA, a supplement is an oral product that contains one or more “dietary ingredients.” It is technically neither a food nor a drug, but may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, botanicals (plant derivatives), or live microorganisms (such as probiotics). Supplements can also contain some combination of these ingredients.

For those who may need to fill a nutritional gap, dietary supplements can be powerful tools for health and wellness. If chosen and used carefully, they can play an important role in promoting the health and wellness of many people. But they are not the panacea that some promoters, marketers and so-called experts advertise.

In some cases, additional nutritional support through supplements may be required. Those with nutritional deficiencies or medical conditions that cause nutrient malabsorption may require supplementation to meet all of their nutritional needs.

Vegetarians may benefit from supplements, especially vitamin B12, which is mostly found in animal products. In addition, pregnant or breastfeeding women with increased nutritional needs and women with limited access to healthy foods may benefit.

background story

It’s important to note that even though dietary supplements may be “natural” because they’re derived from leaves, roots, or other substances found in nature, that doesn’t mean they’re free of risks. The same goes for those synthesized in more industrial processes.

While herbal and other botanicals have been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years, it was only in the last century that dietary supplements as we know them today began to emerge.

It wasn’t until 1912 that scientists began to discover that the nutritional world was about more than macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fats. The ensuing decades gradually uncovered more and more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, soon after they were gradually isolated, extracted, and synthesized in the laboratory. In the years since, they have been commercialized.

Decades of advancement have taken the dietary supplement industry from obscurity to ubiquity. The Council for Responsible Nutrition, which conducts its annual consumer survey of dietary supplements, reports that its latest results starting in 2021 show a record high in supplement use, with 4 in 5 Americans using some form of dietary supplement .

This transition is not without risk.

questions and problems

Because supplements are concentrated forms of specific compounds, taking too much over a short period of time or over a long period of time can lead to overdose.

For example, a study published in Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin on December 22, 2016 showed that excess vitamin A can damage bone health and increase the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

Aside from the huge variation in supplement quality, the simple fact is that sometimes the body cannot use certain vitamins or minerals effectively 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 with little benefit.

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

One of the most popular forms of supplements is multivitamins. While taking a daily multivitamin probably won’t do any harm, there isn’t a lot of evidence that it does any good either. As the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states on its website, “Most research shows that taking a multivitamin does not prolong life, slow cognitive decline, or reduce risk of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. probability.”

“I wish there was a magic supplemental ‘insurance policy,’ but the reality is that health is too complicated,” Darragh said.

“Nutritional supplements can be part of disease prevention and health challenges, but I think they are over-emphasized. They work best when they are part of an overall program consisting of daily habits that include, but are not limited to, a nutrient-dense diet , exercise, sleep, resilience, balance, happiness 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 published articles in various print and online publications including Health Digest,, Today’s Catholic Teacher and


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