Working with hundreds of clients and friends over the years, the question of supplements always comes up as a hot topic, and rightfully so. According to the FDA, 3 out of 4 American consumers take a dietary supplement on a regular basis. The latest figures show that the supplement industry is worth more than $40 billion! I do my best to answer questions briefly and succinctly, but the reality is that any questions regarding supplements is complex and nuanced.
As defined by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), a dietary supplement is a product that contains one or more dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, or amino acids and is intended to supplement the diet. Many people incorrectly assume that dietary supplements are not regulated by the government, but they are—just not very well. With over 50,000 different supplement products on the market, the FDA has no easy way of overseeing the final product. The onus to ensure quality lies mostly on the companies who produce supplements, and of course you—the consumer.
When Considering using a supplement, ask yourself these 3 questions:
Is this a quality supplement?
It may sound obvious, but not all supplements are created equal. Can you guarantee that the supplement actually contains the active ingredients in the right amounts? This is tricky because there’s no way to guarantee the final product. It’s a case of buyer-beware and factors like manufacturing, transporting and storage all affect quality, not to mention the possibility of contamination with heavy metals, bacteria or pesticides. For example, probiotics should contain live bacteria listed by their genus, species AND strain name.
With probiotics, it’s all about strain specificity. A number of factors like, heat, light and moisture can kill these delicate organisms so if you pick up a bottle off the shelves at your local health food store, or purchase them from amazon, you’re at risk of wasting your money. Some companies opt for a 3rd party certification that helps to ensure quality from a manufacturing standpoint. You can visit USP or NSF for a list of verified or certified products, or simply look for the symbol on the supplement package. Even so, if the product is transported or stored improperly, that could affect the final quality of the product. https://www.quality-supplements.org/verified-products
What are my goals of using this supplement?
By definition, a dietary supplement should only be used to supplement your diet and not used to miraculously treat complex conditions. There’s an ancient proverb that suggests the best doctors for improved health are sunshine, water, rest, air, exercise and diet. Before starting a supplement regimen, look closely at these areas to see what needs improvement. Work with a dietitian or health coach to correct any of these core imbalances, otherwise supplements will be of little value.
Am I working with a trusted healthcare provider?
Most importantly, and often the most neglected is your relationship with your healthcare provider. Our current medical model offers very little in the way of patient-provider relationship and there’s a “pill for every ill” it seems. Likely the most important factor to consider when using supplements is whether you have a successful relationship with your healthcare provider. The decision to use supplements should be made in the context of a healthy relationship between you and the health professional. This health professional should understand your unique bio-individuality and work with you to find the right treatments and appropriate supplements. Supplements must be taken in the right amounts, at the right times and for the right purposes. All of these factors contribute to its effectiveness. Another benefit of working with a healthcare professional is that they often have access to higher-quality, medical grade supplements so you can have peace of mind about quality.
Using the right supplements can truly be life transforming, but do not think that supplements alone will work magic. It’s important to understand that supplements are intended to help bridge the gap to health, but must be used in the context of an overall wellness plan. It’s always important to go after the root causes of imbalance and dysfunction and this can be best done by working with a trusted healthcare provider.