By: Janet Hunt
People in this country spend more than $30 billion per year on dietary supplements. I believe, and studies show, that most dietary supplements are a waste of money.

Dietary supplements do not replace healthy meals. Most healthy adults can obtain all of the nutrients they need from food alone. I agree there are circumstances when a dietary supplement is recommended, but those have to do with treating a diagnosed nutrient deficiency by a physician such as:

  • Iron supplements if diagnosed with iron deficiency
  • Prenatal vitamins with folic acid before and during pregnancy
  • Vitamin B12 for vegans and older adults with low B12 levels
  • Calcium and vitamin D for those at risk for or who have osteoporosis
  • Fluoride for older infants living in areas where water supply isn’t fluoridated
  • Vitamin K in a single prophylactic dose for newborn infants to prevent bleeding
  • Omega-3 fatty acids for people at risk for heart disease who don’t consume fish

Besides most dietary supplements being a waste of money, some are actually toxic in large doses. Some fat–soluble vitamins such as vitamin A can build up to toxic levels. Even water-soluble vitamins can cause problems such as diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems when taking too high a dose.

If you do take vitamin or mineral supplements, stay below the Institute of Medicine’s Tolerable Upper Intake Levels. These upper levels tell you the maximum daily intake and are based on available research.

Sometimes supplements can also harm someone with certain health conditions, or who take prescription medications for those conditions. For example, someone taking a blood thinner could experience serious harm from high levels of vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting. Sometimes the effectiveness of medications can be altered if taken with supplements. For example, oral contraceptives can be rendered inactive if taken with St. John’s wort. St. John’s wort can also interfere with other medications, including antidepressants.

Pregnant and nursing women should be especially cautious with supplements, including herbal supplements unless prescribed by a physician. Supplements can sometimes cross the placenta or be transmitted through breast milk. Most supplements have not been tested on pregnant or breast feeding women.

Remember supplements are not drugs. According to the FDA, supplements are “Not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure diseases.” If you think you might need a supplement, talk to your physician. If you still choose to take a supplement, do your homework. Supplement manufacturers do not have to disclose the amounts of ingredients, or sometimes even the exact ingredients in their products.

For additional information about supplements and whether you may need them, talk to your physician or a registered dietician.
By: Janet Hunt
Janet Hunt is a Certified Personal Trainer and can be reached at 256-614-3530 to schedule an appointment.

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