Spending Too Much Money on Supplements? Read This.

Vitamins. Minerals. Herbs. Powders. Tinctures. Whatever you want to call them, they are all supplements of some sort.  We have a love/hate relationship with dietary supplements. On the one hand they can be life-saving when it comes to severe deficiencies or certain illnesses. On the other hand they can be a huge money pit with all the marketing that drives people to purchase supplements they probably don’t need. Where’s the line, and does the average person like yourself really need these concoctions?

Supplement formulations started becoming available in the early to mid 1900’s. After researchers finally discovered what vitamins actually were and more of their uses in the body, synthetic forms were created to treat deficiencies. But even back then claims about their effectiveness were exaggerated and many medical professional were skeptical of their use.

It doesn’t seem much has changed, has it? Supplement companies claim their products can do everything: alleviate fatigue, reduce depression, improve skin tone, enhance digestion, and outright cure illness…. you name it. The sheer number of companies out there marketing their vitamins, minerals, herb and tinctures gives us a clue these tactics are working.

When Supplements DO Help

BUT, sometimes vitamins DO help! Have you ever been iron deficient? Been diagnosed with a B12 deficiency? Been told you may be malnourished? While these are relatively rare, conditions in which nutrient deficiencies exist do happen. It may be a genetic condition, an issue with absorption, or just a plain crappy diet, but sometimes there are reasons to use supplements.

Now, naturally diet should be the first priority. Why? If you don’t address the diet, these deficiencies are likely to recur. Also, in many cases the nutrients from food are more absorbable and help ensure we don’t overdo it with one vitamin while neglecting others. Food is fabulous for having a whole host of vitamins and minerals, some of which we never even think about on a daily basis. Have you ever thought about your chromium, copper or molybdemum intake? Exactly. Thankfully with a healthy, balanced diet, most of the time you don’t have to.

When Supplements Could be Harmful

Sometimes supplements can actually be dangerous. Did you know that long term use of zinc can decrease your copper absorption? That high intakes of calcium throughout the day can reduce your ability to absorb iron? That excessive amounts of Vitamin C can cause diarrhea? You just end up trading one problem for another.

However, while working on your diet, supplementing with key nutrients may be useful! Common products such as calcium, iron, B12, Vitamin D and even a multivitamin may be helpful additions to restore good nutrient status when used appropriately.

The key is assessing what needs you have, how those might be helped, and picking the right product in the right dosage to help you in the SHORT TERM. Ideally supplements should not be a lifetime prescription.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this. With some genetic conditions there may required use of certain supplements for the long term. Also some nutrient therapies may take an extended period of time to work depending on the person and type of illness. These should always be evaluated by a physician to ensure that long term supplementation is not only safe but also effective.

Quality Matters

Quality of supplements also matters. Have you heard those stories of vitamin and herb products NOT actually containing what they say they do? Unfortunately this problem exists. There have also been issues with contaminants and other filler ingredients such as heavy metals, dyes, artificial flavors, etc.

If possible, choose products recommended by your healthcare professional and buy from reputable businesses.  I love Amazon as much as the next person, but avoid purchasing supplement there if at all possible. There are known to be counterfeit sellers and you may not actually be betting the quality product you were expecting.

To read up on your own, check out ConsumerLab.com, a group that does independent testing on supplement products and publishes their findings. Products are tested in terms of identity (does the product contain what it claims?), strength (does the product contain the quantities claimed?), purity (does the product have any contaminants?), and disintegration (does the product break and and allow for absorption in the body?).

Unfortunately this site does require a subscription … but maybe I can help! If you are a client, hit me up and I can run your supplements through their portal and give you a complete assessment of your regimen.

Let’s now answer the question: Supplements, good or bad?

As with most things in life, clearly it depends! You may need supplements, but don’t assume that everyone does. Always address diet first and consult a professional for the right supplement protocol for you.

If you have questions about what is right for you, please reach out! A thorough diet assessment might be in order to know for sure if you need particular supplements and which ones. And if you already have a diagnosed deficiency, we can talk through which products would best fit your needs along with an equally supportive diet.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to possible nutrient deficiencies, think diet first. Correct with supplements when and where needed, but always consult a healthcare practitioner for guidance.

Schedule an appointment below if you have supplement questions and could use another set of eyes on your current products and diet habits!

Danielle VenHuizen, MS RDN