Choosing Supplements Wisely

We are now into October which obviously means the holidays are rapidly approaching. We will be obligated to appear at family get togethers where there will be tons of food, which means there will be a lot of sweet treats to navigate through. Weight gain is going to be a concern, and there will be a few of you who may decide to take the easy way out by taking supplements in order to mitigate the damage done by holiday meals and all that will come in between from left overs. My friends, before you go out and spend your money on supplements to help you keep your weight down, please read the following which is an excerpt from my AFPA certification course for Nutritional and Fitness Consultant.

From Cengage Learning;

For years, health experts have been saying that most healthy people can meet their vitamin and mineral needs with a balanced diet. Nevertheless, almost half of the U.S. population, including about half of young adults and college students, pop vitamin and mineral pills. Americans spend billions of dollars annually on pills, powders, liquids, herbal remedies, and vitamin and mineral supplements, often in the mistaken belief that such preparations will ensure proper nutrition, help reduce stress, decrease fatigue, and increase pep and energy.

Before you buy a supplement, remember that most major health organizations—from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to the American Medical Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics—essentially agree that healthy children and adults should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a variety of foods. However, those organizations and other experts say that taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement, under the guidance of a physician or dietitian, may be in order for these particular groups of people:

People restricting energy intake for weight loss.

People with certain diseases or those taking medications that interfere with appetite, absorption, or excretion of nutrients.

Strict vegetarians, whose diets may fall short in vitamin , vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, phases that bolster the need for nutrients, including iron and folate

Women with excessive menstrual bleeding, who may need iron supplements

Women during their childbearing years who do not consume folate-rich foods or foods fortified with folic acid; they may need more folate in their diets to prevent neural tube defects in infants.

People with a specific nutrient gap that cannot or is not otherwise being filled by the individual’s food intake. For example, people with lactose intolerance, or who do not consume milk or other dairy products—they need a source of calcium; those with inadequate exposure to sunlight may also need vitamin D.

Older adults, who may have difficulty choosing an adequate diet, chewing problems, or a reduced ability to absorb and metabolize certain nutrient

People who are recovering from surgery, burn injuries, or other illnesses that increase nutrient needs

People with chronic diseases of the digestive tract or other conditions that lead to poor intake or deplete nutrient stores

People with alcohol or other drug addictions, who are likely to have a shortage of vitamins and minerals in their diets.

If you decide to start taking a supplement, keep the following points in mind when choosing one:

  1. Remember that price is not an indication of quality. Many products sold at major retail chains and drugstores are just as high in quality as pricier versions sold in health food stores. Look for a product that meets high standards for manufacturing. One way to do this is to check the label to see whether the product meets USP standards—manufacturing practices set forth by the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the organization that establishes drug standards. The organization’s standards require that a supplement be able to disintegrate and dissolve thoroughly in the stomach within a certain period of time, thereby increasing the chances that the nutrients inside will be absorbed and used by the body. Also look for a bottle or package that carries an expiration date. If it doesn’t, you run the risk of buying a product that has been sitting on a shelf for a long time. After a while, the product may lose its potency.

  2. Look for a supplement that contains both vitamins and minerals, with no more than 100 percent to 150 percent of the recommended Daily Values for each. For the most part, nutrients work in concert with one another, promoting the body’s ability to make use of them. Products that include a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals are the best bet for most people. Steer clear of products containing extraneous substances such as PABA, hesperidin, inositol, and bee pollen. These nonvitamin substances have never been proved essential to humans and only add to the price of the supplement. Be wary of taking multivitamins that also contain herbs. Although herbal products are considered to be dietary supplements, the unregulated herbal industry of today is a buyer-beware market.

  3. Buy products sold in childproof bottles or packages if you have children around. Vitamins and minerals, especially iron, can be highly toxic to children. Every year, tens of thousands of children swallow excess vitamin-mineral supplements, and iron-tablet overdoses alone are one of the top causes of accidental death in youngsters.

Medicinal Herbs

Throughout human history, people have relied on herbal medicines, and the use of herbs and medicinal plants for any number of ailments is a universal phenomenon. Many of the world’s populations depend on traditional herbal medicine for primary health care. Only with the development of 20th-century Western medicine have synthetic chemicals found their place in the medical system. Yet, even in a modern pharmacy in the United States, more than 25 percent of medicines are extracted from plants or are synthetic copies or derivatives of plant chemicals.

In the United States, plant medicines composed of whole plants (crude drugs) or complex extracts are sold as dietary supplements because natural (or herbal) medicines are not economically viable candidates for drug research and development. Most botanicals contain one or several relatively dilute compounds, and thus they tend to have milder actions than the more concentrated chemicals found in most drugs. Therefore, herbal medicines usually take longer to act than regular medicinal products, and few herbs have the potency of a prescription drug.

Pharmaceutical companies are less willing to spend the millions of dollars needed to fund research on plants that grow in the wild (and therefore cannot be patented), and most herb manufacturers don’t have the funds to support large research studies. Despite this, herbal products are increasingly popular in the United States.

What is driving this trend toward increased use of herbal products? Primarily, the growth is consumer driven. Most consumers learn of herbal products through the media, either in magazines, television, or radio commercials, or by word of mouth from others. Other factors responsible for this trend are an interest in returning to a more natural lifestyle; dissatisfaction with the current state of Western health care; the unwanted side effects of prescription drugs; the spiraling cost and disarray of managed health care; aging baby boomers who want a better quality of health; a strong interest in alternative and complementary therapies; and, finally, a large arena of sales and marketing campaigns, often making use of famous personalities to market herbal products to consumers.

Many herbal product users believe that herbal medicines are the “natural” way to good health. However, natural is not always synonymous with safe—there are no regulations or oversight agencies for the manufacture and marketing of herbal supplements. Also, when it comes to botanicals, several plant species may look identical, but one may in fact be toxic. If the person collecting the herbs is not entirely knowledgeable, there is a danger that the toxic herb may be mixed with the medicinal herb; such mistakes have been made. A further concern is that consumers have no way of knowing if the product they purchase has an “effective” amount of the active compound.

In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA), which severely restricted the FDA’s authority over virtually any product labeled “supplement” as long as the product made no claim to affect a disease. The DSHEA allowed herbal medicines to be marketed without prior approval from the FDA. What the DSHEA does allow manufacturers to state on a label is how the product affects a structure or function of the body, such as the claim that the herbal product can “support,” “promote,” or “maintain” health. The DSHEA states that a product cannot claim that it affects disease, and a manufacturer cannot state on the label that the herbal product will “prevent,” “treat,” “diagnose,” “mitigate,” or “cure” disease. A disclaimer must always be included on the label, stating: “This product has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Therefore, herbal products are not obliged to meet any standards of effectiveness or safety that have been established for other medicines, which require extensive laboratory and clinical trials before the FDA grants approval. Today, a supplement is presumed safe until the FDA receives well-documented reports of adverse reactions.

In October 1998, Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the National Institutes of Health. The center is devoted to conducting and supporting basic and applied research and training, and it disseminates information on complementary and alternative medicine to practitioners and the public. Some of the herbs that are currently undergoing research here in the United States are garlic, St. John’s wort, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, echinacea, hawthorn, and cranberry.

Until we have further research studies with which to evaluate the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines, physicians, health professionals, and consumers must continue to seek valid information and further education from reliable sources. Use the following guidelines for choosing and using herbal medicines:

  • Be informed; seek out unbiased, scientific sources. Inform your physician, especially if taking prescribed medications.

  • Do not exceed recommended doses or use herbal medicines for prolonged periods. Call your physician or the FDA Med Alert hotline at 800-332-1088 if you experience adverse effects.

  • To find out more about herbal medicines, try the following recommended publications and websites:

3 thoughts on “Choosing Supplements Wisely

  1. This is good information, David, and this is from a supplement taker! The point about price is very good. I take a brand known for low price yet high in quality. I also love the resources listed to get more info on herbs. Herbs have to be studied. They are powerful as yout article indicates. I have chosen what I take over a lifetime of study. No one should ever take anything that they have not studied well. Good word!

    1. Thank you Brenda. You know I use a couple supplements too, but they are well researched and for specific purpose. There is a time and place for many supplements, but we all need to educate ourselves as to what we place in our bodies.

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