Growing up, my dad gave me herbs, vitamins, and supplements just about daily. I never knew what any of it was, but trusted that he did. He was very well read when it came to nutritional supplementation, but never had any formal training or education in any type of science classes.
Over the years, I have had many people ask me if I “take anything”. These days it seems that everywhere I turn, someone is promoting or taking some type of supplement, powder, or vitamin complex. I tell everyone who asks me about this the same thing: before consuming anything, it’s important to know what it is and what it can do. Unfortunately, many consumers don’t take time to do the research or they get their health related information from the Internet with little vetting of the source. This can be very dangerous.
I say it’s dangerous because it means that if consumers aren’t doing the research for themselves, then they are relying (or maybe hoping) that someone else is doing it for them. Most people don’t realize that there is almost no regulation when it comes to supplement products. Quite honestly, it can be a very risky decision if you don’t do your homework. The supplement industry as a whole is a multibillion dollar enterprise and that in itself is enough to raise concern for me.
So, if someone asks my professional opinion, safety is my first concern. I turn to science and credible sources to make informed decisions. Since I have had to do this myself, I will hopefully save you some time. Here are a few things to ask yourself before you start spending (potentially a lot of) money on any type of supplement.
What does your health care provider say?
It’s important to take your medical history and status into account and this can only be done by a credible health professional. I would speak with them first before considering a product. In some cases a supplement may help. In other cases, it could actually cause problems and often times does for many people.
How do I feel in general?
If you aren’t feeling well or have a particular reason for turning to a supplement, there may be an underlying medical condition or concern that needs attention. This would again lead me to suggest that you speak with your healthcare provider before making a decision.
How is my overall nutrition?
If you want to feel good, it’s really important to have good nutritional practices. By that I mean lots of plant-based foods that are nutrient dense. Lean meats or plant-based proteins and healthy fats are important as well. Most people can save money on supplements by just improving their overall nutrition.
What does the science say?
An excellent source of collective scientific work on many health subjects is the Cochrane Collective. I would suggest that you use this warehouse of information. It is full of scientific evidence about specific vitamins or minerals. You will quickly find that recommendations and results vary based on the situation or population. One size does not fit everyone. You would be amazed at the incredible information that is available here.
Want to know more?
I strongly encourage anyone considering or currently taking a supplement to watch this PBS Frontline episode “Supplements and Safety”. The episode is about an hour in length. It is a great overview of supplement regulation and overall safety considerations. Over the last few years there have been large scale investigations and calls for better regulations in the industry because of health complications, injury, and even deaths due to supplements. More recently, work has also been done to check on the quality and efficacy of various products. This work has revealed that many of them do not contain the the ingredients that the label claims.
The bottom line
The bottom line is, if you aren’t researching it and getting professional input, you probably shouldn’t be taking it. Work with your health care provider to determine if there is a need and how you can address it.