RD Advice

What’s Trending – Dietary Supplements

Hi guys, I am coming to you this post with a new what’s trending topic about dietary supplements. I know that in the dietitian world, this topic is a classic – I felt that it was my time to put a word in for why I do not recommend money spent on dietary supplements for most individuals.

Image result for supplements

What are dietary supplements? Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and herbs. They come in the form of tablets, powders, liquids, soft-gels, and capsules (1). Most of the components of dietary supplements can be found in the foods that we eat.

This is a statement taken directly from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website: “Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. That means that supplements should not make claims such as “reduces pain” or “treats heart disease. Claims like these can only legitimately be made for drugs not dietary supplements.”

Are dietary supplements regulated? Yes they are! The FDA regulates supplements under a set of regulations established under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Basically the FDA is trying to make sure that the above statements are not being applied to supplements and steering people the wrong way. The FDA also wants to make sure that supplements are safe for consumption. However, keep reading…

Along with the statements about regulation, this is also noted on the FDA website :

The FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness (do they actually do what they claim to do) before they are marketed.

Basically meaning that something that has very little research about its safety and claims can be marketed for consumer consumption before being reviewed by the FDA. They step in when a report has been filed about a product and take steps to research that report and determine if the supplement is okay for consumers to buy.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also steps in to help with advertising claims. Again, they only enforce rules if a supplement is found to be guilty of false advertising after it is already on the market.

What is the research that supports or opposes supplements? Its hard to research individual supplements on your own. For a really good resource about a specific supplement that you are currently taking or interested in taking, try one of these resources, compliments of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Medline Plus:

Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets

Botanical Dietary Supplements

Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Fact Sheets

Dietary and Herbal Supplements

Herbs at a Glance

Dietary Supplements

Why the big fuss over supplements? I like to write about how marketing and media influences what we eat. I think it is fascinating. I believe the push for supplements comes directly from marketing schemes and great advertising campaigns, not specifically from research.

Who would benefit from a dietary supplement? While not a research article, this article is from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, which is a trusted resource that summarizes the latest research. It explains who may need dietary supplements and who does not.

  • Children
  • Pregnant women need to take a prenatal
  • Individuals who have been tested for nutrient deficiencies
  • Individuals who are at risk for bone density loss (calcium and vitamin D combined supplement)
  • Recovering alcoholics
  • Individuals with liver disease
  • And select other cases – please speak to a Registered Dietitian to determine whether or not you need to be taking a supplement.

Am I harming myself by taking supplements? Probably not, but you may not be getting any gain from it. If you already have a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, dairy or fortified dairy substitutes, lean meats, and whole grains then you are already getting 100% of what your body needs for vitamins and minerals. Anything more than what you need gets excreted in your urine. Kinda like peeing out $$$…..you know how thrifty I am!

For some vitamins and minerals there is a toxic upper limit, meaning if you over do some of the foods, there may be side effects. Please look into your supplement and do some research online to determine if there is a risk for over-supplementation. This is a good resource to identify what vitamins and minerals can have side effects if over-supplemented: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm118079.htm#risks

If there would be a supplement to look into it would be…?

  • Fiber supplement (many Americans don’t get enough fiber through their diet – try to do that before looking into this supplement)
  • Calcium and Vitamin D supplement (if you are at risk for bone loss, which is many post-menopausal women)
  • Prenatal Vitamin (a must when you are pregnant)
  • Iron (only if you are deficient)
  • Vitamin B12 (if you are vegan you may need this)
  • Multivitamin (not everyone needs one of these though!)

Do I take a supplement? I almost wrote no, but then realized that I sometimes will take melatonin, 5 mg, to “help” me fall asleep. I was actually surprised when I researched melatonin and found the body of research to be rather inconclusive. I have had nights where I believe that I fell asleep because after I took the melatonin I got sleepy. After performing some research on that I think that my melatonin just might give me the placebo effect. Is it worth it for me to still buy and take occasionally? That is a yes in my opinion, but my mind may be changed in the future when I run out of it. I also looked to see if melatonin was safe and it is, even if used in large doses.

Question of the day: Do you take a supplement and what for?

~Meghan

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