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Supplements and Safety: What's in the Bag?

 

 

by Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM

 

 

I just love it when folks come into my office dragging an LL Bean bag loaded with their nutritional supplements. (I ASK them to do that.) Some supplement regimens are insanely complex and expensive; other people take whatever was cheapest at CVS last year; still others won't consume anything that isn't actually food. It's really interesting to see the variety of ways we approach "getting our vitamins."

Humans are designed to get our nutrients from foods, AND nutritional supplements can make a big difference in how your body works and how you feel. Even if we pay attention to food quality, many of us eat (ahem) suboptimally and/or have conditions that increase our body's nutrient needs. Whether we choose to address this with herbs from the farmer's market, pomegranate juice, lycopene tablets, a Flintstones chewable or the latest super-pill suggested by our neighbor who is a multi-level marketing distributor we need to be wise consumers. As with any other purchase, we're obligated to shop smart and seek expert advice.

Researchers are learning a lot about how to safely use foods, botanical medicines, and nutritional supplements to prevent and treat a variety of health conditions. Exciting as this is, I am intrigued to see that so much media coverage focuses on the dangers of food supplements and the instances of supplement contamination or improper use causing illnesses and deaths. Indeed, supplement companies can be careless, unpredictable and unscrupulous. But just because some manufacturers will crank out a worthless or dangerous food supplement and sell it as the elixir of eternal youth, or people will go wild with "more must be better," does not mean that you should reject the concept of supplementation – any more than it would make sense to stop eating green vegetables because E. coli can get in spinach, or to stop using pharmaceuticals because of the Vioxx fiasco.

How do you pick a well-manufactured product? What's the right dose for your particular needs? Do you know how to choose a fish oil product that is not contaminated with toxins? In my office, those go straight from the LL Bean bag into the trash. Did you know that some "natural" calcium supplements are contaminated with lead? Or are you eating the equivalent of a chunk of chalk your body can't absorb? These are the sorts of questions that the skilled consumer needs to attend to. Please don't rely on the sales pitch of the website or infomercial that is hawking the product to you. It is part of the True North mission to support informed consumerism in the supplement arena. That's why we educate ourselves about sound principles of supplement use and carefully investigate every product we recommend. It's wild out there – but there are some pearls to watch for!

 

   

 

Article © Copyright 2007 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved worldwide. Duplication or reprints only with express permission of the author or, for a nonprofit purpose, without consent so long as the author's name and contact information are included as follows: "Reproduced with permission from Susan Fekety, http://www.susanfekety.com." These articles are provided for informational purposes only. Their content is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own health care professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem promptly contact your health care provider.

 

   

 

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