“I’m confused,” Marie said to me the other day. “One person tells me vitamins and supplements can help me stay healthy, while another says they’re a waste of money – or even dangerous! Even my doctors can’t agree, so how am I supposed to know what’s right? I want to be as healthy as I can, but who should I believe?”
Marie’s plight isn’t unusual. The media is all over the place when it comes to the benefits (or drawbacks) of supplements – even a multivitamin!
And yet, we know that a high quality multivitamin can help keep hormones balanced and your body systems functioning properly. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association reversed its long standing stance that the typical person didn’t need to take a multivitamin because they’d get sufficient nutrients from the food they consumed.
In 2002 (nearly two decades ago!) they published a review highlighting the importance of key vitamins which prompted a new recommendation, that every adult take a daily multivitamin to reduce the risk of disease.
And still, almost 20 years later, we hear of doctors who oppose nutritional supplements. This leads many people to wonder – are dietary supplements safe?
That’s a great question, and I fully understand the reason many doctors are concerned about nutritional supplements, and hesitant to recommend them.
How confident are you in your knowledge about various supplements? I think you should also understand both the concerns and the benefits to what you are ingesting before you begin taking a multivitamin.
Why Are Some Doctors Opposed to Nutritional Supplements?
Let’s take a look at some of the common worries doctors have and why they may hesitate to encourage nutritional supplements. Then I’ll give you 4 quick tips on supplementing wisely.
Doctors worry that patients will use nutritional supplements as a substitute for regular medical care, a good diet, or other important health habits
These are valid concerns. People are often looking for the “magic pill” to solve their health problems. But it doesn’t exist! While severe deficiencies and even less serious but still suboptimal levels of certain vitamins can cause real health problems, a combination approach to healing is necessary.
Everyone should see a health care practitioner regularly. You can’t rely on the internet for accurate information about your health. And you shouldn’t let marketing teams convince you to take their product; that recommendation should come from a trained and qualified professional.
No pill can replace a good diet and exercise. Nutritional supplements are a good health habit, too — just don’t use them as a crutch for bad health habits.
Doctors have heard scary stories about extreme dosages, drug interactions and poor quality
These are also very real and valid concerns. Some patients are cavalier about extreme dosages; they think that if a small amount helps a little, a larger amount will take care of the problem faster. Unfortunately, the exact opposite may be true.
Several herbs have interactions with drugs that aren’t yet well understood. And you can’t always trust that what you think is in a supplement is the full story. Toxins and even drugs have been found in supplements from second-rate manufacturers.
But these problems, though they can happen, are easily dealt with. First, you should only take the dosage recommended by a trusted health care practitioner. Be sure you talk to your practitioner about any medications you are taking that may cause adverse interactions with supplements. Also be sure to discuss supplements you want to take with your health care provider prior to adding them to your regimen.
When choosing a multivitamin, be sure that it is pharmaceutical–grade. Many superstore or supermarket vitamins are the ones that have made headlines for not containing what they say they have in them!
Doctors are skeptical about claims made for nutritional supplements
I, too, am skeptical about the ridiculous claims made for bogus products such as weight loss pills. If advertising promises results that you think are too good to be true, they probably are! There is no “quick fix” and a supplement isn’t going to be the magic cure for serious diseases.
But there are a lot of legitimate products that do carry great benefits, particularly if you have a deficiency in a key nutrient. So it’s too bad that doctors associate legitimate products with these bad marketing practices.
Most medical schools fail in nutritional instruction.
I remember when I was in school to become a nurse practitioner. Nutritional training was a tiny fraction of what I was taught!
So it’s no wonder that doctors tend to underestimate the importance of nutrition in general. A mere few hours’ nutritional training in med school didn’t emphasize the importance of a healthy diet. Add the lack of adequate time to keep up on the latest research, and you can begin to see why some doctors don’t recognize the critical need for balanced nutrients.
Conventional medical practice is based on disease screening, not prevention, with an emphasis on drug therapies, not nutrition. Such doctors naturally think that nutritional supplements have little therapeutic value.
Thankfully, this is changing, especially among recent medical school graduates. Even oncologists at leading cancer institutes are advocating vitamin supplements for their patients. But it will take years before nutrition is a part of most doctors’ methods.
4 Tips to Ensure Your Nutritional Needs Are Met
1. Take that multivitamin — just choose wisely!
I agree with the JAMA authors recommendation; a high-quality multivitamin is a great way to be sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs. But there are a few things you need to consider when choosing which vitamin to take.
In selecting your multivitamin, read the label carefully to be sure it’s a complete formula that offers the essential nutrients that are vital to good health. Often, vitamins and minerals work best in conjunction with one another – so if only one nutrient is missing, it can make the whole supplement ineffective.
It’s also important to know how bioavailable (easy to absorb and use) the nutrients are. Look for specific chelated formulas and check to see that the vitamin meets solubility standards set out by USP. an independent nonprofit organization that strives to build trust in medicines – supplements included.
Your vitamin doesn’t need fillers and artificial ingredients. Look for formulas that have been certified to be free of lead and mercury. Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, meaning manufacturing standards are inconsistent. There are widely accepted standards that can verify the quality of your supplements. Making sure your production batch has been properly tested will help ensure that it contains exactly what you thought you were buying. You want a pharmaceutical grade supplement, it does matter who makes it after all.
2. Good nutrition starts with the food you eat.
If you aren’t giving your body good food to begin with, supplements probably won’t make the difference you desire. Supplements won’t counteract the effects of constantly eating out or relying on packaged and processed foods. The best thing you can do for your body is choose organic produce and grass-fed meats.
However, the cost of these high quality options, along with poor agricultural practices, mean your food may not be able to keep up with nutritional needs. That’s when supplements can help — as part of (not instead of) a healthy diet.
3. Reduce Stress so Your Body can Use Nutrients Properly
Not only does stress impact how you eat (when you’re always on the go, how will you find the time to stop and cook a healthy meal?), but it can actually change the way your body uses the nutrients it takes in.
High stress often leads to poor food choices. We don’t usually turn to fresh berries as our go-to “comfort food.” But even more alarming is the fact that when your body is bombarded with stress, it can’t absorb and process nutrients the way it should.
That’s why it’s so important to find ways to reduce your stress. Say no to things unless you really want to do them. Leave the work in your office (whether at home or away from home) at the end of the work day. Turn off electronics and enjoy the people in your life. Find exercise you love and things that make you laugh. Avoid environmental toxins as much as you can.
4. Identify deficiencies and target them accordingly
There are a lot of supplements that can provide the targeted support your body needs. Vitamin D supplementation, in particular, can work wonders for women low in this essential nutrient — and so many are! But if you don’t know which vitamins are low, you won’t know which supplements can help.
I do more testing than many providers, because I want to know the whole story. When I can see your actual levels of specific nutrients, blood sugar, and hormones, I can target my solutions to manage your specific problems. That’s what individualized health care is all about! We are all unique individuals and a wide range of factors can impact our bodies, including how at risk we are for certain diseases.
Wouldn’t you rather know what you need instead of guessing (and having to suffer through a lot of trial and error as you do)? I know I would! I am committed to helping my patients find the right treatments without all the guesswork. That’s why testing is so important in my practice.
Skepticism is healthy — but so are supplements, when you use them properly!
I’ve seen the headlines and heard the arguments against supplements for decades. But while the concerns may be valid, there are specific ways to address them to be sure that the supplementation you choose is right for your situation. After I helped clear up her confusion, Marie started on a daily multivitamin, and for her that one step made a big difference in her energy levels and the way she felt. The right supplements can do the same for you!
For more information, check out “Health and Vitamins – Who Should Take Dietary Supplements and Why?” and our many informative articles in our Nutrition section.
Marcellepick.com offers high-quality, pharmaceutical grade vitamins and supplements to enhance your health. Click here to check out my store.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD