Dietary supplements have become increasingly popular as more and more come into the market. But do you know what exactly dietary supplements actually are? Or how you should use them? In this blog, we will delve into the do’s and don’ts of using dietary supplements.
First of all, dietary supplements are concentrated forms of vitamins, minerals, proteins, or more, that are intended to be taken alongside your regular diet (National Institute of Health (NIH), 2020). Different supplements usually concentrate on one particular vitamin or mineral or other substance, such as Vitamin C, and can be in pill, tablet, or powder form. Most doctors would suggest that you take at least a multivitamin but might recommend or prescribe individual supplements depending on your needs. For example, people who are pregnant are usually prescribed folic acid, also known as Vitamin B9, to keep both their and the foetus’ health in good condition and it is often suggested to take Vitamin D supplements in winter when the sun is away (Office of dietary supplements – vitamin D, 2022).
While dietary supplements can be very helpful, it is also important to be mindful when purchasing and taking them. Below are some things that you should keep in mind!
Don’t: Treat it as a replacement!
Supplements can be used for many essential things: from vitamins to fibre, minerals to proteins. But they were never intended to be used as a replacement for meals or proper nutrition. It is vitally important to continue to eat a balanced diet, as that remains the best way to get your needed vitamins and minerals. Supplements are called supplements for a reason and there are plenty of delicious and interesting ways to get your needed nutrition.
Do: Take a closer look at the label!
Do you know exactly what supplement you are taking? And what it is meant to do for you? There are many ways to get the same vitamin but some may be better than others. For example, if you are interested in taking vitamin d, make sure that you are taking Vitamin D3 – this form of Vitamin D is best absorbed and utilised by the body (Office of dietary supplements – vitamin D, 2022).
Another important thing to look out for is how to store the supplement and it’s best by date. While most supplements can be used after their best by date, they can lose their effectiveness as time goes on, and some supplements have special requirements to keep them effective (Gillespie, 2018). This can mean taking them at certain times of the day or with meals or before exercise. Following these instructions can help ensure that you are getting the most out of the supplement that you have chosen!
Don’t: Go overboard!
There are so many dietary supplements out there on the market, that it can be difficult to know which ones you ought to get for yourself. Being mindful of some of the common misconceptions over supplements can help make sure that you don’t waste your money on a product that doesn’t do anything for you.
Many supplements advertise themselves by saying that they are “natural” or “organic” but there is actually very little protection or oversight of these terms, and some even make claims of curing illnesses with very little or no proof (Office of dietary supplements – vitamin D, 2022). The best thing you can do to protect your health (and your wallet) is to do some research into the brands you are buying from and if they have scientific evidence for the claims that they are making.
Do: Be aware of what your body needs!
Why do you want to take a dietary supplement? Did you see an advertisement somewhere or was it suggested to you by a health professional? This is important to be aware of because having too much of certain vitamins and minerals can actually be harmful to your health – usually the opposite of what you want. For instance, iron – an essential mineral that is used to help carry oxygen to our tissues – can become toxic in high enough quantities and certain populations, like adult men and post-menopausal women, are not at risk for iron deficiency and so they could be doing themselves more harm than good (Office of dietary supplements – iron, 2022).
Furthermore, sometimes medications and supplements can interact and cause side effects; for example, be careful if you are taking blood-thinning medication and want to start taking Omega-3s, as there is some evidence that they can reduce the effect of the medication (Gross et al., 2017). This is why it’s important to check in with a medical doctor to see if you do have a need for supplements, which can be found out through a blood test at your next check-up, or if there is a risk for interactions between your medications and supplements.
Dietary supplements can be an excellent way to get your daily recommended amount of vitamins and minerals. Just remember to be mindful of what you actually need and what you’re buying!
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Genevieve Wight is an intern and volunteer at Willingness. She is currently completing her Masters in Health and Medical Psychology at Leiden University.
National Institute of Health (NIH). (2020). Dietary and herbal supplements. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/dietary-and-herbal-supplements
Office of dietary supplements – vitamin D. (2022). Office of dietary supplements – vitamin D. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional
Gillespie, C. (2018, September 29). Do vitamins expire? supplement guidelines, risks, and more. Healthline. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/do-vitamins-expire
Gross, B. W., Gillio, M., Rinehart, C. D., Lynch, C. A., & Rogers, F. B. (2017). Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and warfarin: A lethal combination in traumatic brain injury. Journal of Trauma Nursing, 24(1), 15–18. https://doi.org/10.1097/jtn.0000000000000256
Office of dietary supplements – iron. (2022). Office of dietary supplements – iron. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/