What are Dietary Supplements and Who Needs Them?

A dietary supplement (also known as food supplement) is a preparation that supplies nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids or amino acids) that are missing or not consumed in a plentiful quantity in your diet. Dietary supplements also include herbs and botanicals. They are taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet or liquid. Current researchers are saying that to help boost health and lengthen lifespan, supplemental nutrients are likely to have great health benefits.

Who needs them?
Almost everyone. Many physicians today recognize the importance of taking at least a daily multivitamin. Most agree that our American diet is less than desirable. We consume far too much processed food as well as fast foods on a daily basis. These foods are devoid of the nutrients we need to be healthy. When our bodies don’t get the nutrients we need, our systems start to break down and illness and disease follow. For good general health, the best thing to do would be to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains every day and take a quality multivitamin for insurance.

A Basic Overview

The human body is amazing. It was designed with the ability to heal itself, and given the proper nutrients, it will. This applies to our daily requirements of all vitamins and minerals, and in the proper amounts. However, in certain health conditions, numerous other supplements can play an important role in restoring and maintaining health.

Whether it be a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral, or the need for more than the recommended daily amount in certain conditions, adding more of the foods that supply them, or a supplement is beneficial. For example, an injury such as a broken bone or torn ligament will heal on its own given time, but may not heal as good as new. However, studies have shown that by adding extra nutritional support during the recovery period, optimal healing can be achieved. These extra nutrients include proteolytic enzymes (bromelain or papain), B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium and extra minerals, and antioxidants like grape seed extract and olive fruit extract, as well as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine. For a long while, sports physicians and trainers have used these methods to restore athletes to full recovery, but we all could benefit from this kind of treatment with our injuries.

A fish oil supplement is another example. Modern diets do not contain nearly enough omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and consequently, the balance we require between omega-3s and omega-6s (which we get plenty of) is lacking. Omega-3s are important to heart and brain health and they support healthy joint movement. And there are many other health benefits when this balance is maintained. The best source of omega-3s are cold-water ocean fish, such as sardines, herring, mackerel, albacore tuna and salmon, but if you don’t eat two to three servings of these a week, a quality fish oil supplement is a good alternative.

Research has shown that menopausal women become deficient in calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, and if not supplemented with more foods that contain these nutrients, or a quality supplement, they are in danger of developing osteoporosis.

Getting enough antioxidants is another concern for most people. The world we live in is toxic and we daily ingest free radicals from the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Supplying our bodies with more antioxidants is beneficial to fight off these free radicals that can cause diseases like cancer. Some vitamins are antioxidants (vitamins E, C and CoQ10), as well as botanicals like green tea, grape skins and seeds, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and pomegranates. Many antioxidant supplements contain a combination of several of these.

There is an herbal remedy for just about any condition. After all, herbs were the very first form of medicine and many have been around for thousands of years. Examples: black cohosh, soy and wild yam to help relieve menopausal symptoms; tribulus terrestris, nettle root, and oatstraw to promote virility in men; cinnamon extract benefits diabetes; ginseng promotes energy and cognitive function – and on and on. These are just a few examples, and they have clinical studies to back them. There are many more.
An important note here: not all supplements are created equal. Some manufacturers do not keep to high standards and the supplement industry is not regulated. When choosing supplements, whether it be vitamins, minerals, herbs or botanicals, look for manufacturers who have a good reputation for quality products. Look for manufacturers that have been in business for a while, have a wide variety of products to choose from and can show you the research to support the recommended usage of their products.

Standardization is a process that some manufacturers use to ensure batch-to-batch consistency of their products. In some cases, standardization involves identifying specific chemicals (known as markers) that can be used to manufacture a consistent product. The standardization process can also provide a measure of quality control.

There are websites online, like www.consumerlab.com that do independent testing of nutritional products and report their findings. There are also websites that give you unbiased information about supplements and their uses. One such site is www.nutros.com. Another good site is the Oregon State University. Linus Pauling Institute. This site provides scientifically accurate information regarding the roles of vitamins, minerals, dietary phytochemicals (plant chemicals that may affect health) and other nutrients in preventing disease and promoting health.

  • To take a supplement as safely as possible
  • Tell your doctor about any dietary supplements you use
  • Do not take a bigger dose than the label recommends
  • Stop taking it if you have side effects
  • Read trustworthy information about the supplement

Just because a product is called ‘natural’ doesn’t mean that it’s harmless. Supplements, like medication, can be toxic in high doses, or have side effects so read the information and take them as directed.
The goal of dietary supplements is to improve your health so you want the best quality products. While the best dietary supplements may cost a little more initially, they will save you in the long run from throwing away worthless ineffective products.