What You Need to Know About Supplements
How They Can Fit into Your Diet… Safely
When it comes to vitamins, you’ve probably noticed all of the “magic bullet” supplements out there. They’ll promise everything from higher energy to a youthful appearance. But do they really work?
Although vitamins and supplements may provide some benefits, most nutritionists agree that a healthy diet is far more beneficial to your health and well-being than anything you’ll find in a pill. And that’s true despite the claims you may hear, no matter how many advertising dollars are spent trying to convince you otherwise.
Vitamins and Supplement Basics
The bottom line is that a balanced and nutritious diet high in whole foods and complex carbohydrates is the key to good nutrition. A healthy diet should provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need. However, some people take supplements to make up for poor eating habits.
Supplements may be beneficial in safeguarding the body against deficiencies of vital nutrients. Moderation is the key. You should know that some supplements may be harmful to you, if taken in excessive doses.
- Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and can build up to toxic levels if taken in excessive amounts. Some common fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E, and K.
- Taken in excessive doses, vitamin C can hinder the absorption of copper.
- Zinc supplements of more than 200 milligrams a day taken over an extended time can approach toxic levels.
If you're unsure of the safe doses of a supplement, always check with your doctor or a registered dietician. Never take more than the recommend dose on the vitamin label.
Some Potentially Beneficial Supplements
When it comes to vitamins and supplements, their use and the benefits they claim to provide is controversial. In fact, there have been some proposals to limit their allowed use. There are also strict regulations on advertised product claims.
There have been numerous studies about the use of vitamins. Many do seem to indicate some potential benefits. While there is no conclusive and definitive evidence backing the claims of most supplements, there are a few that seem to yield some positive results.
- If you think your diet is lacking in nutrients, multivitamins are a safe and effective option.
- Taking multivitamins are a way to get moderate amounts of supplementation in a simple and easy dose, a few times a day.
- Your best bet is a multivitamin and mineral supplement containing moderate supplements of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and beta carotenes.
- When in doubt, consult with a registered dietician who can recommend the right supplements for you.
Looking for an edge during the cold season that will keep you well and healthy while your co-workers are sniffling and sneezing? In a one-year study reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, participants that took 200 IU of vitamin E daily had significantly fewer incidences of colds* Unfortunately, vitamin E did nothing to lessen the duration of existing colds. But, if you’re looking that may help keep colds at bay, make vitamin E part of your daily supplements.
* Source: JAMA. 1997;277(17):1380-1386,
Valerian root has a long history as a sleep-inducer that dates back to the Greco-Roman era. (Some would say that this stinky herb’s offensive odor is what knocks you out.) In a French study, 89 percent of patients said they slept better with valerian.* Some assume that the drug, valium, is associated with this herb, though it is not. The active ingredients in valerian are very different from valium however, both work to induce sleep by stimulating certain functions in the nervous system, particularly in the brain. So, if you’re having trouble sleeping, try a couple of valerian root supplements an hour before bedtime.
*Source: Andreatini R, Sartori VA, Seabra ML, Leite JR. Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. Phytother Res 2002;16:650-4.
Cod Liver and Fish Oil
Compared to other countries where fish consumption is higher, Americans consume less of the kinds of foods that are high in Omega-3. This is a critical nutrient that has many benefits related to the healthy functioning of our hearts. Omega-3 is found in high concentration in cod liver oil and fish oil supplements. In fact, scientists first discovered the benefits of fish oil when they found that the Eskimos of Greenland had very little incidence of heart disease. Although their diet was very fatty, the foods were high in omega-3 fatty acids. Today, the American Heart Association recommends omega-3 fatty acids for a healthier heart.
Note: It's important to check with your doctor or a registered dietician before making changes to your diet, so make sure you do so before considering any of these supplements.