Whether it’s to boost nutrition, improve heart health, lose weight or just feel better, more people are turning to dietary supplements.
“Just as with exercise, people add supplements to their daily regimen. They’re trying to improve their health today, and prevent things that could happen down the road,” says Karen Hoffman, PharmD, of Avera Specialty Pharmacy.
But with hundreds of choices, how can you know if a particular supplement is right for you? The best advice is to start with your doctor.
“It’s always a good idea to talk about your supplements to your doctor, every time you go in. It’s important for your care team to know everything you’re taking,” Hoffman says.
Don’t assume that just because a supplement is available over the counter, it’s safe for you. It might interfere with other medications you are taking, or make an existing condition worse.
Do Your Research
Because the FDA does not regulate supplements like other drugs, some supplements you find on the store shelf might not work as well as the label says. “Research what you’re getting into and who’s making it,” Hoffman suggests. People with allergies should be cautious and read the ingredient label; some brands add extra fillers or substitutions. Hoffman recommends finding brands that are pure and hypoallergenic to avoid the risk of a reaction.
There are times when the right amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables don’t make it into the daily food lineup. Women, especially, require more vitamins and nutrients than the average diet allows.
Among popular supplements are calcium, magnesium, fish oil and multivitamins. Vitamin D, often obtained through sunlight, can also be taken in supplement form and is popular in the long winter months when people don’t get as much sunlight, or in the summer when regularly applying sunscreen to prevent skin damage, says Hoffman.
Calcium supplements have been proven beneficial for overall bone health. Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, and can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure.
Supplements for Children
From gummies to chewables, supplements can also be given to children. “Kids don’t always have the best diet,” says Hoffman. Getting kids to eat the right amount of fruits and vegetables can seem like an uphill battle for many parents. High-sugar snacks can cause inflammation. Fish oil supplements made for children can help reduce inflammation and has also been known to help with attention deficit in school.
Because children require a different daily amount of vitamins and minerals, parents should never give kids their own supply of supplements. Hoffman recommends as with any other supplement, “always ask a health care professional for advice before starting.”
For women needing extra digestive help, probiotics might be something to consider. Probiotics are live bacteria that help keep a natural balance in the intestines as well as boost the immune system. “They can help a whole age range of people, from babies to the elderly,” says Hoffman.
Weight loss is another top reason why people turn to supplements. But beware of unrealistic claims. “People are always asking for a magic pill for weight loss,” says Hoffman. The truth is: there is no magic pill. Supplements can help with overall health, but not with shedding pounds. For that Hoffman says, “you just have to eat right and exercise.”