BY M.M. DONALDSON
Food is something we eat. Supplements are something we take. While supplementation may be helpful in some situations, they may not be necessary for optimal health with most well balanced diets. Dietary supplements may increase the amount of nutrients consumed, but overuse or interactions with medications can be harmful.
Supplements should be considered just that, supplemental, to our diet.
More than half of Americans take at least one dietary supplement. The actual number could be closer to 70 percent considering consumer purchases, which correlate strongly with the number of people who take supplements.
Among the growing number of supplement users the factual information has not followed in the same trend.
According to a recent study, 78 percent of supplement users did not know which vitamins or minerals could be found in a given food item. Published in the International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research journal, over 30 percent of supplements users relied on word of mouth information rather than health professional counseling.
Because supplements can be purchased with no regulations, unlike cigarettes or alcohol, the prevailing belief is they are safe. The Food and Drug Administration < WEB LINK http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ > has limited oversight on ingredients and safety of the product. The most substantial regulation the FDA provides is to ensure companies do not make false health claims. Only after a supplement has been on the shelf available for sale and has made a false health claim or an injury has occurred from using can the FDA have any recourse, usually in the form of a letter to cease and desist.
Without the proper knowledge of how to use supplements, fat-soluble vitamins could build up to toxic levels and some herbal supplements add to the blood thinning properties of prescription medications.
Researchers stress that health professionals should be key in educating patients on nutritional supplement use.
In the recent study in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy by Waddington and colleagues, they identified pharmacists as health professionals approachable for health information.
Their survey of U.S. pharmacists found that they had little background to provide supplement counseling due to minimal nutrition education.
The study encourages increased nutrition education for all health care professionals.
Even though consumers have easy access of dietary supplements, professional medical advice should still be sought. If currently taking or considering dietary supplements, consult a health care practitioner who should be able to identify any adverse reactions to current medications or health conditions.
Nutritional supplements can be part of a healthy regimen but not the sole purveyor of health any more than a doctor would prescribe a medication for high blood pressure and not advocate healthy nutrition and exercise.
Best of all, eating nutrient dense food gives us a chance to savor different flavors and experience different textures. Trace minerals and other nutrients are all building blocks needed by the body to function properly. Supplements can literally be hard to swallow.
M. M. Donaldson is a contributor with The Voice and a journalism student at WCC. She has a bachelor of science in family and community services from Michigan State University, and has several years’ experience with nutrition issues affecting infants through older adults. Follow M.M. Donaldson on Facebook.