How to Assess the Usefulness of Nutritional Supplements

Three Parts:Identifying the Nutritional Supplements You NeedChoosing Reputable Nutritional SupplementsTaking Nutritional Supplements Properly

Nutritional supplements is a term that covers vitamins, minerals, and other supplements that can help your body function properly. Unlike prescription medications, supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Instead, they are loosely regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). This means that manufacturers and distributors are responsible for evaluating the safety of their products before it hits the market.[1] To ensure nutritional supplements work for you in a useful way, you should start by identifying the type of supplement you need, do research to find effective supplements, and make sure you talk to your doctor if you experience any adverse effects due to the supplements.

Part 1
Identifying the Nutritional Supplements You Need

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    Determine your health goals and needs. Before you start taking nutritional supplements, it is important that you consider how supplements will help you achieve your health goals and needs. Taking supplements to target a specific health need, such as an iron deficiency, will ensure the supplements are being taken consciously and on a need by need basis. The supplement is likely to be more effective if it is for a specific issue, rather than a broad or general issue. You may ask yourself several questions about taking nutritional supplements, including:[2]
    • What am I trying to accomplish for my health? For example, maybe you are trying to increase your vitamin D levels because you are experiencing low energy, depression, and fatigue.
    • How will this supplement improve my health or my condition? For example, you may reason that taking vitamin D supplements will increase your vitamin D levels, thereby giving you more energy and making you feel less depressed.
    • How will it help prevent or treat a specific condition or issue? For example, you may take vitamin D supplements to increase your vitamin D levels. But you should not think of vitamin D supplements as a good treatment for an iron deficiency. Your iron deficiency will likely require a different supplement.
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    Talk to your doctor about supplements for a specific condition you have. It is also important that you discuss taking nutritional supplements with your doctor before taking them. Your doctor should give you the specific names of any medical conditions you may have and recommend supplements that would work best for your conditions. You can also talk to your pharmacist about any recommended supplements for your condition. Ask your doctor several questions about the recommended supplements, including:[3]
    • How will these supplements improve my health? How long before I notice any benefits from the supplements?
    • How much research has been done on this supplement and is it safe to use?
    • What are the side effects of the supplements?
    • Will the supplements interfere with any other medications I am taking?
    • Can I take this supplement if I am pregnant or nursing?
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    Speak to a naturopath and a nutritionist. A naturopath is a physician who is trained in the use of botanical medicine and supplements. A nutritionist is an expert in the use of food and nutrition to promote health.[4] Both of these health experts can advise you on supplements you should take based on your condition. They can also help you determine if there is enough clinical evidence to support the use of a certain supplement.
    • You should ask the naturopath and the nutritionist similar questions based on the questions you asked your doctor. Getting a well rounded and well informed take on supplements based on your health will increase the likelihood that the supplements are useful and effective for you.

Part 2
Choosing Reputable Nutritional Supplements

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    Look for natural and non-synthetic supplements. Natural, non-synthetic supplements are derived from whole foods and natural ingredients. Many professionals believe that these forms of supplements have greater benefits because our bodies can better process and use them.[5]
    • However, supplements made with natural, non-synthetic ingredients can be very expensive so you may need to budget for them or select supplements you can afford. This may mean going for natural, non-synthetic versions for some of your supplements or as many supplements as your budget allows.
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    Check the ingredients list on the supplement. Reading the ingredients list on the supplements is key to choosing effective supplements for your health needs. Note if the supplement contains mostly natural products that are safe to consume and has only one to four listed ingredients.[6]
    • Avoid supplements that have a very long list of ingredients. Unless the supplement is a multi vitamin or a multi mineral, you should look for supplements with a few stated ingredients. It is usually difficult for reputable manufacturers to fit in a long list of ingredients into one or two tablets.
    • You should also avoid supplements that contain additives or preservatives, such as added sugar or added coloring.
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    Note the components of the supplement. For mineral supplements, you should check the components of the minerals. Most mineral supplements are made of two parts, mineral salts and a non-mineral.
    • For example, a magnesium supplement may contain magnesium, which is the mineral component, and chloride, which is the non-mineral component. But mineral supplements that contain amino acids and organic acids as the non-mineral component can be absorbed more effectively than other non-mineral components.
    • A supplement that contains magnesium citrate, for example, will be better absorbed by your body than magnesium oxide. This means you will also need to take fewer doses of the supplement to get the same effects.
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    Look at the strength level of the supplement. You should also check the label for information about the amount of “elemental” minerals in the supplement. This will help you determine if the supplement contains full doses of the mineral or vitamin, or if it is mixed with other ingredients.
    • For example, if the label reads “10 mg of elemental Magnesium”, this means you are getting 10 mg of Magnesium for every dose. But if the label reads “10 mg of Magnesium citrate”, this means the actual amount of Magnesium is less than 10 mg, as the 10mg refers to the entire supplement and not just the Magnesium content.
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    Confirm the manufacturer has independent testing and received a seal of approval. Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, reputable supplement manufacturers will have independent labs test their supplements to ensure the supplements contain the ingredients stated on the label. The independent labs will then give the supplements their seals of approval.[7][8]
    • Check the label on the supplement for reliable seals of approval from Consumer Labs, the Natural Products Association (NPA), LabDoor, and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).[9][10][11][12]
    • You can also look on the manufacturer’s website to check that they have the seals of approval. Call the manufacturer for more information on their quality controls. Reputable manufacturers will have consumer information readily available and independent verification that the ingredients stated on the label are in fact in the supplement.
    • Bear in mind that not having independent lab testing or seals of approval are not automatic red flags against the manufacturer. Getting supplements checked and approved by an independent lab is voluntary and not required for manufacturers.
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    Compare prices between different manufacturers. A more expensive supplement does not always guarantee it will be of a higher quality. As well, a cheaper supplement does not mean it will be of a lesser quality. But you should try to invest in a supplement that contains quality ingredients, as they will be more effective in the long term.[13]
    • Compare prices between several different suppliers. Focus on supplements that have a higher quality and look at how their quality levels match their price. You may end up paying more for a quality supplement but this could also mean you get better results from the supplement.
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    Avoid supplements that seem over hyped or too good to be true. There are many supplements on the market and it can be difficult to identify supplements that are too good to be true. But you should avoid any supplements that claim to cure anything and everything. There is likely no one mineral or vitamin that can solve all your health issues. You should be wary of supplements that promise fast results and the solution to all your health problems.[14]
    • The only instances a single supplement can cure a disorder if you have a deficiency of a particular substance, such as taking iron supplements to treat your iron-deficiency. More often than not, you may need to take several supplements to address your health needs.
    • It can also take time for supplements to work effectively, usually more than days or weeks. If the supplement’s promises seem too good to be true, they likely do not have much merit or value.

Part 3
Taking Nutritional Supplements Properly

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    Select a powder, capsule, tablet, or liquid form of the supplement. Supplements can come in several different forms. Some supplements are better absorbed in liquid form, such as vitamin B, and other supplements are better absorbed in capsule form, such as vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about the best form of the supplement for you, based on your health needs.[15]
    • You may prefer a certain form based on comfort and accessibility. For example, if you do not like swallowing capsules or tablets, you may go for the liquid form of the supplements.
    • Depending on which supplements you are taking, you may want to start with the powder form of the supplement. This will make it easier to adjust the dosage based on your current health needs.
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    Follow the recommended dosage on the label of the supplement. There should be recommended dosage levels listed on the label of the supplement. The recommended dosage is usually appropriate for most people. You can double check your required dosage with your doctor, pharmacist, naturopath, or nutritionist to ensure you are taking the correct amount of the supplement.[16]
    • Remember that you can experience adverse effects for taking too many supplements so you should avoid taking more than the recommended dosage. The mindset of “if one is good, two must be better” can actually do more harm than good.
    • If you take too much of your iron supplement, for example, you may develop negative side effects like constipation or more serious medical conditions like hemochromatosis.[17] Taking too many fat-soluable vitamins like vitamin D, E, and A can lead to high toxicity levels in your body. This can then lead to serious health issues.
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    Store the supplements according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. To get the most benefits from the supplements, you should storing them properly. The instructions for storing the supplements should be listed on the label. For example, some supplements do better if they are kept away from light and are stored in a cool, dark place.[18]
    • You should also check the expiry date of the supplements. Never consume supplements that have expired as they can lead to negative side effects and health issues.[19]
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    Combine supplements with a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle. Supplements are only one element of improving your health. Often, they work better if you also maintain a healthy diet and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Exercise and a healthy diet, combined with carefully chosen supplements, can lead to better health overall.[20]
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    Schedule a follow up appointment with your doctor. To get a good indicator of how useful and effective the supplements are, you should set a follow up appointment with your doctor. See your doctor several months after you have started taking the supplements to determine how your health has improved. You should also take into account the positive effects of maintaining a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, in addition to taking the supplements.[21]
    • Your doctor should be able to help you determine if the supplements are effective. She may also adjust your dosage if the supplements are not working or suggest a different type of supplement for your health issues.

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Categories: Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating