This morning, as I opened my cabinet full of supplements, something dawned on me. Almost everyone I know includes supplementation in his or her diet in one way or another. I bet you do, too, and likely so do most of your friends. On top of that, pretty well every grocery store I’ve gone to—and definitely every health food store I’ve browsed—has had a supplement section. They’re inexpensive, can be found nearly anywhere, and when used properly, they can offer significant health benefits.
But here’s what dawned on me: supplements can be dangerous, too. Despite those well-designed white and green bottles with clean labels declaring a “natural” product with a list of health benefits, not all supplements are as innocent as they appear.
Are Your Supplements Really Supporting Your Health?
Here’s what I’m getting at: just because something is natural or an essential nutrient required for basic human function, doesn’t mean it’s always healthy. Sometimes, high dosages of certain nutrients can become toxic, while certain combinations can cause problems or exacerbate existing ones. And in addition to these potential problems, supplements are very difficult to navigate.
How Can You Ensure Your Supplements Are Really Supporting Your Health?
Well, the first step is to understand what you’re buying. When you purchase a supplement, you want to ensure you’re getting a good-quality product. First off, check to see if the product has been tested by a third party for purity. You also want to look for a seal of approval from either the GMP or the NSF. These pieces of information will be on the label to let you know you’re getting what the bottle says is inside. If this information is missing, leave it on the shelf.
The next step is to consider potential interactions. Take calcium supplements, for example. These supplements are big sellers. Patients take them to help maintain bone strength and density, especially as they age. But if you’re taking a thyroid medication, calcium supplements can have adverse effects. The supplements interfere with thyroid absorption, which can be a big problem because your thyroid is instrumental in a number of human processes, including how your body uses energy and maintains adequate calcium levels. Therefore, if you’re on a thyroid medication, I would advise against taking calcium supplements.
Vitamin C is another popular supplement that can have benefits. However, high dosages of vitamin C can become toxic and create kidney troubles. Many consumers take vitamin C antioxidant supplements to help fight colds (although there is little research to show it has benefits in treating or preventing colds) and to assist with iron absorption. However, if you’re taking other medications and dosages of 2,000 milligrams or more of vitamin C per day, you could be causing damage.
Are you a smoker? You may want to skip those beta-carotene and vitamin E supplements, then, as they can increase your risk of lung cancer.
Conclusion: Do Your Research When It Comes to Supplements
In the end, I believe in supplementation and think it can offer a number of health benefits, whether it’s used as a preventative measure or a form of complementary or alternative treatment. But I can’t stress this enough: do your research first! If you’re currently working with a doctor, talk to them about any kind of potential dangers that could arise as a result of interactions with other treatments you’re already undergoing.
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Source for Today’s Article:
Loyola University Health System, “The benefits and dangers of supplements,” ScienceDaily web site, September 16, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140916111743.htm, last accessed March 3, 2015.