Supplement or not? Understanding the benefits and dangers


January 26, 2022 – Are you thinking about adding supplements to your diet? Although supplements can be helpful in some cases, they can be a very slippery slope, and users must proceed with caution, says one registered dietitian nutritionist.

Jamie Lee McIntyre, a dietitian and nutrition consultant at, says she sees a growing interest in supplementing every January with people’s New Year’s resolutions. But there is also a year-round curiosity, she says, especially since yr pandemic started, making it even more important to understand the risks and rewards associated with them.

First of all, it is important to note that the FDA does not regulate supplements.

“Although they are sold over-the-counter, they can be as dangerous as drugs. The least dangerous and worst case scenario is a waste of money, ”says McIntyre. “For example, megadoses of water-soluble vitamins are literally flushed down the toilet urine when there is no medical need or true nutritional deficiency in the person taking it. ”

“The most dangerous worst-case scenarios could be the interaction of food and drugs, such as vitamin K that interferes with blood-thinning drugs, or toxicity, which can happen with fat-soluble vitamins and others,” she continues.

Reading certification labels can help, but it’s another place where education matters. Many supplement manufacturers will opt for third-party testing to show high quality and show that what’s on the label is really what’s in the bottle.

McIntyre recommends seeking certification from informed sports, NSF certified for sports, or USP if you check.

In addition to reading the labels, it is important to understand your real needs before taking pills or adding powder to your drinks. Liberal use of supplements can cause several problems, McIntyre says.

“One of my first patients I met as a new dietitian was an individual hospitalized for gastrointestinal bleeding due to his regular use of a list of vitamin supplements for laundry,” she says. “Many labels even warn of this. While toxicity and interactions with food and drugs are the most dangerous complications, less dangerous but undesirable problems can occur, such as masking various deficiencies or undiagnosed health conditions, or creating a new problem or symptom of taking an unnecessary supplement. ”

For those who want to step up fitness gains through allowances specifically for this purpose, the slope can be equally slippery.

I often see clients taking supplements before training or ‘boosting energy’, with large amounts caffeine”Says McIntyre. “This can lead to diarrhea, rapid and irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and dizziness, among other problems. Another common side effect is gastrointestinal stress and stomach upset. ”

How to fix it

If you are wondering if you need a supplement of any kind and want to add it to your diet in a safe way, steps need to be taken to achieve this. The first and best way to supplement is to start with your doctor or registered dietitian.

“First, I conduct a full nutrition assessment, along with a review of previous medical history, allergies, current and past medication use, current use of supplements, laboratory work (most commonly chemical, chemical and lipid plates) and, of course, a diet review using food diaries or food questionnaires to understand where they are in terms of current nutrient intake, ”says McIntyre. “The labs I would order separately from the boards I mentioned would be iron and total binding capacity, ferritin, B12 and folic acid, as well as vitamin D. ”

Depending on your lifestyle, this approach can vary.

“For certain populations, such as athletes considering low-risk supplementation, laboratory work may not be required to use products such as creatine monohydrate. Or if I know that the client finds it difficult to meet the protein needs of a vegan diet, vegetable protein powder with minimal ingredients could be low risk, ”says McIntyre. “As with all things related to nutrition, it all comes down to the individual and what it takes to determine the best approach that is truly specific to them.”

What about taking a simple multivitamin? Do you need to contact your doctor or registered dietitian?

“One multivitamin, in the absence of other nutrients and serious health conditions, can be good insurance plan”Says McIntyre. “If a person has decided to take a multivitamin, I recommend looking for one that has been tested by a third party, contains a dose of nutrients specifically for the person’s needs based on gender and age, has good bioavailability of key nutrients, is convenient and sells at a reasonable price. ”

Some multivitamins are intended for certain populations, such as postmenopausal women, for example. While this may seem like the right idea, you should again take careful steps before taking one. For example, be careful with supplements that promise hormone balance or are otherwise not standard practice without first obtaining a complete diet assessment and a proven medical need for such a supplement.

This is also true at this current time of the pandemic. Misinformation about what dietary supplements can and cannot do to prevent or cure COVID is widespread.

“You can’t, and wouldn’t want to, ‘boost’ yours immune system with supplements, ”warns McIntyre. “Yes, it is true that certain nutrients support immune health. Vitamins A, C and E and minerals such as zinc play an important role in the functioning of the immune system. ”

In addition, “there is no need to take supplements if you eat a balanced diet, so the recommendation should be to include these foods in your daily diet for essential nutrients that support your immune system.”

And in an ideal world, you’ll do just that – get the nutrients you need, without supplements.

“If there’s a perceived, specific need for supplementation, it’s always best to check your interest with your doctor, dietitian and pharmacist so they can best help you figure out and choose what’s right for you,” McIntyre says.


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