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Nutritional Supplements?

Pop at pill and become fabulous…Wouldn’t it be nice?  There’s a reason many supermarkets and drug stores devote an entire aisle to nutritional supplements!

One in three American adults takes at least one dietary supplement each day; we Americans spend more than $11 billion annually on vitamins and minerals.

And even though it is true that most healthy adults can benefit from a multivitamin and one or more single-ingredient supplements, most of us are just guessing about our needs and believing junk that circulates on the web… so here are some simple fiction versus facts for you:

  • Myth: Supplements can help prevent or manage conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

Fact: Supplements aren’t intended to treat any specific health issue. They are not medications. They just “fill in the nutritional gaps” in a well-rounded diet, helping us reach our daily nutritional needs that are not met with food alone, like Vitamin D for good example, because it’s not found in many whole foods.

  • Myth: Supplements can make up for your diet’s flaws.

Fact: You still need a well-rounded diet. Supplements are tools that you take on top of eating right. When you are healthy and get most of your nutrients from food, you can generally trust your body to absorb what it needs. When you rely on supplements instead, however, you run the risk of taking in too much, which can be harmful to your health; like Vitamin A for example. Too much of it increases your risk of osteoporosis! And by the way, too much vitamin E can elevate your risk of suffering a stroke and too much iron can raise your risk of heart disease. Excesses of these nutrients are stored in fat and are not excreted, so they can build up in the body and become toxic. If you’re already eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and consuming fortified cereal, yogurt, juice or milk, you may not need multivitamins or individual supplements on top of that.

As a side note, did you know that if you don’t take a supplement properly, there’s a good chance your body will simply excrete most of it?  And supplements, even taken properly, can’t supply all the benefits of healthy eating. That includes delivering many phytonutrients, the chemicals available in fruits and vegetables , such as resveratrol, flavonoids and carotenoids.

  • Myth: The best supplements are those labeled “all natural.”

Fact: The only part of the label that matters is the nutrition facts. Supplement manufacturers are eager to capitalize on heightened consumer interest in natural foods by touting their “all natural” bona fides, such as the addition of ingredients like enzymes or primrose oil. In most instances, though, none of these provide real benefits to the consumer because they’re added in only minute or trace amounts. What you should pay attention to is the nutrition information panel on the label. All of the nutrients contained in a supplement should be listed as providing “around 100 percent, but no more than 300 percent,” of the daily recommended value (DV). Those percentages are generally considered to represent a safe dose.

  • Myth: When you hear a nutrient has new proven health benefits, it’s time to stock up.

Fact: The supplement may not be right — or safe — for you. Before investing in a supplement that you hear will fight off one or another chronic condition, talk to your doctor or a dietitian to find out if it’s worth it, especially if you have a medical condition that could be compromised by large doses of certain nutrients. For example, people who take blood thinners or aspirin need to be wary of both vitamin E and omega-3 supplements, which could limit the blood’s ability to clot and increase your risk of bleeding. It’s also wise to factor in the nutrients you’re already getting from foods. For example, it may be unnecessary or even harmful to take a daily multivitamin if your morning bowl of cereal has already been fortified with 100 percent of the daily value of the same vitamins and minerals.

  • Myth: Multiple single-source supplements are better than multivitamins.

Fact: For healthy adults, a multivitamin is sufficient (with some exceptions). The vitamin and mineral needs for most adults over 50 can be met with a multivitamin with extra B12, which is beneficial for neurological function and red blood cell formation, and which our bodies tend to absorb less well from foods as we grow older. There are, however, a few exceptions in which a single-source supplement could be beneficial:  calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and omega-3. No daily multivitamin will have enough of those ingredients.

There you have it, Barb’s Fit U style!


Herbal Supplements

To be brutally honest with you, I am not always settled on whether we need vitamins and/or herbal supplements.  My original thought was that food by itself should be enough; and it should… but because it is modified these days, it doesn’t always do what it was intended to do for us.

An  estimated 18 million adults use herbs in some form and that amount keeps increasing all the time.   Herbal supplements, which come from plants that have medicinal properties, claim to cure, treat, or prevent disease. But when an herbal supplement is billed as “natural” on the label, that doesn’t ensure its efficacy, purity, or safety. Although there are proven health benefits for some herbal products, potentially harmful effects exist for others.   So here is a simple guide to herbal supplements by Becky Hand.

Claims about herbal products are often based on folklore or testimonial instead of scientific studies. It is important to read reliable information and search out unbiased sources of research, when available. Because herbal supplements are not standardized, the same herb can be found in different products in varying amounts. This can lead to toxic levels that may cause harmful reactions in the body. Do not assume that “natural” means safe.

To reduce health risks when choosing and using herbal supplements:

  • Always tell your doctor if you are taking herbs. Herbs can interact with other medications causing serious side effects.
  • Do not self-treat serious medical conditions with medicinal herbs.
  • Do not take herbal supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. There is no way to determine what level of herbs may harm a fetus or nursing infant.
  • Do not give herbal products to children under 3 years of age. Always check with your child’s pediatrician first.
  • Only purchase herbal supplements that display an expiration (or use-by) date, as well as a lot or batch number.
  • The herbal supplement should state which part of the plant was used to make the product, such as root, leaf, or blossom.
  • If a blend of ingredients is used in the herbal supplement, the label should list the individual ingredients as well as the amount of each.
  • Although not required, the supplement should indicate the type of solvent used when processing the herb.

Check for certification symbols, such as:

  • United States Pharmacopeia (USP) symbol verifies that the product contains the stated ingredients in amounts and strength, is pure, meets limits for contaminants, and disintegrates quickly.
  • NSF International verifies products for content and label accuracy, purity, contaminants, and manufacturing processes.
  • ConsumerLab.comindependently tests supplements for purity and active ingredients. A supplement company can pay to have its product evaluated, use the seal of approval, and be listed on the website.

Be a smart shopper! Use the following resources to research beyond the product information provided in stores:

Commonly Used Herbal Supplements

 Black Cohosh is a member of the buttercup family. Some evidence indicates that as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy, it may help manage menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, irritability, and anxiety.   It is also used to relieve premenstrual cramping and pain, but more research is needed. However, no drug interactions have been reported. Women who are pregnant (it can stimulate uterine contractions), lactating, or at high risk for breast cancer (it may make breast cancer more likely to spread) should not use Black Cohosh.

Research on chamomile tea supports claims that it reduces muscle spasms in the gastro-intestinal tract, indigestion, and menstrual cramps. Individuals who are allergic to ragweed or pollen may have an allergic reaction to chamomile. 

 Drinking cranberry juice (about 10 ounces daily) may reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections. However, more research is needed to determine the efficacy of cranberry extract supplements. There is no evidence that cranberry juice or pills can treat an existing urinary tract infection, so consult your health care provider for treatment.

 Echinacea is also known as the purple coneflower. Studies suggest Echinacea enhances the immune system and may reduce upper respiratory infections, but it should be taken intermittently (not permanently) and only when ill.   Individuals with autoimmune disorders should avoid Echinacea (it may offset the effects of drugs that suppress the immune system), and those with asthma or sensitivity to grass or pollen may experience allergic reaction.

Feverfew is effective in treating migraine headaches, possibly by inhibiting inflammatory mediators. It is most effective when taken daily as a preventive measure. Choose tablets, which only contain a small amount of the active ingredients. Chewing the leaves can cause mouth sores as well as allergic reactions. Feverfew reacts adversely with anticoagulant and anti-platelet medications.

 Garlic supplements (2-5 grams daily) have been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as fight infection and reduce platelet aggregation. Garlic may cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some and increased bleeding. Therefore, avoid garlic seven days prior to surgery; if you take blood-thinning drugs, talk to your physician first. 

 Studies support the use of ginger (250 mg, 2-4 times per day) to alleviate motion sickness. No toxic effects have been reported, but ginger may interact with anticoagulant drugs. Pregnant and nursing women should consult their physicians.

 Ginkgo Biloba improves blood flow in areas of decreased circulation and may help with memory loss that is due to decreased blood flow. Several studies suggest that ginkgo may slow the progression of dementia, particularly in Alzheimer’s disease. However, not all studies report improvement—it does not improve memory and concentration in healthy individuals.   It may also be used for diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular diseases.   Since ginkgo acts as a blood thinner, taking it with other blood-thinning agents could increase one’s risk for excessive bleeding and even stroke.

Ginseng is the most frequently purchased herb in the United States. There are three different species of ginseng: American, Asian, and Siberian. Each has 20 or more active compounds in varying amounts. Marketing claims boast improved exercise performance, energy, and cognitive function, mood elevation, diabetes control, increased immunity, heart health, and cancer prevention. However, there is not much reliable research or evidence to support any of these claims. Ginseng may also decrease the efficacy of warfarin (coumadin) medication by reversing the drug’s effects.

 Kava Kava lacks controlled studies to back claims of inducing a deep, restful sleep and relieving insomnia and nervousness. More data is needed about safe usage (since it may cause liver toxicity) but it shouldn’t be used for more than three months. Kava Kava may affect motor reflexes (so use caution when driving or operating machinery), compound the effects of substances that depress the central nervous system, and bring on tremors, muscle spasm, and decrease the effectiveness of Parkinson’s medication.

 St John’s Wart (SJW) may improve symptoms of mild to moderate depression, according to clinical trials conducted in Europe. But its effects on patients with major depression are contradictory and much more research is needed. There is no evidence that SJW elevates mood or improves emotional well-being in individuals without clinical depression. Combining herbal and prescription antidepressants could lead to adverse side effects. Consult your physician for usage.

 Valerian may improve sleep quality without morning drowsiness, but more studies are needed to see if it reduces anxiety and stress. Valerian is not for extended use. It may add to the effects of sedatives, alcohol, and sleeping pills and cause dangerous interactions.


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