You can't deny it, supplements are everywhere. One trip down the vitamin aisle at your supermarket can leave even the biggest wellness junkie bewildered. There are so many products on the market - many offering contradicting information or claims - that it's easy to understand why consumers are confused about selecting a supplement regimen.
Dr. NavNirat Nibber, N.D., co-owner of Crescent Health Clinic and medical advisor for Advanced Orthomolecular Research, explained what consumers should look for and be wary of when selecting a vitamin or supplement.
"Supplements can do so much for us, but ultimately what they're doing is helping our body heal itself," Nibber said.
While everyone should ideally get the nutrients they need from the food they eat, Nibber said that not everyone does, either because of restrictions to their diets or health issues that limit the ability to absorb or use the nutrients. And while you may think picking up a bottle of your pharmacy's generic multivitamin may suffice, she cautioned against that approach.
Instead, she advocated a more personalized and thoughtful regimen with an established start and stop date, supported by a healthy diet, and a doctor recommendation - whenever possible.
For those considering supplements, Nibber recommended keeping in mind:
1) Supplements are just that - extra nutrients.
Health supplements can boost your overall health or compensate for deficiencies in your diet, but they are not a substitute for good nutrition. If you have a diet of high quality nutritious foods and no underlying genetic or physical concerns, you may not need supplements. But most people don't get enough nutrients from their diets, whether from the decreasing quality of food, limited absorption capabilities due to underlying health conditions, or because of a genetic framework that limits what their body needs or can use. That's when supplements can help.
2) Supplements are not one-size-fits-all.
To get the most from supplements, it's best to assess your individual concerns and address a specific process that might not be functioning well by taking only what you need. Nibber explained this as a founding principle of Advanced Orthomolecular Research (AOR), which formulates its supplements to "deliver the right molecule in the right dose, at the right place, at the right time and in the right delivery form."
3) All supplements are not created equal.
While the FDA does its best to ensure supplements are safe, they do not need to be FDA approved before they show up on store shelves - though the FDA will address adverse reaction reports from consumers. To make sure ingredients reported on the label are accurate, choose supplements with ingredients and processes assessed by an unbiased third-party laboratory. Or source your supplements from a country with more stringent regulation, which requires in-depth medical studies for any claims. For example, supplements from AOR are evaluated by more rigorous Canadian standards for safety and effectiveness, ensuring potency, purity and traceability from plant to product. You can glean the quality of supplements by reading the label - do they state what form ingredients are in? Do they list all non-medicinal ingredients?
4) Supplements have real, medicinal effects.
No supplement is completely benign. Supplements and vitamins can impact processes in your body and interact with medications you take. Always read the label and consult with a medical practitioner regarding interactions. Too much of a good thing can be harmful, so try to establish a baseline either by having a healthcare provider review clinical signs and symptoms or by running lab work. And remember there are "normal levels" and there are "optimal levels."
5) Supplements are not a magic cure-all.
While supplements have great healing potential, those that claim to singularly "cure" any condition are bound to be overstating their effectiveness. A supplement is more likely to reduce your risk factors, acting as a preventative. Or when used therapeutically, they work to address a genuine nutritional deficiency or certain aspects of your body's processes.
Whatever you choose regarding supplements, examine the ingredient labels and verify the product is evaluated by an unbiased third party. Don't spend money on one-size-fits-all supplements that provide too much or too little of what your body needs. Look for companies offering transparency about their processes and that provide information about the science behind their products. And always consult your doctor before taking supplements that may interact with your medications.