They are everywhere; they talk about their daily routines; they refuse to skip a day without them. Who are they? They are people addicted to supplements. They take mega doses of vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs, oftentimes using them as meal replacements.
According to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) -Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, a dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to supplement the diet. The "dietary ingredients" in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandular, and metabolites.
Dietary supplements can also be extracts or concentrates, and may be found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, soft gels, gel caps, liquids, or powders. They can also be in other forms, such as a bar, but if they are, information on their label must not represent the product as a conventional food or a sole item of a meal or diet.
Whatever their form may be, DSHEA places dietary supplements in a special category under the general umbrella of "foods," not drugs, and requires that every supplement be labeled a dietary supplement.
The DSHEA states, that it is the responsibility of the company manufacturing the supplement to ensure the safety of its use. There is a loop hole in this law - supplements are not considered drugs and therefore the FDA does not have to approve supplements, prior to consumer use. In addition, if an individual becomes ill after taking a supplement the manufacturer is not required to investigate or file a report with the FDA.
Although not impossible, it is difficult for the FDA to prove that a supplement is unsafe before it can be removed from the market.
Supplements are often misused and taken in conjunction with prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbal preparations, and homeopathic remedies. This abuse and misuse of supplements can lead to: mega-dosing, toxic levels, increasing and/or decreasing the efficiency of medications, and a false sense of good health.
Appropriate supplement usage is two-fold: To ensure that any vitamins and minerals destroyed during the processing of foods are replaced and to provide the body with essential nutrients lacked by insufficient or reduced production by the body.
However supplements have been used as meal replacements, or in dosages far above the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) by consumers who are under the misconception that more is better. What can be worse, is that consumers are utilizing the internet to self-diagnose and self-medicate by purchasing supplements to combat conditions believed to be cured by mega-doses of certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs.
No one can argue that under certain conditions, supplementing with vitamins, minerals, and the like is important. The problem is not in supplementing but in eating right in the first place. We are missing the point, supplements are not going to increase longevity or cure disease. The body needs the right kind of fuel to work properly. However the body can only make the right kind of fuel if the proper raw materials are provided.
You can do this by eating a variety of foods from a variety of sources. By eliminating processed foods, and eating raw, fresh produce and vegetables. By eating lean meats that are free of hormones and chemicals. By reducing portion sizes. By cutting out foods high in simple sugars. Eating right, and not depending on supplements will assist in keeping one’s body healthy and strong.
All of this sounds wonderful. So why aren’t we doing this? Because it can be more costly to eat healthy, and we live in a society that craves immediate gratification. Why cook healthy, spend more money for fresh and raw, when we can cheat by increasing the use of supplements?
For one, you get what you pay for. Many supplements have fillers that can trigger allergic reactions. Many supplements are made with cheaper non-absorbable ingredients. Many supplements are water soluble and therefore excreted via urine. Conversely, fat-soluble-vitamins are stored and can lead to toxicity. Supplements and medications can have adverse effects on each other.
It is important to discuss supplementation with your health care provider to ensure that your plan is safe and a true benefit to your health. Take care of yourself. You deserve longevity, but be smart, and do it right!
In part II of this series we will examine several supplements: how they are used, the effectiveness of excessive use, and what could happen when those supplements are combined with other substances contraindicated in their usage.