Do supplements work? A doctor’s take on how supplements actually impact your health
Do supplements work? Though there’s no blanket answer that covers every supplement out there, there’s definitely some valuable general knowledge that everyone who is interested in taking supplements should know. Generally speaking, there are some supplements that are harmless at worst and effective at best – and there are others that are not advisable for someone to take unless they have been advised to by their physician. Finding out exactly what supplements you should be taking means having a conversation with your doctor about your medical history, current health conditions, and overall goals as well as getting blood work to find out what kind of nutritional deficiencies you may have. With that said, here are some important facts to keep in mind when it comes to supplement intake.
What the Science is Telling Us
We know that over 33% of Americans report taking a daily supplement or multivitamin, and research shows that certain supplements may have beneficial health effects. For example, calcium intake is correlated to improved bone health, while fish oil is said to support heart health and folic acid can reduce the risk of birth defects in new babies. With that said, there is no absolute answer about the efficacy of supplements as a whole. This is for a variety of reasons, most of which hinge on the fact that no two individuals are identical (and neither, for that matter, are any two supplements). Though supplements may help to support certain aspects of physical health over time, it’s illegal for supplement companies to claim that their products prevent or cure illness. However, certain supplements – like iron capsules for anemic patients or probiotics for patients who are taking antibiotics – do have a measurable, positive impact on health when taken correctly as advised by a doctor.
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Supplements vs. Diet
The most important thing to remember about supplements is that even the highest-quality, most doctor-approved supplements are no replacement for a healthy and balanced diet. The majority of your body’s nutrient intake comes from the foods you consume, and that’s the way it should be. Speak to your physician or a registered dietitian about coming up with a nutritional plan that works according to your body’s unique needs. Generally speaking, cut down on the processed foods (especially those high in added sugars, oils, and trans fats); drink at least eight glasses of water every day; and get most of your calories from whole foods, including humanely sourced meats, plants, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates (like organic whole grains). By keeping a consistently healthy diet that maximizes your intake of unprocessed foods, you’ll be setting your body up to take in as many nutrients as possible, as naturally as possible.
Can Supplements Be Dangerous?
It’s recommended that you always talk to a doctor before you start to take a new supplement, because the truth is that some supplements can have adverse effects on your health. This is especially true if you are pregnant, have any preexisting health conditions, or are on any medications. The ingredients that go into supplements can vary significantly across manufacturers, so always consult with your doctor about what brands of supplements are reliable.
The most effective step you can take to make sure that you are getting all of the nutrients you need is to eat a healthy diet consisting primarily of whole foods. On top of that, make it a point to talk to your physician about whether supplements are a good idea for you (and, if so, what brands you should stick to). Your health profile is one of a kind, and your supplement intake is most effective when it’s tailored to your unique health conditions.
Do supplements work? The short answer is that they absolutely can, and that the best way to leverage the benefits of supplements is to work with your doctor to come up with a plan based on your unique physiological needs. To learn more about nutrition and supplements, feel free to schedule a consultation with us.
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