What’s the deal with supplements?
There is a wide array of views on supplements. From those who think everyone should be taking xyz supplements to those who think there is really no need. As with most things, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Interestingly, in 2009 survey of 900 physicians and 300 nurses, 72% of nurses and 79% of physicians reported using dietary supplements. That must mean something, right?. In 2021, a survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, reported that 80% of American adults take some type of supplement. In an ideal world, you want to have lab tests done to determine what supplements you may need. That said, the Standard American Diet (SAD diet), leaves much to be desired and an increased consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods leaves many individuals not getting the vitamins and minerals they need to function optimally. Notice I said optimally, not the bare minimum. True vitamin and mineral deficiencies are thankfully a rare thing.
So how do we look at supplements?
The old standard of requirements was the Recommended Daily Allowance which is the average daily level of intake to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98%) of healthy individuals. In 1994, the Institute of Medicine introduced a new paradigm, the Dietary Reference Intake which focuses on the average nutritional needs based on age and sex. Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers faced when studying supplements is a lack of standardization in clinical studies so you will see many conflicting studies on the same nutrient. The body of literature is growing in this space but even practitioners can find it confusing. It is always good to work with a practitioner to see just what supplements are beneficial for you and your needs.
Myth: Supplements are not regulated.
Dietary supplements are regulated but they regulated differently than prescription medications. Supplements are regulated under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which requires pre-market FDA notification, facility registry, post-market surveillance, audits and FTC and FDA advertising oversight. Unlike prescription drugs, supplements do not have to undergo pre-market study. That said, supplements vary significantly in quality. Manufacturers can also apply terms to supplements to make them sound more magical than they really are, which is where caution needs to be taken.
Some things to keep in mind when choosing supplements:
- Look for a brand that is Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) certified. cGMP is a guideline put in place by the FDA to ensure that dietary supplement manufacturing, packaging and labeling meet safety and quality standards. cGMP requires consistent purity, potency, identity and composition.
- See if the supplement has been third party tested. Supplement companies may voluntarily acquire certification from third party companies to assess and verify different factors in the development, manufacturing, labeling and distribution. This ensures you are getting what is stated on the label and nothing extra (heavy metals, additives, gluten, dairy, other allergens etc…)
- Steer clear of supplements that make bold claims like “xyz can cure cancer!” “prevent diabetes” “fix your thyroid disease.” Supplements alone cannot do these things and you should be wary of these marketing tactics.
- Avoid getting supplements from Amazon and eBay. There have been counterfeit supplements found, supplements with unlabeled drugs in them, supplements that have expired and have been repackaged which could be useless at best and harmful at worst. There are also the unknown variables about how they were stored (hot warehouse or did they sit on a truck in the sun) which could lead to damaging the supplements. Cheaper is rarely better.
- Test, don’t guess! It is always good to not blindly be taking most supplements. Using different types of laboratory evaluations can ensure levels of specific vitamins and minerals are at optimal ranges. Most labs can be done at a traditional lab like LabCorp or Quest. There are also functional lab tests that look at micronutrient levels that can be done via finger prick from your own home.
- Be cautious if a practitioner profits from supplement sales. At Wild Rice Wellness, I use Fullscript for all supplement recommendations and pass on the maximum savings to the patient (35% off MSRP!) so that you can get the benefits of high quality supplements without the fear of using cheap and unreliable supplement brands or worrying that I am recommending certain products only to make a profit.
- When possible, use a food first approach. It is always best to try to get nutrients from foods by eating a diverse and balanced diet that includes a variety of vegetables and fruits of different colors as well as adequate protein, fat and fiber.
Some supplement brands I like:
- Nordic naturals
- Integrative Therapeutics
- Klaire Labs
- Seeking Health
- Designs for Health
- Pure Encapsulations
- Microbiome Labs
- Gaia Herbs
- …and many more, available through my Fullscript dispensary.
- All are third party tested and cGMP verified
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I hope you enjoyed “What’s the deal with supplements?” Keep following along every week for new Blog content on the latest Functional Medicine topics!