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5 Reasons to Start or Not Start Supplements

5 Reasons To Start (or not start) Nutrition Supplements

Many more reasons why to ask your Registered Dietitian and not your neighbor!

by LuAnn Scarton, RDN / LDN

supplements nutrition - new directions nutritionistIn my 30 years of nutrition education and experience, one thing has been constant…people take advice from those they trust.  When it comes to diet and supplement recommendations, it is often a friend, neighbor, celebrity, or social media influencer instead of a trained professional.  In most of these cases, I believe they are truly well-meaning people trying to help others (except for those selling or promoting their own goods). Unfortunately, in my practice I have seen the damage from this advice.  Despite their intentions, without proper training, years of education, and countless nutrition sessions; most people don’t know whether supplements could help or harm them.

5 important reasons why you can trust a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

1.     Dollar Smart – Americans spend $12.8 billion on natural supplements each year (1).  For example, many of my patients are spending their money on some sort of gummy supplement simply because they are appealing, chewable, and tasty.  Often, these supplements have added sugars, artificial colors, and are poor forms of the nutrients they claim to contain.  We would be better off to spend that money on fresh fruits and vegetables that offer natural colors, sugars, fiber, plus a wide range of potent phytonutrients that can provide cellular protection from disease.  A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can advise you on safe supplement brands, dosages, and if a supplement is even necessary.  RDN’s can also help you find simple & easy ways to incorporate foods that contain those nutrients into your diet.  (Check out my recipes that naturally contain many of these beneficial phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber to give you satiety, balance hormones, improve digestive health, & help prevent disease).

 2.     It’s Personal – RDNs can assess your current diet for nutrient deficiencies in the context of your current health conditions and determine whether supplements are safe & warranted.  RDNs can recommend reputable brands that have third party safety testing on their products.  Why would you spend money on a supplement or put something into your body for your health that was recommended by your neighbor on social media?  In 30 years doing this work, I have never seen a one-size-fits-all-all when it comes to supplements.  For one person, a magnesium supplement may make perfect sense, but for another, choosing good food sources of magnesium makes sense. Most people I meet with don’t truly understand why they are taking a supplement and if it has helped them.

3.     Do No Harm – Many over-the-counter supplements are made with fillers and often useless ingredients that you are paying for.  Skin, hair, and nail supplements, like biotin, are extremely popular.  However, anyone supplementing with biotin should be aware that this can cause falsely abnormal laboratory values in certain case (for example thyroid) and can lead to being treated for a condition that you don’t have.  Vitamins and minerals are powerful only when used properly.  Other supplements are touted as “Immune Boosters” which can be quite harmful in certain cases for people with Autoimmune disease that already have overactivated immune systems.  Also, many people don’t realize that our immune systems are having to make decisions all day long about the foods and products we are consuming, leading to sometimes overburdening responses.

 4.     Gut wrenching – Probiotics have become the latest standard supplement many of my patients are taking in pursuit of optimal gut health.  While we are learning so much about the role of the gut microbiome in health and disease, we have sometimes mistakenly jumped into supplementing with probiotics that can be costly mistakes.  Probiotics can be very helpful in certain conditions, but it’s important to use very specific strains that have good evidence to help your condition.  Most over-the-counter-probiotics are not refrigerated, which could be a sign that these are not “live active cultures”, though, some probiotic strains have been shown to be effective at room temperature.  Without recommendations from a trained professional that has resources available to them to interpret this information, it’s impossible to know if your probiotic is effective.  A RDN can help determine which strains, if needed, may be helpful for you and most importantly foods to eat to enhance the beneficial bacteria in your gut without supplementation.

 5.     Expert Advice – These individuals have decided to devote their life’s work to understanding how nutrition can extend lifespan, improve health and quality of life. RDNs have a bachelor’s degrees that focus on the science, chemistry, and human physiology of nutrition in health and disease, along with over 1000 clinical hours of experience, a nationally administered Board-certified exam, and must maintain 75 continuing education hours every 5 years.  These individuals have decided to devote their life work to understanding how nutrition can extend lifespan & improve health & quality of life, unlike the random person or celebrity you may follow on social media.  You can expect an individualized session to last 60-90 minutes that will include a thorough assessment of medical history, drug-nutrient interactions, nutritional intake, shopping and food habits.  Most RDNs will provide you with a plan to make changes along with personalized recommendations about which foods to consume to provide the necessary needs for your individual needs along with lifestyle modifications to meet your goals.

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 (1)U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Americans spend $30 billion a year out-of-pocket on complementary health approaches. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/research-results/americans-spend-30-billion-a-year-outofpocket-on-complementary-health-approaches.