Sunday, February 6, 2011

How do you choose your vitamin/mineral supplements?


ConsumerLab.com posted survey results about popular supplements. While not a "scientific" study in that the respondents were self-selecting (that always introduces bias into a study) it did show some interesting trends about supplement use. The five most popular supplements were fish oil, multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and CoQ10. The first four didn't surprise me given the media attention to fish oil and vitamin D, but the CoQ10 did...until I thought about the role of CoQ10 in protecting the heart muscle in those older adults who have congestive heart failure. There is also some support for using it when taking a statin to lower cholesterol, although the evidence for that is not as clear.

But, what I really thought about when I saw the survey is how does one choose among the hundreds of supplements on the shelves of grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail stores (there are even whole stores devoted to selling supplements anddon't even get me started on the Internet sales!)

I offer these tips in choosing supplements:

1)Know what supplements you really need. Ask your doctor or qualified health professional (like a registered dietitian) about what supplements might be best for you. I often find that people supplement with nutrients that are plentiful in their diets yet not taking nutrients that they are lacking. A quick way to evaluate your dietary intake is to go to mypyramid.gov and analyze your usual dietary intake. You might find that you get plenty of vitamin C because you drink orange juice, eat broccoli, and snack on tangerines, yet your intake of omega-3-fats are low because you don't like to eat fatty fish.

2)Look for third-party verification that you are getting a quality supplement. Ever noticed the "USP" symbol on your supplement? That stands for United States Pharmacopeia and it means that the supplement meets strict criteria for quality ingredients and quality manufacturing processes. ConsumerLab.com is another group that tests supplements to make sure that the supplement contains what it says it contains on its label. Third party verification doesn't mean that the product will work for you, but it does insure that you are getting what you are paying for and getting a quality product.

3)Take supplements according the dosing instructions and make sure to check sources like WebMD for any nutrient-drug interactions. For example, if you take a blood thinner you don't want to take a vitamin supplement that has a lot of Vitamin K as it can block the effectiveness of the drug. Also remember that supplements are a supplement to a healthy diet--eating a poor diet and expecting a supplement to keep you healthy is wishful thinking. Supplements take time to work;they are not like an antibiotic that can cure an infection in a few days. For example, glucosamine and chondrotin may help those with osteoarthritis but it can take months to know if it is working.

4)If claims for supplements sound too good to be true then they probably are. Think about how many people say that vitamin C is the cure for the common cold...if that was true, wouldn't we all just take vitamin C and never suffer through another cold again? So, be realistic about your expectations for supplements.

5)Lastly, look at the various options for supplements. I don't eat enough fatty fish (the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest eating 2 fatty fish meals a week) so I take fish oil. The first supplement I tried made me taste fish oil all day so I take one that controls that problem.

14 comments:

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