Smart Supplementing

Nutritional supplements can play an important role in maintaining good health and preventing illness. Scientific studies on the benefits of vitamins and supplements emerge almost daily, however many are often unsure how best to take the information and put it into practical use in their own lives. Health and wellness is a popular topic and the information available can be conflicting and overwhelming. My role as a pharmacist is to educate the public about the appropriate use of both medications and nutritional supplements to ensure that they are getting the most benefits out of their health program. 

One size doesn’t fit all
Since our nutritional needs vary with age, gender, medical and genetic history and lifestyle factors, it is important to look for products designed for your own particular needs. Aside from diet, there are many factors that increase your need for certain vitamins and minerals, such as smoking, exposure to pollution, use of prescription medication, intense exercise, stress, and certain medical conditions. For example, children who are picky eaters could be lacking in various nutrients, such as vitamin C and iron. Vitamin D levels can be reduced in those taking acid-lowering drugs. People who take statins (a commonly prescribed class of cholesterol-lowering medications) can become depleted in CoQ10, a deficiency which can affect normal functioning of the heart. And, athletes require extra antioxidant support to compensate for free radicals generated during intense activity. Always make sure that the supplement you are taking is specific to your needs.

How much is right for me?
The word supplement means “to add”, so a natural health product should be used to supplement nutrients that are missing from your diet. There are several steps to take when choosing a vitamin or mineral supplement:

  • Consult with your own trusted healthcare practitioner. They will examine you, evaluate your medical history, your current diet and lifestyle, and whether you are currently taking any prescription or over-the-counter drugs, to help determine what supplements you may need
  • Do your research. Consult trusted sources such as Health Canada or sites related to your health concern such as Osteoporosis Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society.
  • Understand the meaning of “Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)”. Health Canada sets an RDA for vitamins and supplements at a level to help prevent deficiency, but not necessarily to provide therapeutic benefit. For example, the RDA for vitamin D is set at 800 IU, which is enough to keep your bones and teeth strong. But, these minimum recommended amounts may not have the preventative benefits against some major diseases. Just keep in mind that there is also a “safe upper limit” for most vitamins and minerals that is higher than the RDA. By chatting with your healthcare practitioner you can determine where in that range you should be.
Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist and author of several health books, including The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.