Questions You Should Ask
Before Taking Vitamin Supplements
By Edward C.
Geehr, MD - from LifeScript
More than half of all
Americans take some form of supplement, spending more than $16 billion a year
to help maintain good health and well-being. But how do consumers know that
theyre spending their money on the right supplements and using them in
the right dosages?
According to Edward C. Geehr,
M.D., a member of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board of
LifeScript, a premier provider of
personalized, direct-to-consumer nutritional supplements, there are certain
questions consumers should ask themselves before starting a supplement program.
Although most individuals can benefit from a well-designed supplement program,
there are important things to consider when making decisions about supplements,
said Dr. Geehr. Dr. Geehr has put together a list of the top ten most important
questions you should be asking before you begin taking supplements.
1. Do I need nutritional
There is no substitute for a well-rounded diet. Whole foods
contain protein, energy and fiber that are difficult to obtain from supplements
alone. Balance is the key. A good diet, coupled with a well-designed supplement
program, can satisfy the dietary requirements of most people. For those on a
restricted diet, however, such as vegans, athletes, body builders or dieters
constantly trying to lose weight, supplements may be essential for good health.
Restricted diets also diminish nutrients intake. Supplements can help fill in
the nutrient gaps in diets such as these.
2. Am I Taking Supplements to Try to
Treat a Disease or Illness?
You should never treat yourself for a
disease or illness with supplements. There is little or no conclusive evidence
that supplements are beneficial for any of the following common conditions:
memory loss, dementia, chronic pain, obesity, varicose veins, diabetes, hair
loss, impaired hearing, impotence, infertility, infections, eczema or
psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, strokes, snoring or sleep apnea, carpal tunnel
syndrome, Parkinsons disease, and active cancer. Those with chronic diseases or
taking prescribed medications will want to speak with their physician before
taking supplements to avoid potential serious drug interactions and harmful
Having said that, it is important to note that there is an
emerging body of evidence suggesting that some vitamins and herbal preparations
may be useful for managing certain conditions, such as enlarged prostate,
osteoporosis and heart disease. Talk to your doctor or dietician about the
promising dietary supplements for these conditions. Keep in mind, however, that
the FDA does not regulate, recommend or sanction the use of any supplements as
treatments, except for soy proteins. According to the FDA, soy proteins may
reduce the risk of heart disease when taken above certain minimum amounts per
serving (6.25 grams).
3. Are the supplements and the quantities
Im taking right for me?
Its always best to consult with an
expert before beginning a regimen of supplements. Registered Dieticians,
Certified Nutritional Specialists and physicians are all well qualified to
review your diet and make supplement recommendations. Today, you can find these
qualified experts at natural health centers, specialty markets and even
on-line. The Internet has spawned a revolution in personalized vitamins.
Consumers can simply go online, fill out a personal health profile and
instantly receive recommendations based on formulations by some of the nations
leading nutritionists and physicians. These customized formulations can be
purchased in daily dose packets and delivered directly to the home.
4. Will Taking More of a Supplement
Provide Me with Beneficial Results Faster?
More is not always better.
Certain vitamins and minerals considered to be essential to maintaining normal
health can be toxic in high doses. For example, too much vitamin A can cause
liver toxicity, adversely affect bone growth, and cause yellowing of the skin
and palms. In general, supplements should not be taken in amounts that exceed
the daily RDI (Reference Daily Intake) unless directed by your dietician or
5. Can I mix my medications with my
Some supplements may interfere with certain
medications, resulting in serious side effects. The medications of greatest
concern include blood pressure and heart medications, blood thinners (Coumadin
or warfarin), certain antidepressants, immunosuppressant drugs, seizure
medications, certain cancer therapies, and anti-arrhythmic drugs. If you are
taking any medications, check with your physician or pharmacist before taking
6. Should I stop taking supplements if
Im scheduled to have surgery?
Recent reports note a higher
incidence of bleeding problems (either hemorrhage or blood clots) during or
after surgery in patients who were taking certain supplements. Some supplements
may also interfere with anesthetics used in surgery. Its recommended that all
supplements be stopped at least four weeks before surgery unless specifically
permitted by your physician.
7. Does it matter if my supplements are
There appears to be little difference between synthetic and
naturally occurring vitamins. Natural vitamins are no more effective at
delivering nutrients than synthetic ones and may be much more expensive. Herbal
preparations are usually naturally derived, although it may be difficult to
determine the actual content or purity of the active ingredients. The most
important factor is the quality and reputation of the manufacturer and whether
or not assays are performed to verify the supplement ingredients.
8. How long will a supply of vitamins
Vitamin freshness and potency varies according to the
vitamin, its purity, the way its manufactured and its date of manufacture. Most
have a shelf life of several years, and all have an expiration date posted on
the bottle or jar label. To ensure the freshest supplements, many consumers
today are turning to monthly mail order programs that deliver fresh vitamins
every month in personal daily dose packets. This helps prevent consumption of
expired vitamins and reduces waste.
9. How can I tell if my supplements are
Vitamins effect different people in different ways. Many
people believe they see direct benefits of using Vitamin C or echinachea to
ward off a cold. Others believe their weight loss results are enhanced by using
specific supplements in combination with exercise and dieting. A growing amount
of scientific research has addressed the potential benefit of supplementing
diets with vitamins or minerals, according to the American Dietetic
Association. Large, randomized, double-blind supplementation trials have
demonstrated positive health benefits of some supplements, uncertainty with
respect to others and ineffectiveness or adverse effects of still others. The
industry continues to learn more each year, as both advocates and detractors
initiate a growing number of studies.
10. Who regulates the supplement
Supplements are considered food products and as such are not
regulated as drugs or pharmaceuticals by the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA). Under the 1994 Dietary Health and Supplement Education Act (DSHEA),
manufacturers and marketers of supplements may not promote supplements as a
remedy for any particular disease or illness. That same act exempted
supplements from the testing and labeling requirements of pharmaceuticals.
However, supplements are still required by DSHEA to clearly label their
ingredients along with the percentages of the RDI. Although all manufacturers
are required to follow good laboratory practices and safety procedures while
preparing their products, consumers should realize that the burden of proof of
safety of the product does not rest with the manufacturer. The FDA is required
to prove that the product is not safe before it can take action to remove a
product from the market. The FDA can order certain supplements removed from the
market place if adverse incidence reports and an investigation indicate that
there is a serious safety issue for consumers. If you believe a particular
product is not safe, file a report at
Edward C. Geehr, MD, is a member of the National Scientific and
Medical Advisory Board of LifeScript, a leading provider of personalized
nutritional supplements. Dr. Geehr formerly was national Chief Medical Officer
with Inpatient Consultants, and is a member of the American College of Sports
Medicine, the Wilderness Medical Society (co-founder) and the National
Association of Inpatient Physicians. He previously was Clinical Associate
Professor of Medicine and Surgery at the University of California, San
Francisco, and is a graduate of Yale University and Duke University Medical