To supplement or not to supplement, that is the question. This may not be as eloquently worded as Shakespeare himself; however, I'm no William Shakespeare and this is not Romeo and Juliet. Practically every television commercial and magazine ad that we are subject to pushes 'supplement x' to lose 20 pounds in one month or 'supplement z' to pack on 20 pounds of muscle the next.
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For those who are more concerned with overall health, there are plenty of supplements and advertisements for you as well.
What Is A Dietary Supplement?
In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was released and congress defined the term "dietary supplement" as:
The "dietary ingredients" in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites.
Dietary supplements can also be extracts or concentrates, and may be found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, liquids, or powders. They can also be in other forms, such as a bar, but if they are, information on their label must not represent the product as a conventional food or a sole item of a meal or diet.
Whatever their form may be, DSHEA places dietary supplements in a special category under the general umbrella of "foods," not drugs, and requires that every supplement be labeled a dietary supplement.
According to the aforementioned definition, are any of these products necessary or are they just a quick way to spot reduce the specific area on your body where your wallet is found? Let's take a look into some of the pro's and con's of supplementation and hopefully the next time you see an ad for one of these products, you will be well equipped to sort through the hype and carefully scrutinize the science behind what is being sold.
There are several factors to consider when purchasing or using any dietary supplement. These include, but are not necessarily limited to: assessing your current dietary status, whether or not you are on a weight reduction program, assessing if there are any nutrient-drug interactions, are an athlete trying to optimize his/her performance, and finally bearing in mind your source of product information.
Assessing Your Current Dietary Status
If you are contemplating taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, it is first important to assess the current intake of the particular nutrient you are mulling over. For example, if you are considering taking a zinc supplement, think about the sources of zinc in your current diet. Some quality sources include, red meat, oysters, chicken, and fish.
If you, like many fitness enthusiasts, typically consume several servings of lean meat each day, supplementing with zinc shouldn't be necessary. On the other hand, if you are a strict vegetarian, meaning you do not consume any meat products, you may want to consider a supplement.
If you want to take a multivitamin as a "safety measure" make sure the product does not contain "mega-doses" of certain vitamins and minerals, promising better health and increased energy.
No vitamin or mineral will provide you with extra energy, unless you are currently deficient in that particular nutrient. However, it is recommended that all adults so supplement with a multivitamin each day.
Whether Or Not You Are On A Weight Reduction Program
The next factor that is important to be conscious of is closely monitored caloric intake. Basically, if you are trying to lose weight, no matter what the reason, a multivitamin is a good idea. During a calorie reduction phase of your diet, you will most likely not be getting the variety of food that is necessary in your diet due to the lack of adequate amounts of food being consumed.
Consuming extra vitamins and minerals can also be achieved through the consumption of a meal replacement powder (MRP), because most on the market are fortified with a vast array of vitamins and minerals.
Assessing Any Nutrient-Drug Interactions
Thirdly, one must look to determine if the product in question contains any ingredient(s) that may interact with your prescription medication(s) or other supplements you may already be taking. This is a very common problem with many of the herbal products being sold.
Individuals often take these products without much knowledge of why they are taking them, without alerting their physicians (or the physicians do not know about the particular product), and are using several other prescription medications.
Some products may have some of the same effects as the medication itself. Therefore, taking them simultaneously may compound the effects, which can cause negative consequences. For example, for those with diabetes, there are certain nutrients or herbs that have been shown to lower blood glucose.
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If in fact these products do work, and you are also on an oral medication or exogenous insulin injections, these products can have a very negative effect. It is of utmost importance that you tell your physician everything you are taking that is not prescribed by him/her so they are aware and can research the product if necessary.
This is just a short list of what to consider when looking into buying dietary supplements. Next week I'll outline a few more considerations that you should review prior to taking any dietary supplements with a few specific recommendations. A well-informed individual will ultimately become a bigger, stronger, leaner and healthier individual.