By Deb Loken
Have you ever stepped into a natural food store and felt completely overwhelmed by the wall of supplements? You want to do something good for your body, but where do you start? How do you avoid getting confused?
Here are eight steps for starting and managing a sensible supplement program.
Determine your reasons/make a commitment. People typically start supplementing for one of four reasons: 1) Provide insurance against poor eating habits. 2) Reduce long-term risk of disease and disability. 3) Reduce risk of a specific disease that runs in the family. 4) Reduce symptoms of a health problem they are already dealing with (diabetes, heart disease, forgetfulness, allergies, etc). Whatever your reason, supplementing is a commitment. Take supplements consistently as part of a broader program (including good eating habits and regular physical activity) to prevent or reverse health problems.
Start with a multivitamin. Vitamin deficiencies are common in the U.S. Before you take any other supplement, start with a moderately high-potency multivitamin. High potency supplements provide more value for your money, and some are formulated specifically for men’s health, women’s health, diabetes or pregnancy.
Add a multimineral. Most minerals are bulkier than vitamins. Because of this, most supplements claiming to be a “mulitivitamin/multi-mineral” tend to scrimp on minerals. To avoid short changing yourself, consider taking a separate multimineral supplement. But don’t judge it by the calcium alone. The supplement should also contain chromium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc and other important minerals.
Your body will change, so will your supplements. Just because you’ve found the right regimen to support your health today does not mean the same program will be ideal in 10 years. Odds are you’ll need more of some nutrients to offset age-related slowing in biochemical processes. You’ll also have to modify supplements if you’re under a lot of stress or change your exercise habits.
Consider adding 1 or 2 single supplements. There are plenty of beneficial nutrients not technically classified as vitamins or minerals. Got sore knees? More than 40 human studies found that glucosamine reduces pain associated with osteoarthritis; other studies actually found supplements helped regenerate knee cartilage. Other worthwhile standalone supplements include coenzyme Q10 (to strengthen the heart), Lutein (to improve visual acuity), Lycopene (to prevent and reverse prostate problems), and Pycnogenal (to help with inflammation). Many of these vitamin-like supplements have specific benefits.
Follow the 30-day rule. If taking supplements to help a specific health concern, apply the 30-day rule. If it doesn’t seem to help within 30 days, stop taking it. If the symptoms then suddenly get worse, the supplement probably was helping, but the improvement was slow and hard to notice. The 30-day rule does not apply to multivitamins taken as dietary insurance. However many people report “side benefits” of multivitamins, such as when nuisance conditions disappear.
Watch overlapping vitamins and minerals. If you’re taking a vitamin and want to add another formula, such as one to improve blood sugar, compare the ingredients. You may end up getting more of the same vitamins or minerals than you need (though the excess is rarely harmful).
Take supplements at the right times. Most should be taken with food. They are nutrients and usually work best with other nutrients. Take most with breakfast or split them between breakfast and lunch. Some exceptions apply; read the instructions carefully.
Deb Loken is owner of The Grain Bin in Alexandria.