Supplement Use- Is it for You?

By: Gabi Cindric

The word supplement is likely one we have all heard of and has been popularized in recent years. If you have any questions surrounding supplements, then you’ve come to the right place! With so many different forms, types, and options, there needs to be some clarification on what they’re all about.

So, what exactly is a supplement?

“A product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients (such as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food”. Just as the definition states, a supplement is meant to support our diet or fill in the nutritional gaps where our diet could be lacking.

You may be asking yourself why would someone want to start taking supplements?

Just like the definition states, we may desire for improvements in energy levels, improvement sleeping, and support for muscles and joints. Supplements can also be used to aid in things like anxiety and stress, immunity, gut health, as well as heart and brain health. With advertisements to improve all of those things, who wouldn’t want to start a supplement regime?

Before you buy everything under the sun, we have to ask, are supplements a “Cure-All”?

The cold hard truth is that they just aren’t. It is important that our diets be rich in nutrient dense foods. However, there are many people with certain sensitivities or food allergies in which they may not be able to eat certain things. These folks may be missing some key vitamins and minerals. This provides the basis to want to look into supplementation to support an already healthy diet to help fill in gaps. On the contrary, if we are eating a cheeseburger every day for lunch and hitting the drive thru again for dinner, those supplements aren’t going to do much for us. They will only work their best if 80% of the time we are consuming what is best for us.

"Is everyone taking supplements?" Here are some statistics -

In the last 20 years, supplement consumption has been at an all-time high and has increased steadily year by year. Many Americans take some variation of a dietary supplement for a multitude of reasons.

In the US, vitamin and mineral supplementation is the most common (79%). Specialty supplements are the second most consumed by Americans (40%) Specialty supplements include herbals and botanicals. These numbers are on the rise and the options for supplements are ever growing and never ending, but this doesn’t mean we should just buy a bunch of different supplements and see what happens. If we do this, we won’t know what works for us because we would be adding to many different things into the mix. It’s also important to check with your primary provider to see if supplementation is right for you.

"I’ve talked to my doctor about starting a regime, but how do I know if it’s working?" Enter, supplement absorption & bioavailability.

Bioavailability is “the proportion of the nutrient that is digested, absorbed, and metabolized through normal pathways”. This means you consume whichever supplement it may be, and the bioavailability is how your body uses it for you to improve whatever it is you are trying to improve.

  • Factors of bioavailability include
    • Type of food - absorbed better from animal products because animal products are absorbed better than plant proteins.
    • Mineral-mineral interaction - Many have similar structure and compete for absorption.,
    • Vitamin- mineral interaction - calcium and vitamin d need to be taken together in order for proper absorption.
    • Fiber-mineral interaction- high fiber intake blunts the absorption of some minerals.
    • Water soluble vitamins, once your body had reached the limit, you just pee out the rest (expensive urine) this is not toxic, but a waste, nonetheless. However, with fat soluble vitamins, you can “overdose” if levels in the body are too high can lead to other issues.

It’s important to be aware of how certain supplements interact with foods, vitamins, and minerals, because we can take every supplement under the sun, but if it isn’t being absorbed properly, its essentially useless to us. Click here for more information on bioavailability.

So, should you take supplements?

After all the supplement talk, the best advice is to always consult your doctor before taking any new supplements. If you both think it’s the right fit for you, once you begin a regime, you’ll want to pay attention to how you are feeling with or without those supplements. It’s all about you and your wellbeing, but also your budget!