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Should I or Shouldn't I—Here's the Latest Word From My Doc on Supplements


Fish oil, baby aspirin, calcium, menopausal supplements…confused or what? It seems there is a lot of constant chatter about supplements or over-the-counter meds to improve your health and longevity: calcium, soy, herbs, baby aspirin, fish oil, vitamin D, glucosamine, body enhancing pills and an array of over the counter supplements to treat the symptoms of menopause. There is a supplement for everything, but what do we take?

The good news is that many people are trying to do what they can to stay in good health. The bad news is, many don’t have any idea really what they are taking or haven’t spoken to their doctors about what’s right for them!

I took full advantage of my yearly check-up and asked my doctor his opinion about the most common, over-the-counter, supposed “health boosters” in question. Clients often ask me about what the recommendations are and I do my best, hoping that information doesn’t become obsolete the next Monday!

A year ago my physician said to me, "If it's hard to remember your calcium, put those chocolate calcium supplements in your purse and pop a few of those every day because most of us aren’t getting enough calcium in our diet." A week later when I was writing the nutrition chapter of College Basic Training, a new study came out, revealing if you take more than 500 milligrams of calcium a day it could negatively affect your heart. So much for indulging in chewy, chocolate, calcium squares!

This year when I mentioned how hard it is to keep up with the research, he agreed and he told me physicians receive recommendations from their medical resource every year. My point is, your doctor may have told you to pop a fish oil supplement and a baby aspirin every day, but the next year those recommendations may have completely changed.

First off, don’t skip your yearly exams and secondly, take advantage of them! Ask them about the supplements you are taking or are interested in taking. Their job is to guide you when it comes to your health! As my physician and I got further into our discussion about supplements, he shared a story about a friend of his who reluctantly admitted to him at a party that she ended up buying $800 dollars worth of mystery substances that were supposed to help with breast enhancement. He looked up the ingredients and it turned out they were basic ingredients she could have found in her own pantry! Needless to say, she was a little disappointed with the results.

Below are some of the conclusions I made from our discussion. I have linked some of the supplement names with articles I recommend for further discussion and up-to-date research.

1. If you get 1000-1200 milligrams of calcium from your food and beverage each day you are good to go. If not, limit yourself to 500 milligrams of supplementation and get the rest from your diet.

2. Fish oil is not an automatic recommendation for everyone.

3. Baby aspirin is now recommended for only those that have specific heart issues because of possible bleeding problems that can be the result of taking aspirin.

4. You cannot augment your breasts with pills; it’s highly unlikely anyway!

5. Research on concentrated soy intake has resulted in conflicting reports, but including soy in your diet is nothing to be afraid of.

6. Hormone replacement therapy is now only used under specific circumstances.

7. supplements marketed toward menopausal women and their symptoms are found to have mostly a placebo effect in the beginning, and with time they don't seem to be effective.

8. Research is minimal when it comes to many supplements because the big drug companies don’t make money off it, so it’s difficult to really know all the facts.

9. When you mix various supplements together, they can have negative interactions. Beware!

10. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t necessary mean it’s healthy for you.

Nutritional supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, meal supplements, sports nutrition products, natural food supplements, and other products used to boost the nutritional content of the diet. Many products out there claim to promote weight loss, better athletic performance, better sleep, and more energy. Although many supplements do have health benefits, they are not all regulated by the FDA, so one must use caution when taking them.

I always tell my clients to discuss the use of any supplement with their primary physicians. Many supplements do have risks associated with them, and some should not be combined with other medications or used in the presence of certain health conditions.

Keep in mind that there is not a magic pill that will make weight loss an easy task, at least without risk. Getting your nutrients through real, healthful food is the healthiest way. When it comes to your body shortcuts are not the answer.

If you have questions about commonly used supplements and herbs, go to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements,

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