Five things to consider before taking supplements

The world of supplements can be confusing and overwhelming.

There are literally thousands of products available to us as consumers and it can be really overwhelming and confusing when you are trying to choose a product. There is SO much information out there on supplements- some of it can be helpful and some of it can be misleading and/or incorrect. You can basically find anything you want on Google- if you wanted to find information about a certain vitamin curing cancer, you can. Whether it’s true or not is another story. When it comes to supplements, a lot of the information on the internet is anecdotal, not necessarily backed by science or fact.

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The reality is you need to be smart about your supplements. Some of them can interact with medications, some of them may not be the best for you and some of them are just plain useless. Supplements can also be very expensive, so it’s important to know if they are really going to help you before investing in them.

However, supplements can be an incredibly effective addition to any healthy living plan. When used correctly, certain supplements can be really beneficial. I’ve personally experienced their benefits and I’ve also seen it with my clients in practice.

Consider this list before purchasing your next supplement! And if you’re already taking supplements, I urge you to start evaluating what you are taking and if it is truly benefitting you.

My best and most important advice is to seek the advice of a qualified health practitioner before taking any supplement. My advice below is not meant to replace the advice from a competent practitioner, it’s simply meant to serve as a guide.

Bring the questions below to your health practitioner! Any qualified practitioner should be able to tell you why they are recommending a particular supplement and they will be able to ensure they are safe for you to take as well.

1. Do you actually need to be taking them?

In a perfect world, we would get all the nourishment and nutrition we need from our food and our health would be perfect because of it. Unfortunately our food is less nutrient dense than it used to be and we live in a toxic, polluted world; in our society we are over-fed and under-nourished. The reality is, we live in a sick society. One way or another we are all dealing with some form of health imbalance. In the majority of cases, health struggles cannot be fixed with food alone.

Without question, I will always recommend food first. The body knows food and it knows nutrients from food. Because of the state of our health, however, everyone can benefit from including at least one supplement in their diet. There are so many great supplements out there for general health but anyone living in Canada, should absolutely consider taking a vitamin D supplement, for example.

If you are dealing with any sort of chronic health concern or have been struggling with some aspect of your health for a while, it’s likely that you could benefit from taking a supplement. Supplements provide the nutrients necessary to help the body regain its balance and wellness. With certain imbalances, the body can benefit from a therapeutic dose of a certain vitamin or mineral that it just wouldn’t get from food. Or you would have to eat a lot of a certain food in order to get the therapeutic benefit.

2. What should you be taking?

As I mentioned above, the best way to know what you should be taking is to get advice from a qualified health practitioner. Keeping in mind that certain practitioners receive more training on supplementation than others do. You can absolutely do your own research online but it’s important to make sure you are reading information from a credible source.

It’s important to consider that some supplements work well on their own but some work better together. Certain nutrients work synergistically with each other in the body so you’ll get more benefit from taking a combination supplement. B vitamins, for example work best together. I will always recommend a complete B complex rather than supplementing with the individual B vitamins.

Examine.com is one of my favourite sites for supplement information. They go through studies on individual supplements and review and compile the results to indicate its effectiveness. I love this site because they are a no BS kind of site. They don’t work for any of the supplement companies, they are not for or against any product, they are strictly a third party that is looking to uncover the effectiveness of supplements. If something hasn’t been proven to be effective, they’ll say it. Just the same if something has been shown in studies to be effective.

3. Why are you taking them?

If you heard from your sister’s friend that X helped her with Y, it’s not a good reason to be taking a supplement. There is way too much anecdotal information out there when it comes to supplements. We’ve all heard from one place or another that some supplement is going to fix all of our problems and is the cure to everything. The reality is, just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for you.

If you want to start taking supplements, ask yourself why. Don’t take something just because you heard it was good. Educate yourself on what this supplement actually is and what it could potentially do for you.

4. Brand, quality and price

When it comes to supplements, you get what you pay for. Quality is key to ensure they are safe and going to be effective. Unfortunately a cheap bottle of something from the drug store is usually not the best option. These brands don’t contain the active form of nutrients for the body to use effectively. Cheaper brands also add in fillers and junk to their supplements so what you’re paying for is not an effective product (which is what makes them so cheap).

To give you an example, vitamin B12 is one that we want to make sure gets taken in its active form of methylcobalamin. Cheaper brands will typically sell their B12 in the cyanocobalamin form. This form needs to be converted in the body in order for it to be used properly. The kicker is many people actually lack the ability to properly convert B12 to its active form. By taking the inactive form in a supplement, you are essentially taking a placebo pill that your body isn’t able to properly use.

Taking products from credible companies ensures you are getting the best product possible. Many of the best companies invest a lot of their own money into research and researching the best combinations and forms of the vitamins to use. Sourcing from high-quality brands is the best way to ensure you are taking an effective product.

5. Are they safe for you?

For the average individual, most supplements will not cause harm if taken correctly. The natural health product world is tightly regulated by Health Canada and there won’t be any ingredients in a supplement that would cause any harm. Again if you are choosing reputable brands then you know you are choosing a safe and effective product.

With that being said, certain supplements will not be right for some individuals, particularly if medications are involved. Certain supplements may interact with your medications and they could make the medication ineffective or have negative side effects. For example, if you are taking medication to manage high blood sugar and you also take a natural supplement that promotes healthy blood sugar levels, you could potentially drop your blood sugar levels too low and cause severe hypoglycemia.

When in doubt, check with your doctor or natural health practitioner to ensure any supplements you are taking are safe for you and won’t interact with your medications.

Interested in learning more about what you should be taking? Let’s chat! In my nutritional protocols for my clients, I include personalized supplement recommendations based on your concerns and goals. Through my schooling I have received extensive training and education on supplementation and how to use them effectively. Also as a Registered Orthomolecular Health and Nutrition Consulting Practitioner (ROHP/RNCP), I have access to a natural medicine database that helps me ensure the supplements I am recommending are safe and effective.

Alaina Yvon-Moreau