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Apr 24, 2017 04:09PM

Unsure about supplements? Check in with an expert

By Ann Ring
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Tribune News Service
You don't necessarily need to take multivitamins and supplements.
Melatonin, flaxseed, fish oil, prebiotics, probiotics, black cohosh, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, ginseng the list of supplements goes on. But when it comes to our health, are dietary supplements necessary? Are they effective? Are they safe?

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, a dietary supplement is a product intended to supplement or reinforce the diet, is taken by mouth, and contains a "dietary ingredient" such as minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and the like.

There are three types of supplements: natural supplements, which are extracted from plants, animal tissues or inorganic material; semi-synthetic supplements, extracted from natural sources and chemically changed; and synthetic supplements, which are artificially produced.

Market analytics say top-selling herbal supplements in 2014 were horehound, a key ingredient in throat lozenges; cranberry, which is popular for its claimed benefit of helping maintain urinary tract health; echinacea, used widespread during cold and flu season; black cohosh, a popular aid to manage menopausal symptoms; and flax or flaxseed oil, a source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids that helps to manage high cholesterol and heart disease.

When it comes to whether we should take supplements, people's opinions vary. Some believe in taking them religiously every morning; some shy away from taking them at all and some are in between they agree there's a place for them, but with qualifiers. There also are those who question the quality of supplements, the integrity of the industry, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ability to police the industry under DSHEA.

According to the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, scientific evidence shows some supplements are beneficial for overall health and for managing some health conditions, and that there's a link between certain nutrients or supplements and the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

However, dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure disease, and in some cases, supplements might present some unwanted effects or no affect at all.

Have you ever considered taking supplements, multivitamins included? Will your overall health be lacking if you don't? The best person to ask is your health care provider, or a certified nutritionist like Tamara Bogosian White.

For 37 years, Bogosian White's family has owned Better Life Nutrition Center in Moline. As a certified nutritionist, her job is to see that clients' nutritional needs are met. While she personally believes supplements are important because most people find it difficult to get all of their nutrients from food, "there's no pat answer for anyone asking about supplements," she says.

Through individual consultations that consider diet, exercise, medications, lifestyle, stress, health needs and more, Bogosian White can tailor an individualized nutrition program for anyone, including children.

"Especially for people taking medications, we want them to check with their doctor to make sure those medications and supplements will work together properly," she says.

Bogosian White says supplement brands vary, and can make a difference. Taking supplements manufactured by trusted brands is important because the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a supplement is safe before it is marketed; the FDA is only responsible for taking action against any unsafe supplement after it reaches the market.

All of the brands Better Life offers "are GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified," Bogosian White says. The GMP system provides guidelines to ensure products are consistently produced and safe, according to the FDA's website.

Other local health foods stores also offer an array of supplements.

UnityPoint Health Trinity heart center clinical dietitian Jeni Tackett also is not an advocate of taking supplements without a consultation. "A lot of people aren't getting what they need in their diets, such as vitamin D," she says, so she looks at what foods a person is eating, and which foods can be added to meet their nutritional needs.

Tackett prefers proof of a person's nutritional needs through hard data say, a blood test. But even then, as the saying goes, it might not be an exact science. Each of us are metabolically unique; we absorb nutrients differently, we process certain vitamins at different rates and we all have individual nutritional needs.

"If someone has a deficiency, I think about what foods can you add to your diet, rather than what supplements should you take," Tackett says. "Can the body absorb everything in a multivitamin, for instance? It's questionable."

Conventional wisdom: meet with a specialist before taking any supplements.
Ann Ring is a frequent Radish contributor.

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