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Want to try a dietary supplement but feel a little overwhelmed with where to start? I’ve been there!
It can be frustrating and a little scary to try to navigate the good, the bad, and the ugly of the supplement world. It took me years to figure it out, so I'll save you some time, energy, and money by sharing 4 steps to take before purchasing any dietary supplement.
First, a little back story. I’ll lovingly refer to my past self as a “supplement snob.” Throughout the first 10 years of my healthcare career I rarely recommended anything beyond a whole foods, balanced diet to my clients. At times I even scoffed at the idea of supplementation, stating, “I refuse to put any manufactured product into my body.”
Well, enter my second pregnancy. Despite eating an average of 25 different veggies per day and being as dedicated to my health as I knew how, rounds of fertility treatments, hormone injections, and a high-risk pregnancy left me an energy-less mess. It was then that I decided to research different nutrition interventions. Thankfully, I was in a Master’s program that allowed me to dive into the research and get informed about what to look for. (I’ll share that below!)
Under my Doctor’s supervision, I added a few high quality, whole foods-based products into my nutrition. Fortunately, I went from lying on the couch and 3-hour naps to 5am weight training sessions, running multiple half marathons per week, blasting through my Master's classes during my son's nap, and working on my feet most afternoons as a Massage Therapist.
My second pregnancy was a priceless experience and I'm incredibly thankful I went out on a limb and tried something new. Fast forward 3 years later, and I am now overcoming osteoporosis and hypothyroidism with the help of my Functional Physician, relentless dedication to my health, and high-quality supplements.
If you are on the fence about trying something new I encourage you to research your options and talk with a healthcare professional. As I learned, there are solutions for everyone - even health nuts like myself!
Today, I’ve replaced my blanket recommendation and turned-up nose with suggesting these 4 steps to any patient, family, or friend considering supplementation.
STEP 1: Always start with why.
Ask yourself, “What aspect of health or performance am I looking to address by taking a supplement?”
It’s easy to get excited when reading about the benefits of taking different supplements, but just because a supplement has a known benefit does not mean it will be a benefit to your body.
Go in with a clear picture of your body’s need and your specific goal.
STEP 2: Do your homework.
Next, determine what ingredients are known to benefit your health or performance need.
Look for articles or books written by credentialed medical professionals and explore PubMed. Searching for meta-analyses or literature reviews will help you get a broad sense of what the research says about a topic. Additionally, this article breaks down how to read a scientific paper.
Essential step: Before making a purchase, check with your healthcare provider to make sure you know the correct dose for your body and to confirm that no ingredients have the potential to interact with other medications you take.
Before you shop, know which ingredients you will look for and what amount your body needs.
So now you know WHY you want to take a supplement, WHAT to supplement with, and HOW MUCH you want to take, so how do you choose the right product?
STEP 3: Look for a brand that follows
good manufacturing practices.
Check out the company’s website. What steps are they taking to ensure ingredient quality? Do they share where the ingredients are sourced from and why they are included in the product?
Even better, is the product certified by a third party company? Third party verification helps promote product quality, minimizes risks for banned ingredients, and ensures ethical manufacturing practices. Many organizations independently test for the presence of heavy metals, molds, and toxins. Organizations like NSF and Informed Choice certify that what is on the label is in the bottle and that the supplement does not contain banned substances or unsafe level of contaminants.
You can find a full list of substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency here and general supplement safety articles here.
Know what steps the company is taking to protect customers and to ensure ingredient quality.
STEP 4: Examine the label.
Look for red flag words like “proprietary blend” or “compound formula.” This means the company is listing the ingredients in the product, but not necessarily the amount of each. It’s important to look for a product that lists amounts of each ingredient. Otherwise, you run the risk of over or under-dosing.
Pay attention to suggested use. Ask yourself if the product is a realistic fit for your lifestyle. For example, a supplement that has to be taken first thing on an empty stomach may not compliment your 5am workout habit. If you tend to be forgetful, it may not be best to purchase a brand that requires you to take three divided doses throughout the day. If the label gives instructions for powerlifting but you are an endurance athlete, perhaps the supplement isn’t for you.
Find a supplement that’s designed to meet your specific needs and a realistic fit for your lifestyle.
Before you go…
Guaranteed you have heard this before, but I wouldn’t be a very good Health Educator if I didn’t remind you that supplements are not a quick fix.
By recognizing that positive changes in our health and athletic performance come as a result of many small, consistent changes we put into practice over time, we set ourselves up for realistic expectations in meeting our goals. The secret is finding realistic, flexible, and enjoyable ways to make wellness work for you.
The good thing is Team Valentine Project has your back! Check out all our articles here and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for even more wellness tips, tricks, and tools.