There are definitely mixed reviews on whether nutritional supplements are "good" or "bad," harmful or helpful, and/or important or not. The waters become even more muddled when specific supplements are discussed and are totally opaque when the age variable is thrown into the mix.
Therefore, the purpose of this article is not to investigate the controversies but rather state the generally accepted facts and make some helpful suggestions to check out the most effective, research-approved supplements.
When considering whether to take any dietary supplement, it is important to realize that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements. Basically, because the FDA does not consider dietary supplements to be medicines, they do not watch over them the same way they do blood pressure medication or antibiotics. Of course, if the FDA receives information saying that a supplement is unsafe, they will issue a warning accordingly. But all that is to say that just because you see a dietary supplement on the shelf does not mean that it will do what the label says it will or even that it contains what the label says it contains.
In addition to this, please understand that dietary supplements cannot make up for an unhealthy diet. They are not medications to prevent disease or lower risk but should rather be viewed as nutritional "gap-fillers" in a healthy diet. For example, if you rely on supplements to get essential daily vitamins, you may end up taking in too much (e.g., too much vitamin A increases your risk of osteoporosis, and too much vitamin E increases your risk of stroke). Also, make sure you take supplements with food, or else you run the risk of just excreting the supplement out as waste. Taking a pill with food allows for the food and the pill to bond and most efficiently absorb nutrients.
Think of dietary supplements as tools in your overall nutrition plan. These tools become ever more important past the age of 50 because as the body ages, its ability to absorb vitamins and minerals decreases.
If you already take or are planning to start taking dietary supplements, probiotics are a good place to start. There are so many things (e.g., chlorinated water and antibiotics) we ingest that kill off the bacteria in our GI tract that allow for the proper absorption of vitamins. Probiotics are a good way to replenish the good bacteria your body loses and are especially important for those older than 50.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most popular supplements out right now. Unfortunately, the body does not naturally produce this fatty acid, which is essential to build cell membranes. So we have to get it through our diet, which, unless you’re eating a fillet of salmon a few times a week, just isn’t cutting it. Experts recommend taking about 1,000-2,000 milligrams of the stuff daily—just make sure the supplement you take has at least 500 milligrams each of EPA and DHA, the active ingredients in omega-3s.
Despite all of these newfangled supplements, the multivitamin is still the tried and true staple for filling in nutritional gaps. The key is finding a quality multivitamin. Scan the label to make sure the multivitamin has 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of 21 essential nutrients: vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B (including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, B-12, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate and choline); and minerals calcium, chloride, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc.
There’s only so many nutrients that can go into a multivitamin, so stick with the essentials, and don’t go too high above the daily values. Most of it will just end up in the toilet anyway because your body won’t be able to absorb it all. Oh, and don’t look to your multivitamin for an adequate source of vitamin D—most provide less than 1,000 international units. You’ll probably need a separate D supplement.
For those of you looking to healthily pack on some muscle, whey (protein) is the way. Be sure to do your research and get quality protein, but the general rule of thumb when trying to add lean muscle is to consume 1 gram of protein per pound that you weigh.
Again, please remember that dietary supplements are not to be used in place of or even in absence of a well-balanced diet. Supplements are tools. Use them wisely.
Rashad J. Gober is a gym junkie, avid runner and freelance writer whose interests include pop culture and healthy living. But he's not a doctor, so his suggestions are no substitute for medical advice. Feel free to contact him via Twitter or email with any comments or suggestions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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