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Frequently Asked Questions

What supplements should the average consumer be taking?

Many experts agree that most people should take a multivitamin daily. Think of it as an inexpensive, reliable insurance policy for good health. Antioxidants, such as Vitamins C, E, lutein and lycopene, are also worth considering. Vitamin D and calcium and omega-3 (fish oil) supplements are a few that continue to receive high marks based on emerging research. Depending on your age, gender and lifestyle, there will be other supplements that make sense for you, including some botanicals and sports nutrition products. Check out My Wellness Scorecard for a snapshot of your current regimen and recommendations for other supplements you should consider taking.

What are the most important supplements a woman should consider taking?

If you are of child-bearing age and thinking about having kids, it's time to get serious about folic acid. A multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid or a customized folic acid supplement will likely do the trick … but don't wait until you get pregnant. Women of child-bearing age should be taking folic acid before conception to prevent certain birth defects like spina bifida. Women capable of pregnancy should also consider an iron supplement. Women should also consider taking a calcium and Vitamin D supplement. Others to consider with your healthcare professional include B Complex, Vitamin C and Vitamin K as well as some botanical supplements like soy, green tea and black cohosh.

What are the most important supplements that a man should take?

If you are a smoker and you haven't been able to quit, you should consider increasing your intake of Vitamin C and Vitamin E. If you are a weekend warrior and the joints are acting up, a glucosamine plus chondroitin supplement may offer some relief. You might also consider selenium, saw palmetto or lycopene to support prostate health.

When should you start taking supplements?

Research shows that the best benefits from nutritional supplements (like multivitamins or single supplements, such as Vitamin C and E and calcium) are achieved by long-term consistent use. Botanical supplements and sports nutrition supplements are more appropriately used in relation to specific conditions, lifestages or activities. My Wellness Scorecard will give you a snapshot of your current regimen and offer suggestions as to what else you might consider. It's a good idea to talk with your doctor, pharmacist or registered dietitian or nutritionist if you have questions about which supplements might be right for you.

How long do supplements last?

If kept in a cool, dry place, most supplements will retain their potency for a year or more depending on the brand. B vitamins are among the more vulnerable vitamins, and minerals are the most stable/durable. Herbal supplements have variable long term stability, but all benefit from cool, dry, low light conditions. Bathrooms are the worst place in a house to store supplements. A high shelf in a kitchen cabinet, out of the reach of children, would be preferable. Although supplement manufacturers are not required by law to place expiration dates on the label, almost all do so to help guide consumers.

If I eat/drink fortified foods and beverages, do I need to use supplements?

Most fortified foods are selectively fortified and do not provide all the vitamins and minerals you may need, so supplementation may be in order. Most fortified breakfast cereals have a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, but only a select few supply 100% of the Daily Value for a number of vitamins and minerals. Thus supplements still have a role to play. The important thing if you use fortified foods as well as supplements, is to look at the labels and add up the amounts of various nutrients you are consuming, to be sure you are achieving your goals and not consuming in excess.

Should I speak with my doctor before taking a supplement?

It's important to have open communication with your doctor, registered dietitian, or other healthcare professional, that includes talking about the things you eat, the supplements you take, the medications you're on, your exercise regimen … anything that effects your health. However, the decision to adopt a simple program of supplementation is a decision you can make for yourself. If you do have questions, however, a doctor or other healthcare professional can help you decide.

Can you take too many supplements?

It's possible to take too much of anything, including supplements. But there's no specific number that indicates you're taking too many or not taking enough. The vast majority of Americans who take supplements take one to three, but there are healthy people who take more on a regular basis. And there are healthy people who don't take any. As someone taking the initiative to improve your health, you need to figure out which supplements are best for you based on your age, gender, dietary habits and health concerns.

Supplements should never be considered a substitute for food or for good dietary habits. Dietary supplements are intended to play a supporting role to the foods you eat by filling the "nutritional gaps" within your diet. To get a sense of where those gaps may exist within your current regimen, take a few minutes to fill out My Wellness Scorecard. This should help you develop a plan that is customized to meet your needs. If you have questions, check with a healthcare professional, such as your doctor or a registered dietitian.

Are dietary supplements regulated by the Government?

Yes. Dietary supplements have always been regulated as a category of food in this country. Virtually all facets of dietary supplement manufacturing, labeling and marketing are covered by extensive regulations issued and enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Is there a difference between generic supplements and brand supplements?

The quality of the supplements you take is an important consideration and should not be taken lightly. Whether you buy store brands or national brands, buy from a company or source whose products you know and trust. This past June, the FDA published the final rule on new good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements, which will help level the playing field for business and help ensure the quality of all the supplements available to consumers.

Do products with seals of approval mean they are better products?

Some companies choose to have their products certified by a third party, such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International, The Public Health and Safety Company™, (NSF). This provides you added assurance of quality. However, some companies consider their brand to represent their quality seal and choose not to participate in certification programs. So while seals can be helpful, they are not the only factor to consider.

Can supplements have negative side effects?

Some can, if used in excess or inappropriately. However, dietary supplements in general have a very strong safety profile. If you have an illness or are on medication, you should check with your doctor or other healthcare professional about the supplements you are taking. Even if you are in good health, it's best to be open with your doctor about your supplement use. In turn, you should expect that your doctor will be respectful of your interest in taking supplements. Certain medications can negatively interact with certain supplements, which further supports the need to speak with your doctor before combining medications and supplements.

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