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Dietitians Dish: Be supplement savvy

By By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
June 12, 2012 at 1:12 a.m.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld

People take dietary supplements for a variety of reasons. But did you know that neither the United States government nor any other agency is responsible for routine testing of the content or quality of these supplements?

This means no one is checking to make sure that what is being sold is actually what are in the pills, powders or liquids. The Food and Drug Administration requires labels or packaging to show the percent of the Daily Value for certain vitamins and minerals, but the rest of the supplement can be made from other unlisted sources such as herbs, botanicals and other fillers.

Consumer Reports has warned against buying low-cost supplements from closeout or dollar stores. These supplements were tested by their lab and shown to not dissolve well enough for the nutrients to be absorbed. At least half of the supplements were missing at least one nutrient listed on the label.

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, just because a little is good for you, doesn't mean a lot is even better. Some vitamins and minerals can stay in your system and build up a toxicity. Also, specialty multivitamins may have higher levels of some vitamins or minerals than other multivitamins, so additional supplements are not recommended, examples being calcium and vitamin D.

Supplements can also interfere with prescribed medications, making the medication more or less effective than the doctor expects. Examples include the interaction of St. John's wart, Coenzyme Q10, fish oil and L-arginine with high blood pressure medications.

St. John's wart can decrease the effect of high blood pressure medications, while the following three medications can potentially increase the effect of the medications. This is only one example, so please make sure and inform your doctor of any herbal, over the counter or home remedies that you are taking to avoid potentially dangerous side effects.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends considering a supplement if you fall into any of the following categories:

You are eating less than 1,600 calories per day or you are on a low-calorie weight-loss diet.

You are elderly and not eating as much as you should.

You are a strict vegetarian or vegan.

You are pregnant or a woman of child-bearing age.

You have a medical condition that limits your food choices.

A registered dietitian can help you review your food intake and make recommendations for any vitamins or minerals that may appear deficient in your diet. Remember that supplements are not supposed to replace food, but simply supplement the diet.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a master of science degree. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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