Whether in good or ill health, many of us take
dietary supplements in an attempt to feel better, have more energy
and enhance our health potential. And even if you don’t take dietary
supplements, as a caregiver, you may find yourself in the position
of making important decisions about nutritional supplements for your
loved one—a confusing and often daunting task given the vast amount
of nutrition misinformation and cleverly formulated health claims.
Friends, family members and other well-meaning individuals may be
able to offer you some advice, but how can you be sure it is the
right advice for your loved one?
The optimal solution is to seek the assistance of a
licensed professional who is trained in the field of nutrition—someone
who can thoroughly review your loved one’s medical history, lifestyle
habits, current medication usage and other important health aspects in
order to formulate a safe, therapeutically effective and individualized
vitamin regimen. The American Dietetic Association at 800-877-1600 can
help you locate someone in your area.
The unfortunate reality is that most people don’t
seek professional advice about dietary supplements, choosing instead to
“self-prescribe”. So, for all you do-it-yourselfers, here are some
practical supplement-savvy suggestions to help you make sound decisions
for your loved one’s health (and possibly your own!):
Don’t assume that supplements are safe just because
they are sold over-the-counter. Dietary supplements can have
pharmacological, or drug-like, actions that may interfere with
prescription drugs or significantly affect how the body functions. Some
supplements can cause side effects that a doctor may erroneously
attribute to a prescription drug or medical therapy—leading to
discontinued or delayed medical treatment for your loved one. For this
reason, it is prudent to inform the doctor about which supplements your
loved one is taking or intending to take.
Food should come first. The threat of malnutrition
looms large in the chronically ill population, so it’s important to
remember that supplements should not be used as a replacement to food.
If your loved one can’t eat very much, it is more important to fill
their stomach with nourishing food rather than herbal teas, liquid
concoctions, pills and powders.
Don’t let your emotions drive your dietary supplement
decisions. As you strive to help your loved one get better, you may
become vulnerable to individuals who are offering the “miracle” health
cure. A good rule of thumb regarding any health claims is: if it sounds
too good to be true, it probably is. Remember, also, that reliable
nutrition advice usually comes from individuals who have nothing to gain
by giving it.
Think cost-effective. Dietary supplements are
expensive, so if you find your wallet is getting thin, invest in a
professional opinion before you make another trip to the health food
store. A nutrition consultation typically costs between $50 and $100—the
same amount of money that many consumers usually spend per month on
Quality does matter. Lower cost, “value-priced”
dietary supplements may contain fillers, additives and coal tars that
can cause stomach upset or allergic reactions. The purity of the product
is one of the most important characteristics of a reputable vitamin
brand and something you can readily check by contacting the manufacturer
and asking for independent testing results. Be aware of companies that
supply internal graphs or charts on their products that could be
construed as evidence-based research.
Be respectful of your loved one’s decision to take
nutritional supplements. Even if you don’t agree, reduce a potential
stressful situation by gently encouraging them to seek professional
guidance about their supplement choices. On the other hand, listen to
and respect your loved one’s wishes not to take dietary supplements,
even if you think they should.
The vitamin aisle should be no place for confusion!
Use the above strategies to evaluate the safety and efficacy of dietary
supplements so that you can feel confident that you are making
responsible nutrition supplement decisions on behalf of your loved one.
Kim Dalzell is a nationally
recognized expert on holistic nutrition, professional speaker,
registered dietitian and award-winning author.
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