A whopping 75% of the US population used dietary supplementation in 2018. That’s a significant rise from 2017. Have you ever wondered, why are people buying and taking supplements? And are the supplements they purchase worth it/working for them?

Four reasons people use supplements

  1. The food we eat is not adequate to sustain us anymore.
  2. Supplements are replacing medication.
  3. Increasing health information indicates what our bodies need to thrive and survive.
  4. Supplement manufacturers, stakeholders, and advertisers are taking advantage of the American health crisis and pushing products on the population.

While all of these statements are true to a certain extent, you need to understand the reasons why the average person buys and takes supplements.

What supplements do we use?

By far the most common supplement in the US is vitamins and minerals at 98% of users. Of this 98%, 75% were using a multivitamins [1]. This information is highly indicative of respondents using supplementation to counteract a deficiency in their diet or lifestyle.

Or perhaps, supplement advertisement is working, and people are taking supplements because the marketing gurus have told them to. What we don’t know is the percentage of people that use supplementation to treat serious illnesses. 

Vitamin D

38% of the respondents took a Vitamin D supplement every day.

We can correlate the taking of this vitamin with the alarming fact that 41.6% of the US population is Vitamin D deficient [1]. Why do we see such a high percentage of Vitamin D deficiency?

A substantial part of the population is spending the majority of their time indoors which decreases their vitamin D absorption from the sun.

We can conclude from these factors, that there is an apparent correlation between health factors found in today’s society in comparison to the supplementation usage of the equivalent vitamin.

Supplemental Percentage Breakdown

Multivitamin (75%)Magnesium (20%)
Vitamin D (38%)Omega-3 fatty acids (20%)
Vitamin C (30%)Probiotics (17%)
Calcium (26%)Green tea (16%)
Vitamin B/B complex (26%)Fiber (14%)
Protein (22%)Vitamin E (15%)
Turmeric (14%) 

The breakdown of the supplemented vitamins and minerals taken by respondents who are using supplementation. [1]

Should you be taking supplements?

With the health trends as they are, I am sure the majority of us have or are still are taking supplements to balance out our body’s needs. Or maybe you are reading this to figure out if you should or not. To get a feel of where you stand in the necessity of supplements, read and answer these questions:

  • Are you currently taking supplements?
  • Why are you taking those supplements?
  • Have you proven that you are in need of these supplements?
  • If so, could you obtain this supplement from a food source instead?

These are all critical questions to consider when deciding if to take a supplement or not. A key takeaway from these questions is: always ensure that you have the proof that indicates your need for supplementation.
Besides the obvious fact of wasting your money on supplements you may not need, you could be damaging your health with unknowing overdosages.

Also, these questions may confirm that you are not just a victim of advertising or the current health trends. Do your research and ensure you are confident with your answers to these questions. Again, if ever in doubt, consult with a professional.

How do you know which supplements you need?

If you want definitive proof that you require a specific supplement – test your vitamin and mineral levels with blood labs. They are simple to request from your doctor and contain useful information for your overall health.

My recommendation is to obtain the first labs before starting with the desired supplement. Once you’ve done your first set of labs, start the supplement for a fixed period (3-6 months). At the end of this period, have a second set of labs done.

These two lab sets will give you substantial information to evaluate if the supplements have been beneficial to your vitamin and mineral levels.

Example

For example, my genetics (which I had tested through 23andMe) indicate that I have a predisposition of having high homocysteine levels and low B12 levels directly correlate with high levels of homocysteine.

Through blood tests measuring my vitamin and mineral levels, I was able to prove this as true.

To counteract the damage caused by high homocysteine levels, I immediately started taking methylcobalamin form of B12. After retesting my levels through blood labs (after six months of supplemental B12) I have tests that show lowered homocysteine levels in correlation with my B12 supplementation.

Through supplementation, I can replace medication and have potentially prevented possible future health issues such as hardening of the arteries and blood clots [5]

If you’re ever in doubt about a supplement, a great resource I use is the National Institutes of Health. This site will give you valuable health information on various supplements currently found on the market.

Are you taking the right dosage?

Not all vitamins and minerals are safe to take in high dosages. Unfortunately, supplement advertisement does not adequately convey the seriousness of dosing issues.

For example, you may find dosage recommendations or warnings on an iron supplement bottle. However, you will not see this same dosage warning on a multi-vitamin bottle which contains iron. Therefore, taking a multi-vitamin containing iron in addition to an iron tablet can create a potentially dangerous health issue. (Overdosing on iron can be very dangerous, if not lethal)

Did you know there are risks also present for vitamin D supplements? Having high levels of vitamin D can have serious side effects leading to calcification of arteries [3].

So, why are these supplements on the market without any dosage recommendations or warnings if they can cause serious health risks to us? According to the FDA, it “deems any dietary supplement safe until proven otherwise” [4]. The exact opposite of how the FDA approves medication and drugs.

Hopefully, FDA regulation policies will improve in the future, but in the meantime, it is always worth researching any dosage or health risks involved with the supplements you are taking. When in doubt, consult a professional.

Pseudo Supplements

I consider pseudo supplements as any supplement which can be classed as a convenience product and do not fall into the short term risks category.

These supplements can include bone broth powder*, powdered greens*, bovine colostrum* – all three of which I currently use. While I do not deem these supplements to be harmful, but they are indeed not necessary to buy.

Replace supplements with something real?

In reality, I could make my bone broth, blend my locally sourced greens and find a fresh source of colostrum. However, I pay a premium for convenience and a stable form of supplement that includes a long life span.

I could argue that it would be better to ingest natural forms of these supplements – but based on my research, I’m reasonably confident that I’m receiving a quality product.

Note, protein powders fall into pseudo supplements also. Protein powders are not necessary for most peoples diets. And even if they are, protein is easily obtainable in its natural form. However, like my bone broth, greens, and colostrum, powdered forms of supplements offer a convenience that some people would deem a priority for their lifestyle.

My one suggestion to you is to ensure that you do your research beforehand and fully understand the source of the products you buy. Countless brands try to sell unacceptable versions of unnecessary supplements to earn a profit.

Conclusion

I hope this post has provided you with examples of how supplementation can work both for and against your health. Don’t just take a supplement to take a supplement – but rather, fully understand and back up why you should be taking supplements.

If possible, obtain quality results or information (blood labs) for your supplemental needs. If blood labs are not an option, gather quality information from an independent source indicating that it’s safe and beneficial for your health situation.

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2 thoughts on “Are Supplements Working For You?

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! I really want to take vitamin c and other vitamins as well because I am not able to eat vegetables and fruits on a daily basis. But after reading this article, I really think that it’s better to have a checkup with a doctor first to know what vitamins I lack before taking anything.

    1. That’s great. I suppose the caveat here is that it depends what vitamins you’d be looking to take. Vitamins C and Vitamin B12 are known to be safe in high dosages, so the worst you could be doing is wasting your money. But obviously, the best course of action is to speak to a doctor or dietitian, and you’ll be able to work out what’s best for you.

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