The majority of Americans (nearly 70 percent) take dietary supplements, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). Most of them anticipate their supplement use increasing in the next five years, but with the abundance of supplements on the market, how do you know which options are right for you?
The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for everyone, as your supplement needs will vary depending on your age, health status and goals. As Katherine Anderson, ND, FABNO, a naturopathic physician and chief of the naturopathic medicine division at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® in Tulsa, Oklahoma, explains:
“Supplement use is not that straightforward. This is especially true for cancer patients, who may be at risk of negative interactions between certain treatments and medications and particular supplements.
This is why it’s always important to speak with your health care providers before taking supplements. What is safe for one person may be harmful for someone else, depending upon other medications or supplements you’re taking.”
That being said, there are certain supplements — three in particular — that tend to be beneficial for the general population to add to their diet. If you’re considering the use of dietary supplements, the three that follow tend to be good for overall health:
The normal, healthy bacteria in your gut are called probiotics, and they’re available in supplement form in capsules, tablets and powders. About 12 percent of supplement users take probiotics, making them the third most popular “specialty supplement,” according to CRN.
“They promote intestinal health by providing nutritional benefits to cells in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract,” Anderson says. “Probiotics are typically recommended for irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea associated with using antibiotics and other GI conditions.” Probiotics are also found in naturally fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are the top specialty supplement, according to CRN, taken by 19 percent of U.S. supplement users. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for nervous system development and healthy brain function,” Anderson explains.
“Fish oil supplements contain EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as tuna and salmon, as well as shellfish. Flaxseed oil supplements contain another type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is also beneficial.”
“Vitamin D3 is important for bone strength, immunity and cellular function. Adequate vitamin D can prevent rickets and osteomalacia, a bone disease in adults caused by vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D may also help reduce.”
While your body can make vitamin D via sensible sun exposure, many Americans spend much of their time indoors or prefer to take the vitamin in supplement form to avoid the risks of overexposure to the sun.
In some populations, vitamin D deficiency is widespread. For instance, 20 to 100% percent of critically ill patients in one study suffered from vitamin D insufficiency. Vitamin D is also found, in limited amounts, in certain foods, such as mushrooms, fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese and fortified foods like some dairy products and cereal.
When considering the use of supplements, remember that even natural products carry a risk of side effects and, while they are generally limited, can be harmful if taken incorrectly, Anderson notes. In addition, she points out that dietary supplements are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This means it’s very much a “buyer beware” scenario when it comes to choosing supplements. “Some products may be contaminated, contain unknown ingredients or provide improper dosing information,” Anderson says. “The best way to avoid these risky products is to seek the advice of a health care professional who is knowledgeable in the use of supplements.”
Supplements and Cancer Care
Cancer patients may also be interested to know that supplements are being integrated into cancer care, including for the management of side effects related to chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. As Anderson explains:
“Integrative therapies, including herbal and non-herbal supplements, may help alleviate some side effects of certain cancer treatments. For example, ginger may help manage acute nausea, in conjunction with antiemetic mediations, for some patients, and zinc has been used by some patients to improve taste changes following chemotherapy treatment.”
If you’re a cancer patient or survivor, it’s very important to consult with a qualified health care professional before taking any supplements. Even healthy adults should inform their health care providers of every supplement they’re taking in order to ensure they’re safe in those dosages and combination.