Which Nutritional Supplement (If Any) Is Right For You?

"Vitamin D" written in sand.
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Almost every day you see an ad or hear someone talking about taking a supplement to help with metabolism, memory or sleeping, but the shelves at the drugstore are loaded with so many types of supplements it can be dizzying. Where do you start?

As with many health-related questions, start with your primary care physician or specialists who can order a simple blood test to check for any specific nutrient deficiencies. That is really the best way to target what you need, prevent “overtreatment” and not waste your money. (A recent study found minimal benefits of some popular vitamin and mineral supplements.)

“We should aim to meet our body’s nutritional needs by eating but there are definitely times we need dietary supplements to correct deficiencies,” says Dr. Eric Secor, associate medical director of integrative medicine with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute.

The most common deficiencies seen in clinic, which he says can be caused by poorly balanced diet, bariatric surgery, medications, chronic inflammation, aging or other medical conditions:

  • Vitamin D.
  • Calcium.
  • Iron and Ferritin.
  • Protein.
  • Vitamin B complex (B12, B6 and folate).
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs) like mono and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Iodine and selected symptom support.
  • Selected hormones, such as testosterone, DHEA and pregnenalone.

“It’s important we only take supplements to rectify existing deficiencies, support current medical conditions and help prevent specific and identified conditions of aging that may be inherited — more is not better in this case,” says Dr. Secor, deferring to the federal Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). “Then, once you start taking a supplement to remedy a deficiency, you should be checked as needed to ensure you still need it and be on a treatment plan that includes weaning down to the lowest necessary dose.”

Millions of Americans take an array of supplements, including those Dr. Secor categorized as “nonvitamin, nonmineral” such as fish oil, Ginseng, Echinacea and melatonin. Many others rely on food products infused with nutritional supplements, called “functional food players.”

They include:

  • Gatorade.
  • Vitamin Water.
  • Activia.
  • Multigrain Cheerios.
  • Special K.
  • Kashi.
  • Nesquick.
  • Balance bars.
  • Naked with probiotics.

“The marketplace is full of these ‘functional food players’ from trusted brands like Pepsi Cola, General Mills and Quaker,” says Dr. Secor. “But, when nutritional supplements and botanicals are added into our food and drink, it may not necessarily result in a ‘boost to our health.’ Become an educated consumer and balance information from product marketing with sound medical advice.”

Talk with your primary care physician about blood work to identify what, if anything, your body needs supplemented. Looking for a primary care physician? Hartford HealthCare Medical Group has locations around Connecticut. Click here to find one near you.


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