Fact or Fiction: What’s ‘Supp’ with Dietary Supplements?

Written by Katie, Family Wellness Intern

Supplements provide the same health benefits as food | Fiction

While supplements are great as an extra boost to your diet, they should never replace food. Research has shown that in most cases your body does not utilize the nutrients from a supplement the same way it does from food. It is not completely understood why this is, however, it may be due to the other nutrients that whole foods contain.

Unlike supplements, whole foods are a great source of fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient that promotes digestive tract health. Good sources of fiber included fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans.

More is better | Fiction

Some supplements if taken in large doses for a long period of time, increase the risk of negative side effects, toxicity, or even offset other nutrients in your body. Take vitamin C for example, it has a low toxicity rate but too much of it can cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach aches.

If you are a person who eats a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy you most likely do not need dietary supplements. Supplements may be beneficial for you if you:

  • Are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
  • Are 50 years-old or older
  • Follow a diet that avoids entire food groups
  • Have a poor appetite
  • Have a medical condition that affects digestion
More protein = more muscle | Fact and Fiction

This statement is fact but the way we understand it is fiction. First off, adding protein to your diet will not increase your muscle mass by itself. If you add extra protein into your diet without putting the time in at the gym, the only gains you will see will be on the scale. Coupling a higher protein diet with strength training (weightlifting, circuit training, Pilates, etc.) will help build muscle over time.

Now, this is where it gets a little tricky. Over the years, researchers have conducted several studies that examine muscle gain from high protein diets. The results show that moderate intake of protein coupled with strength training exercises provide the same amount of muscle gain as a high protein intake.

However, in these studies the participants were given extra protein at one meal not as an extra snack. This is important because other researchers have found that the amount of protein your body uses at a single meal to build muscle is limited around 30 grams. Meaning if you spread your protein throughout the day, higher protein intakes could help you build up your muscle mass.

Supplements can interact with medications | Fact 

Some supplements like vitamin K, zinc, and a variety of botanicals may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications. Depending on the supplement, interactions can cause an increase or decrease in the drug’s effectiveness. This means you could be getting too much or too little of the medication you need. Interactions like these can cause many problems that could dangerous and potentially life threatening.

Products that are considered “natural” are not excluded from this. In fact, most herbal or botanical supplements interact with medications more often than vitamin and mineral supplements do. Make sure to talk with your physician or pharmacist before taking any supplements or new medications to avoid any negative interactions.

Supplements are regulated like drugs | Fiction

Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, supplements are considered to be food rather than a drug. For this reason, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require supplements to go through the strict safety precautions that drugs do. So how are supplements regulated?

First, the FDA requires supplement manufacturers to provide specific labeling to prevent false or misleading information. Then supplement manufacturers must provide any history or evidence that any new ingredients incorporated into the supplement is safe for human consumption.

Even with these regulations in place some supplements have been found to be contaminated by heavy metals, other drugs, and pesticides. Other independent organizations like US Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab.com, and the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International conduct quality, purity, and potency of supplements.

Bottom line: Eat a well-balanced diet. Less is sometimes more. Move your body. Talk to your doctor. Do your research.