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Filling in the Gaps with Supplements

In a perfect world, you would get all the nutrients you need from your diet. But this isn’t the reality for most of us. When the job, the commute, and a busy schedule lead to processed foods, nutrient-poor foods, and the drive-through, we may constantly come up short. The result? We’re left with the nagging feeling that we’re doing something wrong—and, worse, that we’re putting our health at risk. This can happen when the immune system (which we talked about in the previous chapter) doesn’t have the nutrients it needs to protect us from illness both now and in the future. That’s why if, in spite of your best efforts to eat a healthy diet, you still need help (and most of us do), you may want to add supplements to fill in the nutritional gap. First, let’s learn more about exactly what supplements are and do.

What Is a Supplement, Anyway? Here’s how Congress defines a dietary supplement in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which became law in 1994. It’s a product that …
• Is intended to supplement the diet
• Contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances) or their constituents
• Is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid
• Is labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement

Okay, that’s fine, but dietary supplements are regulated more like foods, not like drugs, right? Unlike new drugs, dietary supplements don’t have to go through review by the FDA for safety and effectiveness, or be “approved” before they can be marketed. Recently, though, the FDA established Current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements (CGMPs—say that three times fast!) for dietary supplements. Now supplement manufacturers must report all serious adverse side effects of dietary supplements to the FDA. This is good news for consumers.

Nutrients You Need Now Okay, now that we’ve covered the background of supplements, let’s take a closer look at the nutrients most of us need right now on a daily basis (known as the RDA, which stands for Recommended Dietary Allowance). You can get quite a few of these nutrients through common foods (we discussed some of these in the previous chapter and go into more detail here), but this assumes that you eat a varied diet, and many of us don’t. This is no reason to get down on yourself. Like we said, it can be a challenge to eat right! That’s why you may want to pick up a multivitamin that contains these nutrients or individual supplements. The RDA or Retinal equivalent (RAE) will tell you how much you need to take each day.

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When it comes to buying supplements, use your noggin. Read the latest health magazines and cruise health websites. You may also find it very helpful to talk to a nutritionally oriented doctor, like a naturopath, who knows about the latest studies on supplements and knows what works for specific conditions and what doesn’t. Most important, an expert will work with you to tailor treatment for your needs, keeping in mind how certain supplements work together and making sure they don’t interact in a negative way. Once you have a regimen, update your regular M.D. on your next visit. He or she needs to know all the medicines and supplements you’re taking, especially if you are scheduled for surgery, so there are no complications.

Don’t Forget to check dosage amounts for supplements to be aware of the exat dose of each vitamine and supplements !