I see them everywhere. I get targeted with their ads on my social media pages. I hear my friends talking about them. My favorite celebrities all seem to have their own line of them or rep for someone that has them. What am I talking about? Supplements! I’ve seen everything from drinking "vital proteins" in my coffee to gummy "immunity support" for kids.
After being hit with all of this supplement hoopla, and being someone that only takes a daily vitamin, I started wondering, “What am I missing out on? What should I be taking?” Yes, I want to look younger and drink collagen! Or wait? Do I? LOL! I decided to reach out to Sonja Heuker, MD
, with The Christ Hospital Physicians - Primary Care. I needed some help understanding supplements and getting down to the bottom of what I should be or not be taking. I had five questions for Dr. Heuker, and she gave me some great insights into the hoopla around supplements. Here is our Q&A:
Why are supplements so popular?Dr. Heuker:
I believe there are several reasons why patients are more interested in supplements currently. In general, patients are looking to enhance their health and therefore are using resources like the internet to research options to improve symptoms related to chronic disease and aging. In addition, patients want to get away from taking pharmaceutical medications and perceive that “natural” remedies like herbals and supplements are benevolent and healing, but they can in fact be unsafe and dangerous if not used correctly. Lastly, the increasing costs associated with healthcare are unfortunately driving more patients to self-diagnose and self-treat using the internet as a resource.
What supplements should we be taking?Dr. Heuker:
There are specific instances where taking certain supplements have been scientifically proven to be beneficial, and therefore they've been added to our more commonly consumed foods. For example, in the early 1900s, rickets, a childhood bone disorder that causes weakened bones, skeletal deformities and stunted growth, was rampant. Vitamin D, a fat-soluble group of vitamins, was found to enhance the intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate and decreased the incidence of rickets. Therefore, in the 1920s, milk, the most common dietary source of calcium, was fortified with Vitamin D as a public health measure by the FDA. Water is fortified with fluoride to reduce the incidence of dental caries as another example.
In certain stages of life and with specific medical therapies, other supplements have been found to be important. A breast-fed infant is not able to consume milk, therefore most pediatricians and family medicine physicians recommend Vitamin D supplementation for the infant. Folic Acid, or folate, has been found to decrease the risk for spina bifida in pregnancy; therefore, prenatal vitamins with folate are recommended by obstetricians during prenatal counseling and during pregnancy.
Patients who need to take the cholesterol-lowering medication group called “statins” are frequently advised by cardiologists, internists and family medicine physicians to also take Coenzyme Q10 supplements to help avoid side effects. With aging invariably comes joint stiffness and pain for which Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements have helped improve mobility and comfort.
The recommended use of these specific supplements, however, have all come about due to the evidence collected through research and case studies, and this is where the issue with most supplements arise. The majority of supplements do not have to prove safety or efficacy to be put on the market as a dietary supplement.
How do you know when you’re buying supplements that you are getting the right absorption?Dr. Heuker:
The truth is…you can’t. There is no way to truly know because supplements do not fall under the same regulations as pharmaceutical drugs do.
Are there any benefits to taking supplements in a powder vs. a pill form?Dr. Heuker:
Typically powder and liquid forms are more efficiently digested, and, therefore, the effects can be noticed more quickly than in a pill form.
Collagen seems to be everywhere right now. Does collagen really help, and how much should we be taking? Is it possible to take too much collagen?Dr. Heuker:
Collagen is important for our connective tissue, muscle and skin health. Currently, there is not sufficient evidence to support OR contradict the claims made regarding the benefits of collagen supplements. They are offered all over the internet in tablet, capsule or powder form. There are several different forms of collagen in the body, and, hence, there are several different forms in the marketplace as well. Early small studies suggest that it can benefit skin, hair, bone, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health, but more studies need to be completed to be able to give advice about dosing, risks and benefits. Sounds like the verdict is still out on supplements for a lot of reasons! Always a good idea to talk to you doctor if you're interested in trying a specific supplement. Looking for a primary care provider to help? Schedule an appointment online at a location near you!