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Guidelines for Using Nutritional Supplements

by Larry Trivieri Jr

Proper nutrition is a cornerstone of good health. It involves a diet of healthy foods along with the proper and correct use of nutrient supplements to help maintain optimal physical and psychological health. The importance of proper diet and overall nutrition is often overlooked by conventional physicians, however, who receive very little education about nutrition during their medical training. By contrast, holistic physicians, naturopaths, and other health practitioners make diet and nutrition an essential part of their overall preventive and treatment programs for their patients.

While a shift to a healthier diet can improve health in and of itself, in many cases nutritional supplementation is also needed, due to a variety of factors, such as environmental pollutants, the stresses of daily life, and modern farming and food packaging methods which further deplete the nutrient content of our foods. The mineral content of soil used to grow today’s crops is, on average, one-sixth of what it was 50 years ago, due to commercial farming methods, resulting in devitalized produce. Additional commercial farm production methods, along with shipping and storage procedures, further degenerate crops of their nutrient value. In addition, due to each person’s unique biochemical individuality, the amount of specific nutrients required for health can vary as much as 700 percent from person to person.

As a result of such factors an estimated 80 percent of all Americans today are said to be suffering from some form of malnutrition (nutrient deficiencies). Poor diet and nutrient deficiencies have been linked to a wide variety of chronic disease conditions, including heart disease and cancer, our nation’s two most prevalent killers. Conversely, healthy eating habits have been shown to prevent or help reverse most diseases of a chronic nature. 60 percent of all cancers, for instance, can be prevented by good diet and proper nutrition.

For this reason, holistic physicians focus on both improving their patients’ diets and devising a nutritional supplementation program to meet their specific nutrient needs, as determined by a variety of testing methods. The primary supplements used by most people to create and maintain good health are vitamins and minerals.

Guidelines for Using Nutritional Supplements

The following guidelines can help ensure that you receive the fullest benefits from their use.

For best results, eat healthily. No amount of nutritional supplementation can take the place of a diet of nutrient-dense foods and (ideally) organic whole foods, emphasizing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables each and every day. Also take care not to overcook your foods, since high temperature can destroy even the healthiest foods’ nutrient content.

Read the label. Since not all brands of nutritional supplements are the same in terms of quality, efficacy and price, it is important to know the quality of the brand you are buying. By reading the label of the supplements you purchase, you can determine their dosage range and whether or not the supplements also contain fillers, binders, and other additives of no nutritional value, and to which you might be allergic or sensitive, such as sugars or gluten. (Generally safe additives include alginic acid, cellulose, calcium or magnesium stearate, dicalcium phosphate, gum accacia, and silica.)

Labels usually also contain instructions for how nutrients should best be consumed to optimize their effectiveness. Reputable companies typically list all ingredients in their nutritional formulas and, upon request, are usually willing to also provide further information regarding their efficacy.

Know when and how to take your supplements. As a general rule, vitamin and mineral supplements are best taken during meals or 15 minutes before or after eating, in order to enhance their assimilation. This is especially true of fat- soluble vitamins, which ideally should also be taken during the meal of the day with the highest fat content. Overall, however, most vitamin and mineral supplements are best taken with the first meal of the day. In addition, single B vitamins are best consumed along with a total B-complex supplement, while minerals are best taken as part of a complete multivitamin/mineral formula.

Beware of “megadosing.” Certain nutrients, including all fat-soluble vitamins and certain minerals and B-complex vitamins, can be toxic in high doses. To avoid the risk of toxicity, avoid taking high doses of nutrients unless you do so under the guidance of physician trained in their use.

Pay attention to any reactions following supplementation. Nutritional supplements, if properly used, rarely cause adverse reactions. However, if you experience nausea or other side effects after taking supplements, immediately discontinue their use. In many cases, such reactions are due to excessive dosages or symptoms of detoxification provoked by supplementation and will cease once supplementation is discontinued. But if symptoms persist, seek medical attention.

Consult with your physician before mixing supplements with medication. While most supplements taken in moderate doses are generally safe, certain nutrients can be contraindicated when used with prescribed medications. Iron tablets, for instance, should not be taken when using antibiotics. To ensure safety, always consult with a nutritionally-oriented physician prior to beginning any supplementation program.

Be consistent. Irregular use of nutritional supplements provides little or no benefit, since the benefits of diet and proper nutrition are cumulative and accrue over time. By following a daily supplement routine, you can ensure that your body regularly receives the nutritional support it requires to properly perform its many functions.

Note: While the therapeutic use of diet and nutritional supplements is generally safe, and in many cases can be adapted as part of an overall self-care regimen, for best results it is advisable to seek the professional assistance of a holistic physician or nutritional therapist to ensure that your nutrient needs are optimally met.

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