How can I supplement safely?
Before you begin supplementing, ask your doctor if there are potential drug interactions or contraindications you should be aware of. Then look for high-quality, bioavailable supplements made by reputable companies that follow Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) procedures to reduce the likelihood of adverse effects. In general, you should search for products that are as natural as possible. This often means using a whole-food, additive-free supplement, rather than a highly processed, isolated compound.
Whole-food supplements contain a wide range of enzymes, phytochemicals, and micronutrients found in natural substances such as oranges or green peppers. These complex combinations of micronutrients and phytochemicals have a synergistic relationship and give the nutrients in whole-food supplements the potential to be much more bioavailable than isolated compounds.
Once you have found a supplement you are comfortable taking, acquaint yourself with the labeled dosage. Most companies follow established dosing guidelines for common vitamin and mineral supplements and the suggested serving on the label is often considered safe. Consult your doctor to be sure the dosage on the bottle is right for you.
Vitamin and mineral toxicities are possible but can be avoided by consuming less than the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)5 established by the Institute of Health.When calculating your daily intake, be sure not only to track supplement usage but dietary intake as well. Levels exceeding the UL rarely result from diet alone but are not uncommon when using concentrated dietary supplements6.
While the UL is a good guideline, it is by no means considered to be the final say in vitamin and mineral supplementation safety.In cases of severe deficiency, a health practitioner may safely prescribe amounts that far exceed the UL. In addition, little research has been conducted on some nutrients and toxicology may be far from exact for many nutrients. Erring on the side of caution is common when the safety of large populations is at stake and the actual UL for some nutrients may be higher than current numbers show. If you find your nutrient intake is exceeding the UL, the safest course of action is to ask your doctor or health professional informed on your intake levels and ask if you should adjust your intake.
In conclusion, the first step to safe supplementation with vitamins and minerals is to be aware of dietary intake and to make appropriate dietary and lifestyle adjustments for optimal nutrient levels. If those adjustments are not sufficient to provide your body with the building blocks it needs to function in good health, check with your doctor to be sure supplementing is not likely to cause an adverse reaction. Then look for whole-food supplements and be aware of the UL for the supplements you are taking to avoid excessive intake.
Next up, we’ll cover herbal supplementation in Part III of this series.