Get the Scoop On Supplements

It seems like nearly every day brings new headlines about the role of dietary supplements in our health.

But, are they right for you? That’s something you should ask your doctor. Whether they’re vitamins, minerals, herbals or other products, they can have risks. And, keep in mind that supplements are just that: supplemental. That is, they can’t replace the benefits of a healthful diet.

Yet, when taken properly, some can provide essential benefits. For example, folic acid is a must for one group—women who are or might become pregnant. It can reduce the risk of some birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.

Doctors may also advise supplements for other needs—a few examples are listed below:

Some specific groups who may need supplements

How they help

People on special diets—such as those on very low-calorie or strict vegan diets and those who avoid certain foods due to health conditions (like people who are lactose intolerant or have celiac disease). These restricted diets may be lacking in important nutrients. A multivitamin/mineral or other supplements, such as calcium, might help fill that gap.
Postmenopausal women Vitamin D and calcium may be needed. They help protect bone health.
People over the age of 50 Vitamin B-12 may be needed. The ability absorb it form food can decline as we age.
People with heart disease Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils may promote heart health.

The bottom line: Others may need supplements depending on their health needs. Talk to your doctor about your specific needs—and what’s right for you.

Danger Zone: Don’t Dabble!

Just as medicines can cause side effects or interact with other drugs, so can some supplements. And, some people risk their health by taking them instead of a medicine they’ve been prescribed. Others simply take too much—or combine too many supplements. Talk with your doctor about what you take now—and before trying anything new. He or she can tell you about products’ uses and any risk they may pose for you.

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