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Massage Today
November, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 11

To Supplement Or Not; That Is the Question

By Teresa M. Matthews, LMT, CPT

In my role as a personal trainer and long-time competitive athlete, I have often been asked about dietary supplements: "which ones should I take; how much, and for how long?" Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.

Like all else health and wellness related, it will be a matter of meeting specific, individualized needs in the present circumstances.

First, let's keep in mind the term "supplements". The understanding should be that the product, whether vitamin, mineral, herbal extract, essential amino compound, enzyme or any other, would be taken to supplement some vital nutritional resource which may be missing from our regular diet. The FDA considers supplements to be food and not drugs. Each must be labeled as such and have a "Supplement Facts" panel. Doctors may prescribe supplements and in such cases, they are regulated as drugs. As always, if you have a particular concern, do not hesitate to contact another health care professional such as a registered dietician or other prescriber.

So, the place to start to decide whether or not to supplement begins with assessing our food choices. My favorite resource for all things nutritional is still www.MyPyramid.gov. Click on the navigation bar on the far left side at the link titled "Dietary Guidelines" and you'll find the best description of what current science holds as a healthy diet. Keep in mind: this is NOT a therapeutic diet to address any particular challenge or goal but a good baseline to help with nutritional decisions. In the descriptions of the fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and other groups and items are observations about how good a source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients these foods may be. If there are foods you cannot or do not include in your regimen which do provide these essential nutrients, you may choose to supplement.

During my childhood, and perhaps well before, parents were advised to feed their children a daily multi-vitamin. Most of these also contained an essential mineral compound and most were delivered orally, sometimes disguised as a cartoon character or popular candy. In cases where the child's diet did not reflect the ideal choices for delivering vital nutrition, at least most of what were once called "Minimum Daily Requirements" was met. This "healthy habit" is one which may have stayed with some of us, even to this day. If so, when was the last time you read the "supplement facts" on the container? Are you getting as much as you need of what your diet may lack or taking too much of what you don't need, at all?

Consider this; in the case of water-soluble vitamins (B's and C), your body will make immediate use of what it needs and excrete the rest, resulting in an enriched toilet bowl. With fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) your body will store what it cannot use immediately and those levels could, conceivably, escalate to become toxic. With minerals, some work well alone but others are only effective in the presence of a synergist. In the case of some herbal supplements, enough research may not exist to verify or dispute certain claims of efficacy for one condition or another. With amino acids and enzymes, supplementation without the benefit of detailed blood-work analysis may be, at best, a guessing game.

Where Does All This Leave Us?

Americans are eating their way to an early grave. The key is to know what foods to eat, which foods to eat in moderation, and which foods to avoid. There are many causes for unhealthy eating habits. But, we have many resources available to us where we can learn of the healthier choices. Use the Internet (MyPyramid.gov is a great start), library, book stores, or health care provider to gather information for your personal individualized dietary needs.

Let's not forget about water. Water is the most important nutrient for our bodies. It is involved in every bodily function. Some people never drink water. People who have joint pain may think they are Advil deficient. It could possibly be their body is just crying out for H2O.

By eating a variety of nutritious foods, you will likely get the adequate amounts of essential nutrients. If not, supplements might meet the need. However, there are no magic pills; taking supplements should never take the place of foods that are important to a healthy diet. Stay healthy.


Teresa M. Matthews, fitness expert and world champion athlete, has 30 years experience in the fitness industry. She is the president and founder of Health, Wellness & Fitness Professionals, Inc. and is the owner of Arlington School of Massage and Personal Training in Jacksonville, Fla. She is a sports massage instructor for the Florida State Massage Therapy Association and was awarded the FSMTA 2009 Sports Massage Therapist of the Year award. Teresa travels the country teaching self care and wellness classes. Contact her by e-mail at with questions or comments.

 

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