By Emma Maaranen
As we are making our New Year’s resolutions, many of us make some type of commitment to better our health. These commitments usually include dietary changes such as reducing sugar intake, eating more dark leafy greens or making sure we are getting the minerals we need. Often these choices about diet supplementation are based on assumptions about what is good for us and what may be lacking. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Shannon O’Grady, an expert on human physiology and nutrition, who shared/debunked a few myths about supplements.
“I’ve heard nutritional supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Therefore, how do I know if the amount of a nutrient on a label is really what I am getting?”
Shannon has been spending the past year working with a major supplement manufacturer ensuring they would meet the requirements of a scheduled FDA audit. Per FDA regulation, all dietary supplement must meet any listed label claim for ingredient source and potency at the time of manufacture as well as through the listed expiration date (beware of supplements that do not list an expiration date). These label claims must be accurate after normal shipping and storage by the manufacturer and retailer. It is true that supplements are not as rigorously tested as pharmaceuticals. This is because supplements “may help digestive health,” not “prevent acid reflux of the stomach.” Both supplements and pharmaceuticals may cause side effects and may even interact, and it’s extremely important to consult a healthcare professional if you have any major health issues and you’re thinking of starting a supplement program.
“Probiotics are in the news a lot lately, touting better immunity from communicable diseases to reducing belly fat. I want to take this super supplement! Is eating yogurt every day enough?”
Research on the exact benefits of probiotic and how they work is still being worked out, but all evidence suggests that a diverse and thriving flora in our guts enhances health in many facets. However, when you take a probiotic, most of the bacterium are killed in the stomach before they are able to have a beneficial effect. The higher the per strain dose (measured in colony forming units of CFUs) you take the more likely it is that some of those microbes will get to their destination and have a beneficial impact on gut health. In a nutshell, it’s better to take a probiotic containing 2 strain than a supplement with the same dose, but spread among 10 strains. Also – stick with a higher CFUs count, at least twenty billion. Unfortunately your yogurt has too few CFUs to be a therapeutic dose.
“I’ve heard you should take probiotics when you are on antibiotics; why is this important?”
Taking antibiotics as prescribed by your physician is very important. However, the antibiotics will kill much of your beneficial bacteria as well. If you are taking a probiotic while taking an antibiotic, the organisms your are ingesting will be killed off as well. Most people will have their guts repopulated with flora a few days after the course of antibiotics is complete, but taking a probiotic concurrent with your course of antibiotics will help the process out. There is probiotic yeast, sacchromyces boulardii, that has been found to aid in digestive function and is not venerable to antibiotics (antibiotics target bacterium, not yeast). A significant body of scientific literature has shown that taking this yeast while on your antibiotic regimen will reduce antibiotic caused diarrhea and reduce the likelihood of developing a C. difficile infection (a life threatening bacterial infection of the digestive tract that can occur after antibiotic treatment). This can be taken while on antibiotics and may be compounded with antibiotics in the future!
“Vitamin D was the darling of the health industry last year, and I have added it to my regime of supplements. Is it still believed to be important?”
Yes, vitamin D is important. It is needed for our bodies to absorb calcium to strengthen bones, regulates the immune system and reduces the severity of asthma (including exercise-induced asthma). We get vitamin D from the sun, but wearing sunscreen and living with air pollution reduces what we get naturally, so supplementation may be useful. However, we don’t absorb those 600 IU/day we are taking unless we are pairing it with magnesium. You could eat a spinach salad with avocados and pumpkin seeds to get a hefty dose of magnesium with your vitamin D!
These are some on the insights Dr. Shannon O’Grady shared with me that I thought were especially useful for athletes. As you turn your New Year’s Resolutions into lifelong healthy habits, I hope these tid-bits about nutrition supplements help you navigate the confusing world of nutrition.