Of several remedies, the physician
should choose the least sensational.’

– Hippocrates

Up to as little as a decade ago, mainstream medicine has been openly hostile to the idea of healthy people taking vitamin supplements. Only recently has this anti-vitamin position begun to change, as irrefutable evidence emerged showing that vitamin supplements could reduce the risk of many common diseases. Sadly, it is still common practice for doctors to tell their patients that they do not need vitamin supplements if they are eating a ‘balanced’ diet.

In April 1998, the editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine was entitled ‘Eat Right and Take a Multi Vitamin’. This article indicated that certain vitamin supplements could reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. This was the first time that a prestigious medical journal was recommending vitamin supplements. An even stronger endorsement for the use of vitamin supplements came in the June 19, 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Harvard University doctors reported that people who got enough vitamins might be able to prevent such common illnesses as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Today one in every three North Americans takes multivitamins but many are reluctant to tell their doctors for fear that they may disapprove. The same situation exists right here in Jamaica, although a number of my Jamaican medical colleagues are now regularly recommending vitamin and herbal supplements to their patients. I applaud them for this refreshing change.
However, to complicate the issue, research suggests that as much as one third of dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals and herbals), have one or all of the following problems:

  • The products do not contain what the label says it should.
  • The products contain other undisclosed substances in addition to what is on the label, which may create a health hazard.
  • The active ingredients in a supplement may not be readily absorbed by the system, and may thus be ineffective.

Fortunately, the Jamaican Ministry of Health has been active in seeking to protect the interests of the public in this matter. I hope, however, that in doing so the right of the individual to choose supplements for himself or herself will not be infringed upon. After all, the possible problems that may arise from taking supplements are minute when compared with the side effects of prescription medication. Just imagine, over 150,000 Americans die each year from the side effects of drugs prescribed by their doctors! By contrast, last year the Center for Disease Control reported no deaths at all from the use of vitamin and herbal supplements.

The following guidelines will help you in your choice of nutritional supplements.

Choose a reputable brand

The cheapest brand is not necessarily the best. Choose products from a company that has a well established reputation for high quality and effective products.

Speak with individuals who have used that brand and have them share their experience with you. Well-trained network marketers of nutritional supplements are particularly helpful in this regard, as they are usually heavy consumers of the products they sell. Some, but not all, health food store personnel may also be helpful. I myself very carefully select the brand of supplements I recommend to my clients.

Read the labels
The US Food and Drug Administration does not approve dietary supplements but monitors and regulates their use by certain laws such as:
– The Mega dosage Law, which says that no food supplement should have an amount of any one ingredient that could create harm when taken at the recommended dosage.
– The Labeling Law, which says that any potential side effect that a dietary supplement may have and any necessary warnings about the use of such a product should appear on the product’s label. They also strictly restrict manufacturers from making medical claims that have not been scientifically validated.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous manufacturers sometimes get away with outright fraud and that is why I so strongly recommend that you do your own due diligence and only use products from highly reputable companies.

Pay little attention to RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) values on the labels.

 The RDA is the minimum amount of a vitamin necessary to prevent you from being seriously deficient. I and many experts believe that those levels are far too low for optimal health benefits and that the RDA is obsolete and irrelevant to modern nutritional practice.

Educate yourself

The more informed you become about nutrition, the more responsibility you can take for maintaining excellent health. There are many books, tapes, seminars and Internet sites that provide good information. I recommend my own Book and Radio Show An Ounce of Prevention, as a good information sources. Remember, ‘Your Health is in your Hands’.

Talk with your doctor

It is important that your physician knows that you are taking supplements. If your doctor is unwilling to discuss the matter with you, then I would suggest that you seek a second opinion or even change your health care provider. Remember, doctors are often not well educated about nutrition and nutritional supplementation.

Balance your nutrition

Despite their importance, supplements alone are not a replacement for a balanced, healthy diet. They should complement your diet. Particularly try to have at least seven servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, as they contain a variety of beneficial substances, known and unknown. As we often lack protein, I also recommend that you include a high quality nutritional protein shake drink in your daily diet. It facilitates good Cellular Nutrition, an essential for good health for everyone


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