The low-down on supplements

by Mem Davis, B.Applied Science (Naturopathy Studies), Grad. Dip. Naturopathy

Every day customers come to me asking for advice on how to improve their health with supplements. But they are overwhelmed by the choice of supplements and with the hundreds of bottles, pills and powders available, I don’t blame them!
That’s where it’s the job of a qualified health practitioner to help. Choosing the best supplement for your particular needs doesn’t have to be confusing, but it’s important to understand what you’re taking and any interactions or complications which may arise from taking it. Let’s start with the basics...

What are supplements?
Put simply, supplements are tablets, pills or powders designed to improve your general health or performance.
Containing either natural or synthetic ingredients, a supplement may include vitamins, minerals, herbs, herbal extracts, or other nutrients such as enzymes or healthy bacteria.
They are designed to be taken in addition to a well-balanced diet and can help bridge the gap in a diet that is falling short, to enhance energy, reduce pain or address specific health conditions and body systems.

How are supplements different to vitamins?
Vitamins are essential nutrients that the body relies on for normal function. Supplements may contain vitamins but not all formulae do. For example, a supplement may have added vitamins to enhance its purpose, such as vitamin C for immune support or B vitamins for energy.

What’s the difference between over-the-counter and practitioner-prescribed supplements?
Many practitioner-prescribed supplements contain forms of herbs and nutrients that are more potent than shop-bought ones and therefore need to be taken with care.
In the case of herbal supplements, the quality of the herb may differ between companies. Many over-the-counter companies have developed an outstanding reputation based on the excellence of their formulas, however it’s best to ask a trained professional for a recommendation on what’s best for you.

Why is it important to consult with a qualified practitioner before taking supplements?
Although supplements are considered "natural" they are not always safe to take. That’s because herbs and nutrients have toxic doses that vary depending on the product.
It is also common for some herbs and nutrients to interact with other medications that can be dangerous. A qualified practitioner is educated in the safe use of supplements and is able to guide you towards the products that are best suited to your individual health requirements.