To supplement or not to supplement?  If you walk into a drugstore, you will see a seemingly unending array of dietary supplements to choose from.  Whether you want to grow stronger fingernails or increase your fertility, there is a supplement waiting to meet your need.  But are supplements necessary?  In some cases, yes.  But there are important factors to keep in mind when choosing your dietary supplements.

With up to half of Americans taking some form of dietary supplement, it is obvious that many people are convinced that supplementing their diets will benefit their health in some way.  And in many cases, they are correct.  We are experiencing record high rates of chronic diseases in our country; obviously, something is awry with our health.

Experts believe that a main cause of the explosion of chronic disease is due to the decreased nutrition in our food.  Our food is our main source of nutrition. When our food lacks robust nutrition, so do we.  The diets of many Americans consist of unhealthy, nutrient-poor processed and fast foods.  Not only does this kind of diet fail to provide a complete profile of essential nutrients, but the ingredients in these unhealthy foods can actually interfere with your body’s ability to utilize the nutrients that you do get! 

But even when we do eat foods that we know to be good for us, we may not be getting the nutrition we think we are.  Depleted soils, use of fertilizer, liberal application of pesticides and modern industrial manufacturing techniques all serve to result in foods that are sorely lacking in vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients.  The Cabbage your grandmother grew likely had up to twice the nutrition of the cabbage that you purchase at the grocery store.

Because our diets are generally in such poor shape, it is a good idea to enrich them with some carefully chosen supplements.  Use the following tips to help make your decisions about which supplements to use and how to use them:

1.  Eat a healthy diet first.  Many experts agree that the best source of nutrition is your food.  Isolating one particular vitamin and taking it by itself rarely has the same benefit as consuming that vitamin in concert with the other nutrients with which it originates.  For example, getting your beta carotene from carrots is vastly superior than taking a pill with beta carotene in it.

2.  Read the label.  Your dietary supplement should explain what the recommended does is and how to take it.  Be sure to follow these instructions so that you do not take too much or take it in such a way to render it ineffective.  (For example, some supplements are supposed to be taken on an empty stomach).

3.  Check with your doctor.  Some potent supplements may interfere with prescription medications.  Get the okay from your doctor before starting a new supplement.

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