Starting Your Supplement Regimen

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The "Must Haves" of Supplement Regimens
Making the decision to lead a healthier lifestyle is fairly easy, but putting it into practice on a daily basis is more difficult. Busy lifestyles often interfere with efforts to eat a more balanced, healthier diet. Have you ever tried to eat 5-6 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day? It’s no secret that most Americans don’t follow the dietary guidelines and/or meet all their nutrient needs through diet alone.1 Fortunately, supplements are there to help fill in the nutritional gaps.

A dietary supplement is defined as something added to make up for a nutrient lacking or missing in one’s diet to help complete nutrient needs and help support overall health. This is exactly what a multivitamin/mineral can do and why it is important to include a multi as the foundation to a supplement regimen. Multivitamins/minerals help complete a poor diet, fill nutrient gaps and ensure an adequate intake of all essential nutrients. The remaining “must haves” of most supplement regimens include calcium and vitamin D for bone health. Bone is constantly breaking down and rebuilding itself throughout life. Adequate calcium and vitamin D as part of a healthful diet, along with physical activity, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Getting Started: Building Your Supplement Foundation
Step 1: Choose a multivitamin that is appropriate for your age and gender. A multivitamin should meet your basic needs, including being formulated to reflect the specific needs of your age and gender. For example, iron needs for women over the age of 50 years are 8 mg/day while the needs for women younger than 50 are 18 mg/day. Multivitamins for women over the age of 50 may contain little to no iron since 8 mg/day can be obtained through diet. Choosing a multivitamin/mineral that is both age and gender appropriate provides a solid foundation for any supplement regimen.
Step 2: Choose a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D to support bone health. Wondering what form of calcium to take; citrate or carbonate? Calcium carbonate should be taken with meals for best absorption. If you are not able to tolerate calcium carbonate even with meals, then opt for calcium citrate which can be taken on an empty stomach and is not associated with the GI disturbances that are sometimes linked to calcium carbonate (mainly constipation).

Strengthening Your Supplement Foundation
Now it’s time to build on your supplement foundation in order to complete and strengthen your daily regimen. It’s time to take a closer look at your diet, lifestyle, and health concerns.

Dietary Habits
Do you practice a special diet plan?
Chronically cutting food groups from a daily diet can eventually impact nutritional status. Low-carb diets tend to limit intake of fruits, whole grains, beans, and dairy products. While your supplement foundation covers calcium and vitamin D (if limiting dairy,) you may need an additional B complex (while limiting whole grains) to help insure proper metabolism of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. If you are a vegetarian, then animal products are off limits. Since animal products are a good food source of B12, a B12 supplement (or B complex containing B12) is often recommended for vegans and vegetarians in addition to a multivitamin and calcium w/D. Keep a food diary for 1 week to identify your main nutritional gaps. Then choose additional supplements to be included in your daily regimen to close the gaps and ensure adequate levels of all nutrients are maintained in the body. Talk to a registered dietitian if practicing a special diet to help identify any specific nutritional gaps.

Lifestyle Considerations
High Stress Living
Stress can affect various aspects of nutrition including what we eat, but alone, it is also implicated in various health concerns including high blood pressure and heart disease. Stress may also negatively impact immune health and sleep patterns. Using supplements to help your body cope is one way to approach and help cope with stress. While supplements may help the body cope with stress and its effects, it is also important to incorporate other ways of alleviating the negative effects of stress such as exercise, deep breathing, and choosing healthier foods.

Also consider, if you are a smoker, take steps to try and quit. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health and your heart. Avoid environmental pollution when possible for a healthier lifestyle.

Health Concerns
Our personal health concerns or conditions can spark an interest in supplements that may give us that extra edge in supporting overall health. Some examples include adding plant stanols/sterols to a basic supplement regimen to help lower cholesterol; adding fish oil to help support a healthy heart; adding glucosamine and chondroitin to help support joint comfort, mobility and flexibility or adding chromium to help support healthy glucose metabolism. Remember, when choosing supplements for a specific health concern, turn to a healthcare professional knowledgeable in supplement use so that he/she can help you make choices that best suit your needs.

Step 1: The foundation of any supplement regimen should include an age and gender appropriate multivitamin/mineral and calcium with vitamin D.
Step 2: Individualize Your Needs by closely evaluating dietary habits, lifestyle, and health concerns. Make the appropriate changes for a healthier lifestyle.

It is important to re-evaluate your needs on a regular basis and make any necessary changes or updates to your supplement regimen to reflect changes in your diet, lifestyle, or health status.

1. Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Bailey RL et al. Food, Fortificants and Supplements: Where Do Americans Get Their Nutrients. J. Nutr 2011;141: 1847-1854.