Beyond Trim: Scoping out the need for supplements

Sherry DeWalt

In the medical field, “scope of practice” refers to the activities that a person licensed to practice as a health professional is permitted to perform. It’s something that I try to keep in mind at all times so that I don’t put myself in the position of practicing medicine without a license.

As a health coach, one example of things that fall outside my scope of practice are dietary supplements. Dietary supplements can mean vitamins but also minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, etc. They come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, gummies and powders as well as drinks and energy bars.

People often ask me if they should take supplements and which ones I suggest. While I am not allowed to do that, I feel that I can offer some practical advice without exceeding my scope of practice. Keep this information in mind:

  • First things first: Good health is determined in large part by a healthy diet, adequate physical activity, good sleep, managing stress and by avoiding risky behaviors like smoking and drinking too much alcohol. Supplements are not magic potions that will erase the effect of poor health habits. Be realistic about your lifestyle and work to improve your habits before worrying about dietary supplements.
  • Necessity: Why do you think you need a supplement? Are you not feeling well? What are you hoping to gain from taking a supplement? I think it’s a good idea to start with your health care provider. If you are having symptoms, you need to have those evaluated. Have some blood work done to find out if you have normal levels. This will help you and your provider to make informed decisions about your health, including dietary supplements if needed.
  • Safety: The supplement industry is not well regulated and there have been many instances in which supplements have been found to either not contain the advertised ingredients or to contain ingredients that have not been disclosed and may be harmful to your health. It is also possible to “overdose” with supplements, creating unnaturally high or toxic levels in the blood. Supplements need to be evaluated in relation to other drugs or medications you might be taking to avoid interactions. Check with your provider and if you do decide to purchase a supplement, you should look for ones that have been evaluated and tested.

Americans spend about $30 billion on dietary supplements every year. If you are one of the many people who are purchasing a supplement, I hope you have taken all of this into consideration.

  • Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.
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