Nutritional Supplements Article in Lehigh Valley Style Magazine May Issue


Nutritional Supplements:  What to take what to toss

by Susan Bianchi, MS

Do you feel overwhelmed and confused walking down the supplement
aisle in your grocery store? Are you inundated with the seemingly
daily study released touting everything from green coffee bean extract
for weight loss to resveratrol preventing heart disease? If so, you are
not alone, as even the savviest health conscious consumer can be left

The supplement market is a 27 billion dollar industry encompassing
a broad spectrum of products including vitamins minerals, herbs,
botanicals, probiotics, amino acids, energy bars, sports recovery
drinks, powders, gels and gu. They may help you burn fat, ease joint
pain, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and increase your
energy. But what works and what is hype? Unlike drugs, the FDA
considers supplements a category of foods, which means manufacturers
are not required to get pre-approval for new products to enter the
market. While this gives the consumer much greater access to the
latest innovations, often claims may have limited clinical proof, leaving
the consumer to wade through what is truth and what is fiction.

In a perfect world supplementation would not be necessary and all our
nutritional requirements would be met through our food, our lifestyle
and mental attitude. However concern over food quality, depleted soils,
increased use of medications, poor sleep, and greater emotional and
environmental stress, all point to good reasons to include supplements
in the diet. Even having the best of efforts in eating a healthy balanced
diet, some vital nutrients may fall short. The question becomes, “what
should I be looking for and what do I need?”

In choosing supplements, Melinda Toney, M.D. of Center of Family
Health, Catasauqua PA recommends looking for whole food based
supplements, bio-available and raw based wherever possible.
Vitamins and essential nutrients from food based sources are highly
complex structures and include enzymes, coenzymes, trace elements,
antioxidants and many other unknown factors, that are each essential
components to work in unison in the body. Isolating or synthetically
manufacturing a particular compounds, like Vitamin C, E, or Resveritrol

often omit the myriad of ancillary components that together, generate
the health benefit.

Most supplements can fall into two categories: maintenance and
situational supplements. Maintenance supplements may need to be
included on a long-term basis due to shortcomings mentioned earlier.
Situational supplementation may be more temporary, to address short-
term deficits.

Supplements to Consider for Maintenance
Despite the NIH conclusion regarding the benefits of a multivitamin,
the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is not opposed to including it in
the diet. Whitney Butler, RD, LDN, Outpatient dietitian with Sodexo at
Easton Hospital encourages her clients to support a healthy balanced
diet with a multivitamin. “It adds that extra insurance that all your
daily requirements are met.” Butler also suggests getting a complete
metabolic panel from your general practitioner to identify if you are
deficient in any areas. If you are falling short in some areas, along with
your multivitamin, you can focus on adding foods that naturally have
higher amounts of those particular vitamins or minerals. In choosing
the multivitamin, look for a multi that is labeled 100% DV (Daily Value)
and does not mega dose, especially in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and
K. Butler adds, “If you are eating a well balanced, nutrient rich diet,
and in good health, you may not need to supplement every day. I take
supplements a few times a week, ensuring I am meeting my body’s
needs without overdoing it. It also provides a cost savings.”

Essential Fatty Acids- Omega 3’s
Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, play a critical role
in every cell of your body, impacting cardiovascular health, reducing
inflammation and affecting memory and depression. The only sources
of EPA and DHA are fish oils and plankton. Farm-raised fish often
lack Omega 3’s because of the farming practices and the increased

concern over mercury and toxins in fish leaves many falling below the
recommended levels.

In choosing the supplement, it is important to look for Omega 3 (EPA
and DHA) only, as Omega 6 fatty acids are plentiful if not excessive
in the American diet and contribute to increasing inflammation. Krill
Oil has some of the highest concentrations of EPA and DHA and Cod
Liver oil has the added bonus of vitamin D and K. For vegans and
vegetarians, algae supplements can be a smart option, as other plant-
based foods including flaxseed do not contain EPA or DHA.

Vitamin D
Once appreciated only for its role in bone health, Vitamin D is now
understood to be a hormone, influencing many systems in the body. It
is involved in the regulation of muscle health, immune function, insulin
and blood sugar regulation, calcium and phosphorous balance, and
bone development. Limited skin exposure and varying levels of uvb
rays of sun during the seasons, often result in a shortfall of this essential
vitamin. Skin pigment is also a factor as darker skin is less efficient at
producing Vitamin D. Supplementation, especially in fall and winter,
helps ensure adequate levels are met. In selecting Vitamin D, look
for D3 (cholecalciferol) as this is the same form that the body naturally
produces. It appears D3 is much more effective than its counterpart,
D2. There are situations for high-dose therapy with Vitamin D, however
this should be done only under doctor supervision as Vitamin D is a fat-
soluble vitamin, and can reach toxic levels.

Calcium is not only vital in bone health; muscle, nerve, enzyme and cell
function all rely on adequate amounts of this mineral. If blood levels
are low, because it is so critical, the body will pull calcium from bones in
order to maintain proper levels.
In choosing a Calcium supplement, look for Calcium with magnesium
as magnesium aids absorption into the body. Butler notes that Calcium

Citrate can be taken any time of the day, but calcium carbonate is better
taken with food. She suggests spreading the supplement throughout
the day as the body can only absorb 500 mg at a time. Calcium
does interact with certain prescriptions like blood pressure and
thyroid medications, antibiotics and channel blockers, so as with all
supplements, check with your doctor first.

Protein bars, gummies, gu, and sports drinks abound for the athletic-
minded; however if you are exercising an hour or less, none of these
are necessary. According to the American College of Sports Medicine,
it is only when you are intensely exercising over an hour that a
carbohydrate/electrolyte fluid replacement is required. In that situation,
you should consume 30-60g per hour of exercise, or a sport drink
containing 4-8% carbohydrates. Butler notes that while “sports drinks
have been marketed to athletes and the general public, the fact is that
most don’t need the sugar water for their level of exercise.”
Adequate protein intake is often a concern for proper muscle recovery
and repair. While a balanced meal is the best bet, should you
feel you are falling short, a bar or powder can fill the void. Butler
recommends looking for low sugars, no artificial sweeteners and a
protein serving size of no more than 20-25 grams. “The body can
only synthesize 30 grams at one sitting, so more is not necessarily
better in this case.” Two additional supplements to consider would
be Calcium and Magnesium. Both minerals are critical to healthy
muscle function. Higher protein diets require more Calcium to offset
the acidity in the body and Magnesium, unlike calcium, is lost through

Vegetarian or Vegan
One of the shortfalls that can occur eating vegetarian or vegan is low
levels of B-12. B-12 is only found in animal products and is critical
in the synthesis of red blood cells as well as the protective covering
around nerves. Seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina and brewers yeast

are thought to provide B-12 but they are actually analogs and do not
function the same as B-12. Supplementing with B12 can avoid any
deficit. Another shortfall may be in getting the full compliment of amino
acids in the diet. Choosing a protein powder that has a variety of protein
sources in it, like hemp, pea and rice, helps ensure all the essential
amino acids are included.

Over 50
As you age the body’s ability to produce and absorb certain nutrients
slowly declines. Coenzyme Q 10 also known as Ubiquinone is one such
nutrient. CoQ10 functions as an antioxidant and plays an important role
in helping cells make the energy needed to grow and stay healthy. It
may also offer added protection for the heart and heart conditions.
  Another nutrient to consider is B-12. Absorption of this vitamin
declines with age and deficiency of B-12 is associated with premature
aging, neurological disorders, memory problems and impaired immune

Fighting Stress-
Chronic stress affects every aspect of the body’s systems. Stress
can alter the body’s chemistry, most notably increasing inflammation
and lowering the body’s immune response. Including Curcumin may
combat these effects. Curcumin comes from the spice Turmeric, an
ingredient commonly used in Indian dishes. It works as an anti-oxidant,
anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal agent. With all
those benefits, it is no wonder it has been called an ideal “spice for life.”
Adding Omega 3’s and a Vitamin B complex can help with addressing
inflammation, boosting energy levels and supporting the nervous and
digestive system. A probiotic can also be added for better intestinal
health. Chronic stress increases the acidity in the body, making it a
more hostile environment for the good bacteria in the intestines and a
friendly environment for yeasts, and molds.

Dr. Toney whose medical practice offers both a conventional and
integrated natural approach to healthcare, cautions against using

supplement as a crutch for poor choices and lifestyle habits. “One
cannot overlook the source of the issues. The medical model looks at
alleviating symptoms and in that approach; the water is already spilled
over the damn. It will take much more energy and resources to bring
the body back to healthy function.” She adds, “Coming from a fear
based mentality, (fear of disease, fear of change, fear of loss) changes
our body’s chemistry and how we assimilate everything that comes
into it.” Toney notes that it is important to look at the bigger picture of
nutrition and assess how you are nourishing yourself in all areas of your

Whole food sourced supplements can play a role in shoring up
nutritional shortfalls and supporting your overall health.
However, it may be more important to take a look at and understand
your role in the your health equation. An isolated compound(s) cannot
make up for daily habits, choices and actions. Supplements work best
when they are just that, a supplement to help you along as you move
towards healthier choices, a healthier attitude and a healthier way of

Supplements can interact and/or interfere with medications, herbs or other supplements. Before
adding any supplement to your diet, consult your healthcare provider.


Susan Bianchi Published in Lehigh Valley Style


Special Thanks to Dr. Melinda Toney and Whitney Butler, RD, LDN