The world of dietary supplements can be a little overwhelming. The plethora of blends, ingredients and claims can leave even seasoned nutritionists wondering where to start. While most nutrition authorities recommend a “food first” approach to meeting nutritional needs, many acknowledge that supplements can play a vital role in filling nutrient gaps, especially for certain groups like people with medical conditions, pregnant women or those who may not be able to absorb nutrients well.
According to the Trust Transparency Center’s Registered Dietitian Insights Survey, 66% of dietitians recommend both food and dietary supplements to their clients. And more than 70% of those surveyed consider themselves regular users, taking a supplement four times per week or more.
The top reasons dietitians cited for using supplements personally were bone health, overall wellness and to fill in nutrient gaps in the diet. Other reasons included weight management, heart health and women’s health. And almost all respondents reported a desire for more continuing education on topics including drug-supplement interactions, basics of supplements and how to counsel clients on dietary supplements.
While the majority of dietitians surveyed reported they have a high level of adoption for healthy habits, such as visiting their own healthcare professional regularly (86%), eating a well-balanced diet (96%), exercising (93%), getting a good night’s sleep (72%), managing stress (90%), and limiting intake of caffeine (8%), there is room to improve when it comes to a handful of areas.
Specifically, more dietitians could benefit from additional training on how to evaluate and select rational dietary supplements for their clients. This includes helping them understand how to assess the quality of products, identify potential issues and concerns and how to use adverse event reports to ensure a safe product on the market.
Additionally, dietitians can help guide their clients when selecting a supplement based on the potential to interact with medications. For instance, a popular vitamin B complex supplement with St. John’s wort can interfere with certain prescription medications, such as birth control, HIV treatments, antidepressants and blood thinners. And other common supplements, such as ginseng, gingko biloba, vitamins E and K, curcumin and licorice can have interactions with certain cancer drugs.
Ultimately, the goal of a nutritional counselor is to empower their clients to be an active part of their own healthcare team. Whether that is a combination of seeing a physician, naturopath, chiropractor or homeopath, and consulting a registered dietitian who can evaluate the client’s current needs and prescribe an appropriate and effective supplementation program. With this type of guidance, the nutritionist can help ensure that the supplements are working to meet their clients’ goals, and not just adding extraneous costs or risks. The most important thing is to make sure that you know exactly what you are putting into your body and why. Only then can you determine if it is truly making a difference in your life.