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Are supplements right for you?

Deciding whether you need supplements is a question many people ask themselves. They have become mainstream and you find them almost anywhere now – grocery stores, drug stores, even hardware stores!

Because they have become ubiquitous, knowing what’s right for you is seemingly harder and harder to discern. A primary consideration should be quality. Take the time to know the brands you buy – don’t simply trust it because it’s sold in a health food store. Make sure the company does third party lab testing to ensure quality and active ingredients. Ask if the company tests for contaminants like mercury, dioxins, PCBs, lead, etc. If it feels overwhelming, consult a natural health professional – they typically carry supplements in their office to ensure you’re getting the highest quality product available. Avoid buying supplements online as there is little/no regulation of those products.

Another consideration is other medications you might be taking. It is essential to know if anything you’re ingesting will interact – be it with other medications, with herbs or with supplements. Just because a product is natural doesn’t mean it is always safe. Most primary care doctors aren’t trained in natural medicine (although there are exceptions!), so make sure you have someone who has extensive education in this area to help you assure safety.

It’s important to ask yourself why you want to add a supplement into your regimen. Oftentimes, it’s because we’ve read something we feel is relevant to us, so we add in a new product. Over the years, this can result in taking many different items, creating confusion about what to continue (and can be a big hit to the pocketbook). If you want to address overall inflammation, for example, looking at stress and diet is the place to start. You can support the body’s natural processes with tools like supplements, but they should not act as a replacement for the basics.

As you consider your “why,” become aware of the intention to suppress the messages of the body. In our Western medical model, there are lots of medications with “anti,” or “away from,” in their name (antidepressants, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensives, etc.) and we have been trained to see the body as something that needs to be corrected. In naturopathic medicine, we are not looking to use an herb or supplement instead of a medication to suppress symptoms. Instead, we use interventions to support the body in coming back to homeostasis. We understand that when the body expresses a symptom, it is trying to tell us about a dysfunction in the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual planes of the body. When we listen to the body, we start to understand how to support it rather than shut it down via pharmaceutical or natural means.

Most important to remember is that supplements are meant to be exactly that – supplemental to a generally healthy approach to life. Taking fish oil won’t counter eating convenience-based foods that aren’t nutrient dense. It may help a little, but it’s really the fundamental lifestyle changes that will bring you truly improved health and well-being. A few well-chosen, high-quality supplements are a good idea for most in the context of balanced life overall.

Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.