7 Critical Facts About Supplements That Women Need to Know

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When it comes to dietary supplements, too much of a good thing can be, well, kind of a bad thing.

Dietary supplements are anything that you add to your regular diet to improve your health. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, some homeopathic products, and certain food products.

While these all seem like “good things,” family nurse practitioner Alicia Walls, FNP, warns that supplements can interfere with prescription medications and do more harm than good.

Ideally, instead of taking supplements, you’ll get all the nutrients you need from the foods you eat, says Walls. She recommends visiting www.myplate.gov to learn if your current diet is providing the right nutrients in the right amounts. “The website shows what your plate is supposed to look like with your protein, your fruits and vegetables, and your dairy. The diagrams are easy to understand.”    

7 Critical Facts About Supplements - In Content

But women sometimes have nutritional needs that go beyond the typical recommended daily allowances (RDA).

Consider these facts before deciding whether you need dietary supplements:

  1. Women need support for strong bones. That's why calcium and vitamin D3 supplements are often recommended for female patients.    
  2. Women typically require additional iron, magnesium, and folic acid. But talk to your doctor first. You’ll want to be sure that you really need them.
  3. Special cases have special needs. You might also need supplements if you are:
    • Pregnant or nursing
    • Abusing alcohol
    • Vegan or vegetarian
    • Ill or frail
    • Postmenopausal
  4. “Natural” does not always mean “safe.” For example, the herbs comfrey and kava can cause serious harm to the liver. If you’re considering natural or herb-based supplements, check with your doctor.
  5. Supplements are regulated differently than drugs, and the quality and safety requirements are less stringent. Supplement manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe, and that the label information is truthful and does not mislead the consumer. However, unlike pharmaceutical makers, supplement manufacturers do not have to provide the Food and Drug Administration with data that demonstrate the product’s safety before it is marketed.
  6. Be careful about mixing things together. Be upfront with your doctor about what supplements you’re taking. Some may interfere with prescription medicines, and the combination could be dangerous.
  7. Don’t overdo it. Strictly follow your doctor’s dosage instructions. Like over-the-counter and prescription medications, too much of a given supplement could be risky.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your health care provider before taking supplements,” says Walls. “What you take and how much you should take depends on your medical history; that’s why your health care provider should be consulted for the best advice.”

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