Consumers are looking for reliable information on supplements. In the quest for better health, sport performance gains, or simply relief when living with chronic or terminal conditions, consumers are willing to invest in supplements – in addition to adopting a healthy diet. In the past, most dietitians have been hesitant to promote supplements – instead, emphasizing investment in good foods and healthy eating patterns. There is now a growing body of dietitians who have honed their expertise in this area and are calling on others to do the same.
Laura Kalina’s personal experience using supplements highlights the benefit of more dietitians seeking training in this area. She tells her story below:
Over 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. My physiotherapist suggested I start on some good quality antioxidants and fish oil to combat the oxidative stress and inflammation in my joints as a result of this inherited condition. At the time, I was skeptical about the benefits of nutritional supplements and decided to research the field.
To make a long story short, about three months after taking a combination of antioxidant and chelated minerals, omega-3s, grape seed extract, and a glucosamine/turmeric supplement, my inflammation lessened remarkably and I just kept feeling better.
It has been over 10 years and I have not missed a day of taking my nutritional supplements. Since that time, I have attended conferences and undergone extensive training in the field. I now feel I have more expertise in the area of nutritional supplements and can assist consumers in determining which products are the best for them.
Because of our passion for promoting food first, the dietetic profession has in some ways been cautious to embrace the benefits of nutritional supplementation for the general population and the public is often turning to unregulated nutrition practitioners to get advice in this area. I think it is incumbent on our profession to become more educated and expand our scope of practice into the area of nutritional supplementation.
Laura has a compelling personal story, and no doubt many of you can think of clients whom you have encountered during your career with similar stories. Clients come to see us and are clearly misinformed about the amount and type of supplement(s) to be taking, if indicated.
Clients in these situations need the help of registered dietitians to learn what supplements to take, how much to take, and when to take them. Registered dietitians are the only members of the health care team who have the educational background to evaluate the dietary needs of an individual. As dietitians, we are well positioned to determine if clients have the ability and the willingness to make the necessary changes to their diets to improve their nutrition status, or if an alternate route to meeting nutrition needs should be considered.
Of course, we need to be well versed in how to encourage clients to consume nutrient dense diets. But, when this is not attainable for some clients, dietitians also need to be aware of the most effective supplements available to help clients reach their goal of optimal health, especially considering the marketing of supplements can be misleading
. And, not all supplements contain what is indicated on the label
. The makers of supplements do not have to follow the same rules as the makers of pharmaceutical products. So, for the same type of product you could have differences in formulations, manufacturing practices, and quality control procedures that can affect everything from potency and absorption to effectiveness and safety.
Not only do dietitians need to know what nutrients may be necessary to obtain a specific therapeutic effect, they also need to know which supplements are the most absorbable, and what possible interactions there can be with medications or even between two supplements.
Dietitians should know not only about food but also about supplements. As the scientific research moves forward, it is possible – maybe even likely – that nutrition supplements will play a more important role in achieving and maintaining optimal health. Our profession needs to be better prepared to address this shift.
Editor’s note: If Laura and Kim’s call to action have inspired you to learn more about supplements, Dietitians of Canada has some great resources on Learning on Demand and under Nutrition A-Z here.