Integrative Approach to Health
Content by: Sarah Bigbee, RD
As nutrition professionals, the question often arises related to complementary and alternative medicine approaches. This often includes nutrition supplements. Review a few helpful thoughts and tips in approaching the discussion.
The demand for nutrition professionals to understand and guide clients in dietary supplementation has increased, as more Americans include this practice in their daily life. Navigating all of the options and helping clients find the right path to a healthy life can be challenging, but nutrition professionals have a unique opportunity to help. A science-based nutrition knowledge is important to ensure clients are offered good information, related to supplements.
1️⃣ Why should Professionals be aware of nutrition supplements?
A look at the 2017-2018 NHANES showed that 57.6% of people over age 20 had used at least one dietary supplement in the past 30 days at the time of the survey. This is an increase from the 2007-2008 NHANES which indicates that more people are choosing to use dietary supplementation.
● The three most popular supplements reported are multivitamins + minerals, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids.
● Women are more likely than men to use nutrition supplements.
● Use of supplements increases with age for both men and women.
● Adolescent use of supplements remains stable at about 34% of children under age 19 having used at least one supplement within the last 30 days.
This information supports the need for nutrition professionals to support safe, beneficial choices. (1)
2️⃣ How can Professionals determine if a nutrition supplement is right for a client?
Determining if a nutrition supplement is a healthy addition in a clients’ lifestyle can be challenging. Professionals must strive for balance between evidenced-based recommendations for safe and quality consumption with observed challenges in client condition and lifestyle decisions. Nutrition supplements can fill the gaps in nutrition, but education is necessary to encourage proper use and avoid over-supplementation. Food journals are a great way to find missing components in dietary intake, but tend to be time consuming. Oftentimes, nutrition professionals do not get multiple follow up visits with clients, in this case, a simple food recall is necessary.
3️⃣ What should be reviewed before recommending nutrition supplements?
When deemed appropriate, one of the greatest challenges faced in helping clients determine the right dietary supplementation needs is finding reputable products. Dietary supplements are categorized as a food product by the FDA and are, therefore, not regulated in the same way as drugs.
NOTE: Some supplements may contain ingredients that interfere with traditional medicines or contain hidden drugs that can do harm, in some situations.
Natural is often seen as healthy, but that is not necessarily the case. It is important to help clients understand that a product claiming to be natural doesn't mean that it is without side effects.
The most important job as nutrition professionals is helping the client. Keep an open mind when seeking information sources on high quality nutrition supplement options. Seek verification, and provide clients with a safe space to discuss health concerns.
More Resources to use when choosing nutrition supplements: