Dietary supplements are a booming multi-billion-dollar global industry, with shelves and online stores stocked with a wide array of pills, capsules, powders and shots promising to improve your health and well-being. But what exactly are supplements, and are they worth the investment? Dietwise, your trusted Dietitians and Nutritionists in Perth, Western Australia, can provide expert insights and tailored recommendations on this topic.
What Are Supplements?
Supplements are products that contain one or more dietary ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, enzymes, herbs/botanicals, probiotics, prebiotics, fish oils, fibres, amino acids, or other substances. They are intended to supplement the diet to provide nutrients that may be lacking or insufficient in your regular food intake, particularly if intake is limited due to food preferences e.g. veganism, chemical food intolerances or food allergies. They can also be used as a preventative treatment for refeeding syndrome where levels potassium, magnesium and phosphate can drop to dangerously low levels. People who are at risk include a diagnosis of a restrictive eating disorder or prolonged inadequate food intake from an illness or disease.
Common Types of Supplements
Some of the more common types of supplements readily available to choose from include:
These are organic compounds essential for various bodily functions. Common examples include Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and the B-vitamins.
- Vitamin D to help keep bones strong and reduce bone loss
- Vitamin C and E for wound healing
- Folic acid to decrease the riskof certain birth defects
- Vitamins C and E, Zinc, Copper, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin to potentially slow down further vision loss in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron are crucial for maintaining healthy bones, muscles, and other bodily processes.
These are derived from plants and are often used for their potential medicinal properties, such as echinacea for immune support or ginkgo biloba for cognitive health.
Protein Powders and Amino Acids
Protein powders or amino acid supplements may be used by athletes or individuals with specific dietary needs.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These are often taken in the form of fish oil supplements for their potential heart and brain health benefits.
Are Taking Supplements Worth It?
The decision to take supplements should consider many factors of the individual and will vary from person to person. Here’s a closer look at the factors your Dietitian at Dietwise will consider when deciding if supplements are a worthy inclusion in your diet:
- Gaps in Your Diet
Supplements can be beneficial for people with specific dietary restrictions, restricted food preferences or if they take prescription medications that reduce appetite, or result in early fullness, nausea or taste changes. Examples include:
- Cutting out entire food groups e.g. veganism that may require a protein powder, B12 or iron supplements
- Restrictive medical nutrition diets followed for an extended period of time e.g. 4-6 food elimination diet for Eosinophilic oesophagitis (EoE) or Crohn’s Disease Exclusion Diet (CDED)
- Post-bariatric surgery e.g. sleeve gastrectomy requiring bariatric-specific multivitamins, calcium and vitamin D
- Calorie-restricted diets for weight loss e.g. keto diet, intermittent fasting
- Restrictive types of eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
- Stimulant medications that can suppress appetite such as Vyvanse, Concerta or dexamphetamines for ADHD
- Neurodivergence such as Autism or ADHD which may impact capacity to shop, cook or prepare foods, ability to recognise internal hunger signals or sensory differences that result in a limited range of ‘safe’ foods
- Paediatric feeding difficulties
- Medication-Nutrient Interactions
Some medications can negatively impact the absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of certain nutrients and vice versa. Examples of potential medication-food interactions your Dietitian can check for include:
- Folic acid + Methotrexate for inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis
- Vitamin C + Vyvanse, a stimulant medication taken for ADHD
- Vitamin B12, Thiamine, Iron and Magnesium + Nexium or Pantoprazole (antacids) taken for a prolonged period of time for reflux
- Vitamin K + Warfarin taken to prevent blood clots
- Grapefruit/grapefruit juice + Levodopa (Madopar & Sinemet) taken for Parkinson’s disease
- St John’s Wort + oral contraceptives
- Calcium or Iron supplements + Thyroxine taken for an underactive thyroid
- Increased Nutritional Requirements
Certain medical conditions may necessitate supplementation. Examples include:
- Calcium and Vitamin D for osteopenia/osteoporosis as a result of menopause or prolonged steroid use e.g. prednisolone for myositis or rheumatoid arthritis
Nutritional requirements can also change across the lifespan and often only need to be taken temporarily versus long term. Examples include:
- Iron, Folic Acid, Choline and Iodine during pregnancy
- Iron to manage heavy and/or prolonged bleeding in perimenopause, PCOS or endometriosis
- Protein powders for older adults aged 65 yrs+ whose protein requirements are increased by 50%
Athletes or those with intensive training schedules may have higher and/or specific requirements that may benefit from supplements like protein powders, iron, creatine, β-alanine, branched-chain amino acids or pickle juice, caffeine.
There may be stages in your life when your capacity to access, purchase, cook and prepare foods may be challenging. Examples include:
- Vitamin D supplements for people with limited sun exposure
- Athletes with limited access to food immediately after training session or competitions. In this case for example, a recovery protein powder may be an appropriate and convenient choice
- Being a parent with a diagnosis of ADHD and being the primary carer for children who are also neurodivergent. An exhausting and busy schedule with therapy appointments and challenging behaviours can result in less capacity to eat adequately at certain times of the day when stress levels are higher.
- Challenging rosters for shift work
Ask Your Dietitian
Before starting any supplement regimen, it’s advisable to consult with a Dietitian, like the skilled team at Dietwise. They can assess your individual needs, identify any risks including overdosing and medication-nutrient interactions and provide personalised recommendations if required.
While supplements can play a valuable role in meeting specific nutritional needs, they are not a magic bullet for health and wellness. Our Dietitians will work with you to take a ‘food first’ approach, although there may be circumstances when supplements are an essential and valuable inclusion of your diet.
Dietwise, your trusted dietitians and nutritionists in Perth, Western Australia, can help you navigate the supplement landscape and make informed decisions tailored to your unique needs and goals. Remember, your health journey is unique, and Dietwise is here to provide expert guidance every step of the way. Reach out today to our Dietwise Care Coordinators to get started by contacting us on – 08 9388 2423 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can even contact us through our website here. We are open 6 days per week for in-person and Telehealth appointments including both after-hours and Saturdays.
Director, Accredited Practising Dietitian & Accredited Nutritionist