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The Latest Trends in Supplements

Which Ones Are Right for You?

Dietary supplements are more popular than ever. With so many trends, it can be difficult to decipher what’s right for you. Here, Northwestern Medicine specialists discuss what to consider taking and what to watch out for.

1. Vitamin D

Research has shown that vitamin D supplementation is on the rise. Northwestern Medicine Anna V. Balabanova, MD, family medicine physician, explains, “This is probably due to the publicity of several studies showing possible beneficial effects on heart health, fractures and other health outcomes.” Vitamin D primarily promotes healthy bones through calcium absorption, but it is also involved with supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation.

“Low vitamin D levels have been associated with cognitive impairment,” says Northwestern Medicine Neurologist Jinny O. Tavee, MD. Research suggests that vitamin D may be protective by targeting factors that lead to neurodegeneration. It may also be involved with normal function of blood vessels that run to the heart and the brain.

2. Herbals

Herbal supplement sales increased by 7.7 percent in 2016, and herbals continue to gain traction. From ginkgo biloba to evening primrose, a number of these supplements are available at your local grocery store with a wide range of benefits. However, while supplements are regulated by the FDA, they are not regulated as drugs or food. Dr. Tavee says, “While there may be some evidence that an herbal supplement can be helpful in a particular disease, you need to be careful. I would discuss it with your physician and make sure it does not interfere with any medications you’re currently taking.”

3. Probiotics

Gut microbiome has been a hot topic the last few years. From apple cider vinegar to probiotics, people are looking for ways to alleviate digestive issues. Nearly 4 million people reported using probiotics, making them the third most commonly used dietary supplement.

4. Personalized vitamin packages

Some companies are exploring custom-created daily vitamin packs. For example, you may complete an online assessment, and the company creates your nutrition recommendation based on the results. Daily packs are customized for you and delivered to your doorstep. Other companies will package vitamins based on your own preferences, create a custom pack in daily doses and ship them to you.

5. Vitamin B-12

B-12 deficiency is being seen more frequently due to the widespread use of medications that block the absorption of B-12. This includes common medications for the treatment of acid reflux and diabetes.

Signs of a B-12 deficiency include:

  • Numbness and tingling in your legs
  • Difficulty walking
  • Muscle cramps
  • Burning in the tongue or mouth
  • Vision changes
  • Cognitive impairment

“Vitamin B-12 is found in animal products such as meat, chicken, fish and eggs. While it’s well known that people who have had gastric bypass or eat a vegetarian diet are at risk for B-12 deficiency, we’re now seeing this in patients who eat a normal diet that includes animal products, but are taking medications that block the absorption of B-12. In those patients, I recommend consideration of B-12 supplements, which can be taken orally or by injection,” says Dr. Tavee.

6. Vitamin B-1

Thiamine, or B-1, helps convert food into energy in your body. Though deficiency is rare, a number of factors may increase your risk, including gastric bypass surgery or heavy alcohol use.

Symptoms of a deficiency may include:

  • Numbness and tingling in your legs
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heart palpitations
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurred vision

If not addressed, a B-1 deficiency can result in serious neurologic and cardiac complications.

7. Copper

Copper, an essential mineral that supports your metabolism and nervous system, is becoming more recognized in the world of supplements.

“Copper is critical for the spinal cord and nerves but can be displaced by zinc, which may be found in denture creams and ‘immune-boosting’ supplements used for cold prevention,” says Dr. Tavee. Individuals who have had gastric bypass may also have difficult absorbing copper.

Signs to look for include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty walking
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet
  • Osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • Frequent illnesses

Use caution with copper supplements. Too much copper can cause nausea, vomiting and headaches.

8. Iron

One of the most common deficiencies is in iron, a mineral that is needed for red blood cells to form. It particularly impacts women and children.

If you have a deficiency, you may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Brittle fingernails

If taken in large amounts, iron can be toxic and lead to severe liver damage. Instead of taking an iron supplement, you can boost your iron level naturally by eating lentils, egg yolks, kidney beans and meat.

Nutrient-Rich Foods

While health trends come and go, a healthy diet will never go out of style. Stock up on these nutrient-rich foods for the best way to get the nutrients your body needs to thrive.

Supplements might make sense for you, but before you follow these trends, consult your physician. You can be tested for any deficiencies and then decide what supplements might be right for you.