It feels like in the middle of every podcast, the host pauses to tell you about the next great supplement you should be taking to boost your health. But do they actually work? We asked Jefferson Health family medicine doctor, Alex Kowalski, DO, what we should know about supplements, and which ones we should try out this winter. 

Make sure it’s safe

The first thing to remember, says Dr. Kowalski, is that supplements aren’t regulated the way prescription drugs are. And that means you have to be aware of the brands you’re buying. It’s easy to get misinformation online and get sucked into “the next big thing.”  

“When choosing your supplements, you definitely want to go with a bigger brand name that you’re familiar with,” he says. “One with a track record for safety, and make sure they had a third party review the product for safety and quality.”

Dr. Kowalski also tells patients to read the ingredients, especially the inactive ingredients, to avoid allergic reactions.  

Talk to your doctor

As with most health products and trends, it’s always important to consult your doctor first. With supplements, your doctor can make sure whatever you’re choosing won’t interfere with any medication you’re on. They can also recommend safe and effective brands and direct you to specific supplements that will be most effective for improving your health. 

Keep an eye on the cost

Supplements don’t have to break the bank, but if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to get sucked in and have that price tag shoot up. “When they start to get costly, I ask patients if there’s a better use for your money to improve your health,” says Dr. Kowalski. “Remember, these products are made to be marketed and sold to people. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.” 

More isn’t always better 

You also want to keep an eye on how much of each supplement you’re taking, says Dr. Kowalski. Especially if you’re taking a multi-vitamin. Check what exactly is in that multi-vitamin, and how much, before deciding what additional supplements to take. 

“If you’re taking a multi-vitamin that has Vitamin D in it, you’ll have to take that into consideration before taking an additional Vitamin D supplement,” Dr. Kowalski says. 

Here are a few supplements – and how they contribute to your wellness: 

Magnesium 

Most people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, says Dr. Kowalski, and it isn’t something that’s usually checked during annual check-ups. But the benefits of the mineral include helping your immune system, contributing to muscle strength and some research has found it contributes to better sleep and improved mental health. 

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is one of the safer supplements and contributes to our immune health, helps with collagen production, is beneficial to people with iron deficiency and has antioxidant effects. But dumping Vitamin C powder into your water when you feel that cold coming on? Not the move. 

“This isn’t a spot healer,” says Dr. Kowalski. “But if you’re taking it regularly, that’s fine.” 

Zinc

Unlike vitamin C, Zinc is known to be helpful in fighting against the early stages of a cold – its benefits are related to immune function and wound healing. But it still can’t be considered a spot healer. “It would be more helpful to take Zinc through the cold and flu season than starting it when you feel a tickle in your throat,” says Dr. Kowalski. 

Vitamin D

You know vitamin D – the vitamin we get from the sun. Which, when it’s 30 degrees and cloudy for a week straight, is hard to come by in South Jersey. And while Vitamin D’s benefits include helping with bone health and immune health, there have been mixed reviews on how effective the supplement is, says Dr. Kowalski. “Another thing to be aware of is how much you’re taking – because it is possible to take too much vitamin D,” he says. “So stick to the recommended dosages.” 

February 2024
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