Monday Medical: Simplify your supplements |

Monday Medical: Simplify your supplements

Susan Cunningham For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Supplements can be a powerful part of a healthy lifestyle. But they can also be overused, ineffective and even dangerous.

Cara Marrs, registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, clears up confusion about supplements with her tips below.

A healthy diet comes first

Taking supplements doesn’t mean you can skimp on a whole foods, plant-based diet. “The bottom line is you have to eat a healthy diet,” Marrs said. “Supplements are not a substitute for food.”

Don’t overdo it

“I’m pro-supplement, but if people are taking 30 different supplements daily, they’re overusing supplements,” Marrs said. “Some things may just be getting passed through the body, but other times, taking so many could be dangerous.”

Consider the basics

There are hundreds of different supplements, but several can be beneficial to many people.

  • The multi-vitamin: A multi-vitamin supplement derived from whole foods can be a powerful addition to any diet.

“Sometimes people will frown on taking a broad spectrum multi-vitamin, but if you take the right kind, it can be helpful,” Marrs said.

  • Vitamin D: This vitamin powerhouse is critical for maintaining healthy bones, protecting against various health issues and building up the immune system.

“Regularly I see people whose vitamin D levels are low,” Marrs said. “Vitamin D is super important for people to take, especially in the winter. It’s not extremely plentiful in food, so it’s a good thing to supplement.”

  • B Vitamins: With their role in maintaining a healthy nervous system, immune system and more, B vitamins have a range of benefits.

“Lots of people are frayed, frazzled and burned out, maybe from exercise or endurance exercise, or just the stress of life,” Marrs said. “In those situations, B vitamins are great to get your energy up.”

  • Probiotics: While foods such as yogurt and kimchi contain good bacteria that promote gut health and overall health, many people also need a supplement.

“Gut health supplements are definitely something most people should be taking,” Marrs said. “If you have a deficit, you need a supplement to get your gut flora to the right mix and level.”

For people with conditions such as permeable gut, Marrs recommends formulas with glutamine to promote additional healing.

  • Iron: “I do think women, especially, should know what their iron levels are and supplement any deficiencies,” Marrs said. While iron supplements can be difficult on the stomach, certain types can be easier to handle than others.

Supplementing with antioxidants

People may benefit from taking antioxidants in supplement forms. However, Marrs recommends using food to meet your antioxidant needs. “If you focus on trying to get a good percentage of your antioxidants from food, then your overall diet will be elevated,” Marrs said.

Supplements to skip

Weight loss products and pills that have high doses of caffeine and other stimulants should be avoided, especially if you have high blood pressure or other medical conditions.

Understand what you’re taking

There are a variety of herbal supplements that can be useful when addressing various health issues, including sleep and pain. Marrs recommends talking with your health provider to be sure an herbal remedy won’t interfere with your current medications or health conditions.

“It’s very important to meet with someone who understands your needs, your activity level, your medical history and your level of exercise,” Marrs said.

And remember that supplements are not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle.

“Supplements are meant to heal imbalances or offer a bit of an insurance policy,” Marrs said. “A supplement is never going to be the answer to ward off something like diabetes or heart disease. You still have to have a healthy diet, and you still have to exercise.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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