That is the question I’m often asked when discussing supplements with my clients. As a registered dietitian nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe, I help people make diet and lifestyle changes to better their health, which often involves discussing supplements that will complement their new habits and address any health concerns.
While some people would take 50 pills a day to improve their health and increase their longevity, others are hesitant to take any at all. I step in to help them find the middle ground. I help them meet as many of their needs through healthy foods and habits as possible, while also explaining the benefits—and sometimes necessity—of extra support from supplements.
I wasn’t always a believer in supplements. I went into the nutrition field to help people eat better, not to teach people to take pills in place of healthy habits. In fact, it wasn’t that many years ago that I had zero supplements in my own daily regimen. I ate pretty healthy, I worked out consistently, I slept well; I thought that was enough
Over the course of a few years, though, I started to develop some odd symptoms. They started slowly, but accumulated so much over time that I eventually sought medical intervention. It took a few frustrating years to figure it out, but I was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. The doctor prescribed me medication and told me I’d be on it for the rest of my life.
Of course, nutrition being my profession, I embarked on a journey to cure myself with food. I saw mild improvements after various diet alterations, but it wasn’t enough for me to stop the medication. So when a friend and fellow dietitian suggested I look into a few supplements, I cautiously decided to invest.
Six months later I was med-free and feeling better than I had in years. The transition to utilizing, and recommending, supplements was surprisingly easy. I already understood the importance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutraceuticals in the diet, and knew the daily recommended intakes. To further my knowledge, I started poring over research on the benefits of supplementing these nutrients in certain populations who aren’t getting enough or need extra protection.
Not long after my health transformation, I had the opportunity to join a small team as part of a pilot nutrition program at The Vitamin Shoppe. Through the program, customers are able to sign up for a free in-person or virtual consultation with a credentialed nutritionist. In these sessions, they can discuss their health concerns and goals in detail and get recommendations on the dietary changes and supplements that can help. Every day, I have the pleasure of talking to individuals about their health. They trust me with personal information and look to me for guidance. They are looking for a story of restoration, health, and vitality of their own, and I have been fortunate to be a part of those stories.
In my time with The Vitamin Shoppe, I’ve seen many people change their lives for the better by making healthy lifestyle changes and using supplementation intelligently. Unfortunately, diet is just not enough sometimes. Since the nutrient quality of our food and soil has been depleted over time, it’s become more difficult to get all of the nutrients we need—even when eating healthy. Plus, many people are on restricted diets (i.e. keto, vegan/vegetarian, food allergies) these days that can sometimes reduce—or even eliminate—necessary nutrients. Others have medical issues and inherited conditions that impair nutrient absorption or require higher amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. For these people, supplements can be a game-changer.
Then, there are those who have limited access to vital nutrients because of a lack of finances or available food. For them, supplements can literally save their lives.
When I started working at The Vitamin Shoppe, I learned about Vitamin Angels for the first time. The two organizations have been partnering together for 12 years to help underserved populations in the United States and around the world meet their nutritional needs. A couple of times per year, The Vitamin Shoppe holds a campaign to raise money to send life-saving vitamins to people in need.
I quickly developed a passion for the mission. After all, if supplements have changed my life for the better, why shouldn’t I help others experience the benefits for themselves? And while supplements drastically improved my quality of life, the prenatal vitamins and vitamin A that Vitamin Angels provides to women and children can literally be the difference between life and death. While I have ample access to foods high in vitamin A, like eggs, salmon, carrots, and sweet potatoes, someone whose diet consists primarily of beans and rice has almost none.
Children without enough vitamin A can experience stunted growth, vision issues, and a depressed immune system—and might even lose their life.
Meanwhile, women without enough folate from a variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes in their diets may give birth to children with birth defects. And, if these women don’t eat enough, they’ll lack the nutrients needed to support proper growth for their baby.
For these people, supplements are not a trend or a luxury, but an absolute necessity.
That’s why, through personal and professional experience (and a lot of research), I’ve become a believer in the power of supplements. So, when people ask me if they really make a difference, my answer is “yes, they most certainly can, and they most certainly do.”