By Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Despite the fact that the Journal of the American Medical Association published a review advocating that every adult take a multivitamin to reduce the risk of disease, we often hear of doctors who oppose nutritional supplements. This leads many people to wonder – are dietary supplements safe?
Frankly, we understand many of the reasons doctors are concerned about nutritional supplements, and we think you should too before you start taking a multivitamin. So here are some of the common reasons doctors hesitate to encourage nutritional supplements:
Doctors worry that patients will use nutritional supplements as a substitute for regular medical care, a good diet, or other important health habits. These are real concerns. Everyone should see a practitioner regularly. And no pill can replace a good diet and exercise. Nutritional supplements are a good health habit, too — just don’t use them as a crutch for bad health habits.
Doctors have heard scare stories about extreme dosages, drug interactions and poor quality. These are real concerns too. Some patients are cavalier about extreme dosages. Several herbs have interactions with drugs that aren’t yet well understood. Toxins and even drugs have been found in supplements from second-rate manufacturers. But these problems are easily dealt with. Make sure you are taking a pharmaceutical–grade multivitamin, and tell your healthcare providers about any supplements you are taking.
Doctors are skeptical about claims made for nutritional supplements. There are ridiculous claims made for bogus products such as weight loss pills. And some patients think herbs or other supplements can cure serious diseases like cancer. It’s just too bad doctors associate legitimate products with these bad practices.
Most medical schools fail in nutritional instruction. Doctors tend to underestimate the importance of nutrition in general. No wonder: most doctors receive a mere few hours’ nutritional training in med school, and lack adequate time to keep up on the latest research. Their practice is based on disease screening, not prevention, with an emphasis on drug therapies, not nutrition. Such doctors naturally think that nutritional supplements have little therapeutic value. This is changing, especially among recent medical school graduates. Even oncologists at leading cancer institutes are advocating vitamin supplements for their patients. But it will take years before nutrition is a part of most doctors’ methods.
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