Supplements – De Ja Vu?

Last year I wrote a blog post titled, “Does Learning Only Go in One Direction?” In it, I ask,

“Do the concepts we learn only go in one direction–from the general public to those with disabilities? Or can we learn important skills from people with disabilities and modify the concept to fit our lives, too (the reverse direction)?

When it comes to supplements, the disability community has been in the lead for more than a decade.

Recent articles about the risks of using vitamin supplements sounds so familiar. Using specialty supplements has been a constant in the disability community for decades. In fact, some of my best friendships in the disability community began because of discussions around supplements. That was before the laws regulating health-related claims. Those laws have been extremely helpful as far as I’m concerned. Yet even with those limitations, supplements continue to surge in popularity for everyone as a quick fix to better health.

The reports in the past week have highlighted that supplements are not the risk-free fix for poor eating habits or to prevent health problems. In fact, some are causing more harm than good!

Before I say much more, I do want to point out an important fact. As a science, nutrition is very young. We are still learning how vitamins, minerals, and other nutrition-related elements are used in our body. In fact, when I took my registration exam – just 24 years ago – Selenium and Zinc were so new their effect on our body was not clearly understood. Now we know they are essential minerals, that Zinc is useful in fighting off infections and Selenium has a role in memory among other things. So it’s not surprising that what we’re learning about the role of vitamins and minerals – and how much is too much – is changing.

In 2002, the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamins and minerals, the National Academy of Sciences added some very helpful information: an upper limit and signs of excess. Looking up everything you can get in a food is tedious – whether you do it with a program or by hand. But knowing the signs of excess, as well as the signs of deficiency, is a useful thing. Consuming too much of a vitamin or mineral is not limited to supplements or fortified foods. It can be done eating real food too. It’s something I consult when I suspect a child is getting too much “nutrition” in the combination of whole foods, fortified foods, and supplements.

I found it so important that people realize there are upper limits that can have negative effects, I chose to include those tables in my book, The Down Syndrome Nutrition Handbook: A Guide to Healthy Lifestyles (pages 12-21).

My Advice?

  • Keep it simple. Eat whole foods.
  • Encourage a variety of foods.
  • Go for the “crunch”! Choose fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Plan your menus – it helps you manage time so you don’t need the supplements.
  • An over-the-counter multivitamin is appropriate for selective eaters. More is likely excessive.
  • When in doubt – choose food.

These are lessons learned more than a decade ago for me as I navigated life with my child who has multiple disability labels. If eating a variety of foods, or getting to the crunch of fresh foods is a challenge for your child, your family, or you, consider signing up for the Wellness Walk, my coaching series for creating quality health, quality lives, and a community vision.

 We can- and do – learn from each other. Learning goes both ways.


PS – Don’t forget! There’s a 20% discount on products and services until October 31!

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About Joan

I am first, and foremost, the mother of two amazing young men. One of them has Down syndrome, Autism, Celiac Disease, and uses few words. I focus my work on providing support, training, and creating tools that will create quality lives, quality health, and connected community for him and his peers. It's true. We can all have a quality life, with quality health, and connected communities in which we thrive. Let's go on this walk together! You can learn more about me and my work at www.DownSyndrmeNutrition.com
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