The other day I felt more fatigued than usual while running. Immediately, I chalked this up to my recent pseudo-vegetarian kick and concluded I must need more vitamin B. Forget the 90 degree heat, the 100% humidity and the fact that I ate Mexican food from the sketchy hole-in-the wall restaurant down the street all weekend, my huffing and puffing breath and cramping calfs were certainly the result of vitamin deficiency.
Arriving home, I poured myself a large glass of water, wiped the sweat off my brow and ordered a bottle of multivitamins online. I choose Kirkland Signature (Costco’s generic brand), of course, because both Costco and I are from the Seattle area. I have yet to switch my loyalties to Walmart.
By the time my super-sized bottle of vitamins had arrived two days later, I was no longer short of breath. So, I promptly tossed them into my bathroom cabinet alongside other miscellaneous unopened bottles of vitamins, supplements, band aids and who knows what else. Plus, I decided it might not be safe to be ordering pills online anyway.
Despite my best supplementing intentions, I’m just not a big pill-taker. But what about those who are? How do we advise our patients about supplement safety? I always dread when a patient peeks into their purse removing a bottle of some herb-infused substance they recently began taking for weight loss asking me about it’s safety. How am I supposed to know what’s in that stuff?
Thankfully, the NIH recently launched a new Dietary Supplement Database. While the database doesn’t answer all supplement related questions, especially in the realm of determining vitamin and supplement safety, it is a valuable resource.
With the NIH database, you can search by dietary product or ingredient. Product searches yield brand names, KIRKLAND Signature Daily Multi Vitamins and Minerals, for example, and give the suggested serving size as well as a list of all ingredients. Clicking on the name of a specific ingredient yields links offering more information about the specific vitamin or mineral. These resources can help give you information regarding general supplement safety and efficacy. Searching the NIH database by dietary ingredient is less helpful. These searches simply yield a list of products containing the ingredient of interest.
While it won’t provide you with answers to all of your clinical questions about dietary supplements, the NIH Dietary Supplement Database is a helpful resource. Become familiar with it’s functions so the next time a patient waves a bottle of Hydroxycut Gummies in front of your face, or you self-diagnose vitamin B deficiency while out for a jog, you know where to find more information about the contents, functionality and safety of these products.