So, you recently started taking supplements to feel better and improve your health. But how do you know if they’re having the intended effect? Maybe you notice you’re sleeping better, or you have a little more energy than usual. Or maybe you’re concerned that you’re being duped by a placebo effect. It can be difficult to determine if you’re on the right track with your supplement plan. Thankfully, we have suggestions for you – let’s see if your vitamins and supplements are going to work for you.
The Problem With Nutrients From Food
In an ideal world, you’d be getting your essential vitamins and minerals from all the good food you’re eating. But if you’re eating your food from the grocery store, you’re likely lacking a few vital nutrients. Blame the food industry – even organic fruits and vegetables are picked before their prime, artificially ripened under fluorescent lights, and shipped around the country (sometimes, even the world) before landing in your cart, affecting their profile and potency.
This is where supplements kick in to help your healthy lifestyle efforts. But how do you know they’re working? The signs will differ based on the type of vitamin you’re taking, but here are some common examples:
- Vitamin A is associated with healthy skin and scalp. If you’re feeling itchy, or your scalp is flaky, it could be because you’re lacking the vitamin A to produce the oil that gives your hair and skin its natural luster.
- Vitamin D is an essential, fat-soluble vitamin that we get from the sun. If you live in a climate that produces a lot of rain or general grayness, you may start to feel run-down, grumpy, or sad. This is a warning sign of a Vitamin D deficiency. D is a tough vitamin (actually, it’s a hormone) to get from foods. While some products are fortified with it and it naturally occurs in some food sources, most people need access to abundant sunlight or supplementation.
How Do I Know If My Supplements Are Working?
The bigger question most people have is, “Should I feel better after taking supplements?” If you’re deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral and you begin supplementing, you may notice your symptoms abating. Fortunately, there are several methods to determine whether or not your vitamin supplements are actually having the desired effect on your health.
- Start a supplement journal. When you first start taking vitamins, write down your symptoms. Keep track of how you feel, your activity level, and which supplements you take on a daily basis. Review your journal entries after a few weeks to determine the effectiveness of your vitamins.
- Visit your doctor. After a few weeks of employing your supplement regimen, schedule an appointment with your physician. Request to have your blood tested for vitamin deficiencies. Then, schedule a follow-up visit for a couple of months down the road to test the levels again and ensure the deficiency is gone.
- Take a look in the mirror. If you’ve been attempting to combat brittle hair, dry skin, or weak nails, you can easily do a visual examination for yourself. If you notice positive changes, you’re probably on the right track. Even if your desired effects are not visual in nature, you can gauge your results from visual cues.
Am I Having a Placebo Effect?
Lastly, health-savvy consumers may worry they’re spending money on the placebo effect. Unfortunately, one of the most frustrating (but also illuminating) things about science is that it’s full of confounding variables. When we refer to confounding variables, we’re referring to anything that could skew a study’s results. Examples of such variables are:
- People who take vitamins tend to lead a healthier lifestyle than those who don’t: They smoke less, eat a better diet, and tend to exercise more.
- Supplement intake tends to increase as we age.
- Supplement users tend to have a healthier body weight than those who don’t take supplements.
So, are you experiencing a placebo effect? Some doctors say yes, but some psychologists report that placebo effects are strong enough to produce physiological results. There may be effects attributed to placebo, or even changes in mood or overall health that go unnoticed. What matters is this:
Are you feeling better? If so, you are probably on the right track.