Should My Nutritionist Push Pills?



Controversy certainly surrounds the use of dietary supplements as the FDA attempts to regulate supplement marketing, manufacturing, and distribution to ensure consumer safety. While holistically-minded individuals may perceive the FDA oversight as an infringement on complementary therapies, it’s also recognized that supplements may contain inert or harmful substances.

For example, select food and herbal supplements distributed at Walmart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens contained unlisted ingredients and were absent of primary advertised ingredients. The frequency of fraud within supplement manufacturing and marketing has prompted the need for companies like Consumer Lab to independently test supplements and report findings to paying members. Journalist Melanie Warner also questions the content of our supplements by disclosing the Vitamin D manufacturing process in the eye-opening book, Pandora’s Lunchbox.

Nutritionists may use food and supplements to not only manage nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies, but to also alleviate symptoms and subsequently reverse disease. The act of prescribing dietary supplements to clients as a form of therapeutic treatment is often within the realm of nutrition counseling and therapy. Select practitioners believe that supplement use should continue despite limited and questionable research that correlates increased risk for disease to increased supplement usage.

Regarding increasingly common self-supplementation in large doses, the client’s treatment may be better handled by a joint partnership between a nutritionist and an integrative physician to encourage healthy outcomes. More is often not better when it comes to supplementation, and the root causes of the symptoms must be uncovered to successfully cater supplement synergy to the client’s physiological needs.

Nutritionists who issue supplement prescriptions originating from lack of evidence or unfounded marketing propaganda create additional risk for their clients, and the field of nutrition as a whole. Nutrition practitioners who align with a specific supplement company, because of personal preference or monetary incentives, may lack credibility and appear irresponsible.

Dietary supplement promotion tends to further distort the image of nutrition to that of being the natural-pill-popping equivalent to the pharmaceutical industry. The American culture depends on pills to quickly fix the ailment, while continuing with detrimental supporting factors like the standard American diet (SAD). Supplements seem to fill that increasing demand.

When the media and government agencies focus on dietary supplements rather than bigger and more distressing issues, it provides a convenient smokescreen. Problems related to corporate food production, and the diminishing quality of our food, have enabled the perception that “vitamins” are a necessity in the US.

Until the local, sustainable, whole-foods revolution rises with enough momentum to create permanent food production change, the need for dietary supplements will continue to grow. As a result, continued discretion and professional guidance with its usage will also increase.

Author: Laura Farnsworth, MS, CNS, CN, Integrative & Functional Nutritionist at


FDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2015). Questions and answers on dietary supplements. Retrieved from

Hyman M. (2011). Why you should not stop taking your vitamins. Huffington Post online. Retrieved from:

Mursu, J., Robien, K., Harnack, L. J., Park, K., & Jacobs, D. R. (2011). Dietary supplements and mortality in older women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 171(18), 1625–1633.

O’Connor, A. (2015). What’s in those supplements?. New York Times. Retrieved from

Roswall, N., Olsen, A., Christensen, J., Hansen, L., Dragsted, L. O., Overvad, K., & Tjønneland, A. (2012). Micronutrient intake in relation to all-cause mortality in a prospective Danish cohort. Food & Nutrition Research, 56, 10.3402/fnr.v56i0.5466.

Warner, M. (2013). Pandora’s lunchbox: How processed food took over the American meal. New York: Scribner.

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