Dietary Supplements – Exercising Caution

Good day, All! I hope your week is going “Well”. 🙂

On to the day’s topic – dietary supplements. If there is one subject we spend a considerable amount of time discussing in my health and human performance classes, it’s supplement use.

It’s interesting…as an undergraduate (many moons ago), I didn’t think much about the topic. Yet somehow I developed a passion for it as a master’s student at UW and decided to make it the focus of my research and thesis work. It is still a subject I study to this day.

Like any topic in exercise, health, and fitness, there is a substantial amount of “.com” advice, nutrition quackery, and plain bad and irresponsible information propagated by unqualified and nonscientific “practitioners” (or – as I share with my students – “quack-titioners”)  taking creative liberties with the truth. In short, we can find ourselves in a tangled web quite quickly if we don’t search for truth and examine the scientific facts. Hopefully the words and resources I share will bring light to an otherwise murky topic.

Before we go on, let’s identify what constitutes a supplement (for the purposes of this post): vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanicals, sports nutrition/ergogenic aids and other specialty supplements.

On to the big picture and takeaways. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. I’ll say it again – multi-BILLION. The last statistic I read noted that weight loss and ergogenic aids made up almost $20 billion of the US Nutrition Industry (Coleman, 2010). So what drives consumers to “invest” in such a market? According to Coleman, “there seems to be something in the human psyche that makes all of us vulnerable to unreasonable, illogical, and fatuous beliefs” (2010). Well-said, Ellen Coleman. I don’t think she’s far wrong.

This is not to say that there aren’t quality supplements or dietary support agents on the market; there are! However, it takes a supplement savvy consumer to locate the true supplement from the run of the mill potions, pills, powders which almost always over promise and under deliver.

Why is it that the supplement industry is NOT black and white and easy to navigate? The answer: Legislation. Courtesy of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), dietary supplements are not subject to  rigorous oversight and testing. In other words, a product does NOT have to be proven safe or effective before being placed on the open market. This means there is no guarantee that the ingredients listed on the label are actually in the product. WHAT?! Yes, it’s true. The information found on supplement product labels is not always accurate nor does the information guarantee the purity, quality, or efficacy of the product.

Purchasing any dietary supplement without consulting a primary health care provider, pharmacist, dietitian or other reputable source may put your health and wallet at risk. So, how do you know? Here are a few points to keep in mind…

  • Tricky Terminology – .  Many products should not be consumed in combination with other medications or supplements. For example, St. John’s Wart may interfere with some depression medications and cancer treatment protocols. Yikes!
  • Questionable Testimonials – many products come with glowing testimonials from “actual consumers”. If the product is not backed by anything other than a handful of individuals championing its success, question the accuracy of the claims. It is extremely challenging to validate the accuracy of individual reviews.
  • Ingredient Purity and Quality – unlike food labels, the ingredient lists of some products can be misleading. Because supplements are not heavily regulated, the manufacturers of the products are responsible for the label and the contents. Keep in mind, manufacturers often have a financial interest and investment in the product, which may impact the quality and accuracy of the ingredients stated on the label.
  • Research, Research, Research – in addition to the questionable products available, there are many supplements with proven health benefits backed by true and sound scientific evidence. For instance, we know calcium is good for us and helps prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Women are encouraged to consume adequate amounts of folic acid to help prevent certain birth defects. We also know iron can be beneficial when prescribed for individuals with low iron stores. The bottom line – research supplement information from reliable sources such as Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, or the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. One of the top sources for this type of information includes the Federal Trade Commission ( whose primary interest is in consumer safety. This organization works to protect the consumer from unethical and unfair business practices. Also, looking for products which bear the U.S. P. seal ( are top quality and verified to be so. You can even search for quality products on this site. Knowing where to look is the first step!

Dietary supplements can be beneficial and worth the investment if we remember to do some homework. This includes speaking with a primary health care provider, pharmacist, dietitian or searching for information on reputable organization websites such as those mentioned above.

Those manufacturing such drivel would be well-served to simply place table sugar in a vile and label it “hope” because that’s all they’re selling. Don’t swallow your hard-earned cash unless you’re certain of the quality, purity and effectiveness of the item. A good rule of thumb – okay two rules of thumb: 1) nothing, including opinion from “actual users” and purported manufacturer claims, replaces sound scientific evidence; and 2) if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is.

When it comes to your health and well-being nothing is too good – you have the right to expect quality, accuracy, and validity! Tell the “quack-titioners” to quack off someplace else! Protect your health and your income.

Until next time! Meet you at The Well.


Let’s Talk – Cooperative Wellness

As I was navigating my way through my master’s program (what seems like eons ago) and worked diligently to learn and apply the principles of kinesiology and health promotion, I kept having a recurring dream…to this day, I still think about it. It may not be “the answer”, but I think it could serve us (society and communities) “well”. You’ll see my point as you read on. 🙂

A cooperative wellness institute is something I believe would be an innovative approach to promoting health and preventing disease. What is cooperative wellness? In short it is an organization in which a group of professionals unites to assess and address the wellness needs of a community’s citizens in a democratically controlled enterprise.

If we examine our communities in Sheridan County, we discover that – for a smallish county – we have A.M.A.Z.I.N.G “wellness oriented” resources. A few quick examples: The Kula Space, Mukta Yoga, Journeys, Tailored Nutrition, the Y, Tongue River Valley Community Center, Massage therapists, physical therapists, K-Life, mental health professionals, “financial fitness” advisors, Johnson County Family YMCA, progressive physicians/medical professionals interested in and advocates for integrative and complementary medicine…and these are just a hand full of the available resources (by no means is this an exhaustive or comprehensive list).

Let’s take a moment to just think…ponder the possibilities if scattered resources such as these were housed under the same roof (yes, a rather large roof). Think of the accomplishments, the discoveries, the impact, the changes to individual lives…

Yes, establishing a Cooperative Wellness Institute would take time, money, space, more time, probably some tears and potentially a few choice words ;), and above all else – passion, drive and commitment to excellence. That being said, I think it could be done…the how’s and why’s of it have not become apparent to me, but perhaps some of you out there have thought of a similar idea. What is apparent to me as a result of my 13+ years as a health and fitness professional, educator, and personal trainer? In some ways, we do not have “healthcare”; we have “disease management”. That being said, there may be a way to have both coexist and still promote the greater goal – improving the quality of life for citizens through “well-care” and thoughtful strategies to promote sustainable behavior change.

The hard truth – there’s always going to be disease; we likely cannot eradicate every possible ailment…but we can do something to shift the paradigm, to change the strategy to focus on preventable diseases – those attributed to lifestyle choices and behaviors.

As I research and learn more each year, I can’t help but think that what this country suffers from is not an obesity epidemic but rather an epidemic of a lack of physical activity and poor nutrition. These are two factors considered to be “modifiable” and “controllable”. This problem continues to grow and fester…when does it stop? Or change?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m convinced of one thing – harnessing the collective talents of local area health professionals could potentially create the energy needed to alter the landscape of “disease management” to one reflective of “comprehensive holistic well-care”.

One concern that speaks to the financial aspects is wellness isn’t a money maker; it’s a money saver. The profitability isn’t of an immediate nature; however, if we define profit in terms of enhancing individuals’ quality of life, the value increases ten-fold (if not more).

Thoughts to ponder…

Meet you at the Well. 🙂

Body Image – An Awakening.

Good day, members of The Well!

Today, let’s discuss body image. The topic of this post was inspired by one of my students as a result of an article review he presented in class.

Some background – I teach an Exercise Science Capstone course (team taught with my esteemed colleague, Sally). The course examines contemporary issues and topics in the field of exercise science that impact and influence the profession. It is a project-heavy course (as a capstone should be) and students engage in product reviews, article critiques, and various other hands-on research endeavors.

This week, one of our students (we’ll call him Jake) presented an article about body dysmorphia in men. Body dysmorphia (regardless of the individual it afflicts) is a preoccupation with one’s physical appearance and belief that there are significant physical flaws (hips too big, legs too short, etc.). Although conversations about body image and dysmorphia typically reference females, it is critically important that we not overlook the impact it has on males.

Distorted body image perceptions are just as real for men as they are for women – a point Jake pointed out very eloquently. He said “girls grow up with Barbie, but we grow up with GI Joe and He-Man. The exposure routes and outlets are different – you all have Cosmo and we have ESPN.” W.O.W. He is so right on target with that.

What this brought to light for me is that we don’t have distorted body image perceptions – what we are really suffering from is disordered thinking. And why? Why must we focus on achieving some socially prescribed standard, which, I must say, has not remained consistent throughout the decades. One quick scan of art and history will tell you the “ideal” has changed significantly. What is “ideal” now would have been scoffed at 100 years ago.

So what does this mean for us as teachers, parents, role models, mentors? It means we need to consider a shift in thinking and amend the messages we send to our children…and ourselves. How we speak to ourselves becomes our inner voice…and the inner voice of those who look up to us for guidance and support. Let’s make it a positive one!

The consequences: When we narrow the conversation of health to external variables, surface measures, or images we see, the most important and truest indicators of personal and mental health are overlooked.

As an educator, I witness this phenomenon each semester as my bright and eager exercise science majors are asked to answer two specific questions: “what does being healthy look like? And “what words would you use to describe health, healthy, and/or fit?” Semester after semester, the answers are consistent. When we think of what healthy looks like, it is easy to be drawn to the images portrayed on the covers of “health magazines” or on social media feeds and, thus, limit the responses to pictures of celebrities and/or well-known athletes. Further, when talking about health or being healthy and fit, similar words and terms are used: disease free, frequent exerciser, gym rat, healthy eating, thin, ripped, strong, etc. In other words, the images we see influence the ways in which we describe a state of being.  This may not seem harmful, however, when the impact on youth and the ways in which language and images influence perceptions of body image are considered, we need to take a closer look at how health is illustrated and defined and start speaking about it in more accurate terms.

Instead of asking “what does healthy look like” – let’s ask “what does healthy feel like?” We may be surprised by the reactions we get simply by changing the language to shift our thinking. This is critical not only for our own personal perceptions of self-image, but for the perceptions of the youth we influence and guide.

Controlling or changing what the media does or doesn’t do is not within our circle of influence; however, controlling our own behaviors or attitudes about self-image and health certainly are!

Until next time. Meet you at The Well.


Hello & Welcome to Be. Live. Stay. Well…

Hello & Welcome to my blog site – referred to as The Well from this point forward. 🙂

Many of my friends and colleagues have encouraged me over the years to start a blog, but I kept thinking writing the occasional article here and there was enough…enough to spread a message…enough to touch a life…enough to help someone…and enough to share a passion. I realize now that it isn’t. So, without further hesitation or trepidation, I’m plunging (pun intended) in to The Well.

You may be wondering “why a well”? The name came about several years ago in a conversation with a dear friend, Jessica, when she and I worked together to reorganize and revamp the Wellness Council of Sheridan County. We felt we needed a website makeover and it was Jessica who thought of The Well. I don’t know if she remembers that conversation, but I credit her for the inspiration and the encouragement.

The way I view it – a well is a place for wishes, replenishment and nourishment; it’s a place to fill your cup, find renewal or simply delight in quiet contemplative moments. I love the idea of a well because it reminds us to continually fill our cups. Our cup being whatever we so choose – our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our careers, etc. The well is our source for rejuvenation. We can’t pour from an empty vessel, so it’s important to prioritize our mind, body, and spirit in order to achieve a healthful balance of life and derive a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. My hope is to allow this blog to be your well – a source of nourishment and replenishment for all my readers as I share tips, tricks, tools and topics related to physical activity, nutrition, family fitness and wellness, stress management, personal wellness, mental fitness, and lifestyle.

Let me begin by sharing some details about myself and why I’m qualified to share the information I plan to share. My name is Erin Nitschke. I’m a wife, mother, college level educator and health and human performance professional. I hold degrees in Exercise & Sport Science (B.S.), Kinesiology & Health (M.S.), and Adult & Post-Secondary Education (EdD). I am also a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer (since 2005) and an American Council on Exercise Fitness Nutrition Specialist and am currently studying to become an American Council on Exercise Health Coach. I teach at Sheridan College in Sheridan, Wyoming where I am also the Director of Health and Human Performance. I am also a regular contributor to the Sheridan Press’s Health Watch column and the Casper Star Tribune’s LiveWell magazine.

In short, this is not just another blog about health or another .com do-it-yourself advice column. The tips, tricks, tools, and topics I blog about are designed to help you live your best life, achieve your optimal level of wellness, and create a balanced – not deprived – lifestyle.

I’m not one who believes I have all the answers (some days I have none of the answers – at least not the right ones); however, beyond being a professional with a great deal of education, practical experience, and qualifications, I’m a real person with many of the same fears and anxieties as the rest of you experience. I have endured failure and celebrated success. I’m perfectly imperfect and I’m here to establish a new and added avenue by which to share my passion, expertise, and down to Earth approach to being well, living well, and staying well. I look forward to this journey together and hope you find some useful, straightforward, honest, and – most of all – realistic – guidance to a better quality of life.

Meet you at The Well.