Health & Fitness

Are dietary supplements the best for your health?

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Summary

  • Today, scientists are recognising that the other side of the nutrition coin, or “what to eat,” may be just as important, if not more so.
  • At times the food we consume doesn’t meet the daily recommended levels of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and amino acids) which are essential for normal/ optimal body function.
  • The benefits of dietary supplements range from enabling us to reach the daily recommended allowances for micronutrients that are not available in the diet.

Throughout the bulk of the 20th Century, nutrition recommendations seemed to focus more upon “what not to eat”. For instance, recommendations were to limit dietary substances such as saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, and sodium.

Today, scientists are recognising that the other side of the nutrition coin, or “what to eat,” may be just as important, if not more so.

At times the food we consume doesn’t meet the daily recommended levels of micro nutrients (vitamins, minerals and amino acids) which are essential for normal/ optimal body function and their lack causes deficiencies and increases vulnerability to disease onset.

If you ask anyone, “What nutrient is good for bones?” most will respond, “Calcium” which is indeed the monarch of bone minerals. The human body doesn’t produce calcium so it is obtained from the diet and if the diet is lacking or inadequate in supply, dietary supplementation is used.

The skeletal system is a busy system, replenishing itself constantly and for good skeletal remodeling and general musculoskeletal health, there are other micronutrients - in addition to calcium - that play a pivotal role.

These include, for example, magnesium, vitamins D and K2, omega-fatty acids, manganese and some collagen for flexibility.

For these reasons, dietary supplements are often promoted for their health benefits making their use a common phenomenon today with parents getting their children on a cocktail of multivitamins and omega supplements and with others embracing herbal supplements.

They come in a variety of forms including liquid syrups, capsules, soft gels, gel capsules, tablets and powders obtained from both animal and plant derivatives hence catering to everyone’s needs.

The benefits of dietary supplements range from enabling us to reach the daily recommended allowances for micronutrients that are not available in the diet. A good example of this is vitamin B12 supplementation for vegetarians owing to the fact that its richest sources are animal products.

They also help in the prevention of disease and certain health conditions; Pregnant and lactating women are given vitamin D supplements so as to keep their bones and teeth strong while regulating calcium uptake in their body and that of the baby.

Some supplements are used in combination with medication as a method of complementary or alternative disease or condition management; E.g. in the management of inflammatory and degenerative musculoskeletal diseases and conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and for joint and muscle pains.

Athletes and sportspeople also use supplements for improved muscular strength, endurance, and physical performance.

However, supplementation also has its drawbacks as there are proven cases of negative health effects from the use of dietary supplements.

Calcium which has over the years been recognised as a core bone support ingredient is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and conditions as a result of calcium being deposited in the arteries and clogging up the blood vessels.

Cost is also a factor; planning and preparing healthy, nutritious meals is less costly than purchasing a quality supplement.

The use of supplements can also cause adverse side effects; large doses of certain vitamins and minerals can cause nausea, vomiting, nerve damage, weight loss, muscle weakness and other illnesses.

In addition to these, mixing certain vitamins and minerals can interfere with nutrient absorption, and in other instances may have negative drug interactions with medications making medical conditions unmanageable.

The only way to stay healthy is to make informed choices.