Vitamin and mineral supplements are big business. Many people pop them without thinking or when they look into buying them their first concerns are about effectiveness and safety. What you should really be asking yourself is whether you actually need them at all.
Research from America suggests more than half of all its people take one or more supplements daily or occasionally. Supplements can be bought without prescription and are usually in pill form although there are liquids and powders on the market. The majority of people cite a need for essential nutrients to maintain or built upon their health as the reason for taking the supplements but plenty of people really don’t need to take them and some may be more useful than others.
People who eat a healthy varied diet and live an active, exercise-driven lifestyle are unlikely to need any dietary supplements but dieticians do recommend them if there are any gaping holes in your diet. The most obvious one comes from people who don’t like fish missing out on the important omega 3 fatty acids.
Another thing to consider is the side effects carried by some supplements and whether they fit into your lifestyle. Some side effects are triggered by other medication and some are not a great idea if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. What’s more there are groups of supplements which haven’t been tested on children or pregnant women so you really need to exercise caution wherever you can. If you’re not sure, seek medical advice.
Dietary supplements have to comply with UK regulations and whilst they may highlight health benefits they are not allowed to state that they are a cure, treatment or preventative for any disease. The wording on the packaging has to be very specific. Supplements unfortunately aren’t going to reverse the effects of any chronic disease.
Research has thrown up some interesting finding about certain supplements however and they do have some benefits for enhancing help in different ways. The most popular dietary supplement on the market is the multivitamin closely followed by B, C and D. Vitamin D helps support the body’s absorption of calcium, which is necessary for protecting our bones whilst vitamin C in an antioxidant which help maintain general health and prevent cell damage.
Vitamin D is also essential for new-born infants who breastfeed and pregnant woman also need to ingest folic acid daily to support the baby’s growth. It’s now recommended all women of childbearing age ensure they get their daily iron intake in any way possible including supplements.
Vitamin B12 is valuable for the health of the body’s nerve and blood cells and a supplement is often necessary for vegans as it’s mainly found in meat, fish and dairy. We also all know of the valuable effects of fish oil and in fact it’s believed to be the most heavily research supplement with significant scientific evidence backing up its health value.
The health effects of other supplements need much more research as their current assertions can’t necessarily be proven. These include the use of Echinacea for boosting the body’s immune system and flaxseed oil for helping the digestive system.
Many supplements have side effects which really do need to be watched out for. For example vitamin K should be used with caution as it can reduce the ability of blood thinners and ginkgo can actually increase the thinning of the blood. St. John’s Wort is another popular supplement used to ease anxiety and nerve pain but it can also speed up the breakdown of other drugs, making them less effective.
When taking any supplement to support your healthy lifestyle you should ensure you understand its chemical makeup and how it works in the body before taking it. For vitamins and minerals you can check the Daily Value of each nutrient to make sure you’re only having the amount needed. The DV is the absolute upper limit of any supplement so don’t be afraid to take less.
Scientists are still researching common vitamins which we take for granted as much more still needs to be known. Research studies throw up different results every day with Vitamin E being hailed possibly lowering the risk of prostate cancer but then when a further study was carried out the risk was actually raised. Clinical studies are truly essential to understand the full effects of dietary supplements.
If you live an active lifestyle and have the diet to match you shouldn’t really need a supplement. It may be you believe in the properties of a particular herbal remedy or are just in the habit of popping your multivitamin each morning. Have a real think about whether you genuinely need these additional supplements and if you’re not sure consider speaking to a medical professional or dropping them altogether. What’s the worst that can happen?
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