If you haven’t already used supplements before, you sure have heard about it from a friend, family member, colleague, the news or read about it on websites or magazines.
Supplementation is one of the most-trending nutrition fashions nowadays, so here we provide you with the minimum basic knowledge you should acquire about supplements use.
What are supplements? And for what they are used?
Supplements are: any product taken by mouth that contains a dietary ingredient; to promote optimal health, boost immunity, reduce disease risks, correct deficiencies and improve performance, but they are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure disease.
They include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs or (botanicals), and enzymes or their metabolites.
Some dietary supplements’ benefits have been supported and well established for certain health conditions (e.g., vitamins and minerals), but others need further study.
Who needs supplements?
Keep in mind that “food comes first”, if you have variety, balance and adequacy in your diet you won’t need supplements (see The 7 principles of healthy diet), but for some populations supplementation might be required for them to meet their dietary recommendations established by USDA; these high-risk populations include:
- People in a certain life stage needs like pregnancy, or child bearing age.
- People with diseases, recovering from illness, or taking medications that interfere with the absorption of nutrients
- People suffering from food insecurity, and poverty
- People with very low energy intake (lower than 1600 kcal/day)
- Vegetarians (who eat no animal products)
- Or people who are just unable or unwilling because of time or energy to prepare or consume a nutritionally adequate diet.
Are there risks of taking supplements?
Yes, there are, taking supplements might cause health risks, such as:
- Toxicity if taken in large doses (especially if you didn't need them from the first place and your body stores are adequate)
- Reducing or increasing absorption of medications, when taken with prescribed or over-the counter med, this may cause unwanted complications.
It is important to take the advice of your health-care provider whether or not you need supplements, and which one to take if needed.
Invalid reasons people take supplements for:
- The belief that they provide energy (only carbs, proteins and fat yield energy)
- The belief that they can prevent or treat diseases.
- The belief that they build lean body tissue without physical work, or faster than work alone.
How to be smart supplement shopper?
After seeking for your doctor’s advice, keep the following in mind when shopping for supplements:
- Ignore the eye-catching art and meaningless claims such as: quick and effective "cure-all", can treat or cure diseases, "Totally safe" or has "no side effects", natural because it doesn't always mean safe.
- Look for statement about disintegration time: USP suggests that supplements should completely disintegrate within 30-45 minutes for best absorption.
- Read the content list: what nutrients do you exactly need? Avoid supplements that provide –in daily dose- provide more that the tolerable upper intake level for any nutrient.
- Be savvy about price: local brand may be just as good as nationally advertised brands; if they are less expensive it could be because the price doesn’t cover the cost of national advertising.
Be SMART and remember that you carry big part of responsibility for your supplements choices, since the FDA is not required to test for the supplement’s safety before it is marketed, nor the manufacturers have to prove it is effective unlike drugs.
- L. Mahan, S. Escott-stump: Krause’s Food & nutrition therapy: 12th edition.
- E. Whitney, S.Rofles: Understanding nutrition: 12th edition.