Pros and Cons of Nutrition Supplements
Written By: SportsShoes
The most common supplements that can be added to your diet include vitamins, minerals, herbs, plant material, amino acids, probiotics, fibre and fatty acids.
Food quality can be compromised by production methods, lengthy storage and long distance transportation, especially of so called ‘fresh’ fruits and vegetables. As such, important soil minerals such as selenium can also be depleted over time, leaving fewer of these vital nutrients in our foodstuffs.
Supplements are generally used as a preventative health measure or to help alleviate medical symptoms, or even as an anti-ageing measure. Research by the Food Standard Agency in 2008 suggested that almost 1/3 of the UK population takes some kind of supplement on a daily basis.
Know the risks
Manufacturers are responsible for product safety; however consumers need to take their own responsibility for appropriateness and safety when using them. Whilst many supplements are harmless, some can be dangerous if taken in excess, or some can contra-indicate with medical conditions or medication, so advice should always be sought from a GP or health practitioner before embarking on a supplementation plan.
- Fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A are stored in the liver and tissue and can cause harm in excess; particularly during pregnancy
- Omega 3 fatty acids can thin the blood so should be avoided if on anti-clotting medication
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) can cause skin flushing
- Excessively high levels of Vitamin C can cause diarrhoea
- Some supplements can alter the efficiency of medication (e.g. grapefruit based products may speed up or slow down the metabolism of some prescription medication in the liver)
The most common weight lost supplements can come with an unpleasant dose of side effect.
- Supplements which speed up the metabolism can potentially cause palpitations
- Fat absorption blocking supplements can block absorption of vital ‘good’ fats as well, and can cause serious diarrhoea
- Laxatives can affect absorption of necessary nutrients and disrupt normal healthy gut function
Who can benefit from supplementation?
Adding supplements to the diet can offer helpful support for certain groups whose dietary needs of specific circumstances may cause deficiency in one or more nutrients.
- Young and growing children may benefit from extra calcium and essential fats
- Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid to prevent birth defects in the developing child
- People with anxiety could supplement with Vitamins B, C and zinc. These feed the adrenal glands which can get overworked in stressful times.
- Smokers deplete large quantities of Vitamin C (approximately 250mg per cigarette)
- Vegetarians and vegans may struggle to access enough B12, calcium, iron, zinc and iodine through their diet
- Serious athletes may benefit from additional antioxidants and protein/amino acids to prevent against damage and facilitate repair and muscle re-growth
- Elderly people are commonly recommended antioxidants (such as lutein) for eye health. This group are also now advised to consider gingko for mental agility and memory, glucosamine and chondroitin for bone and cartilage repair, and Ginseng to help combat ageing.
- During the cold and flu season Vitamin C can be helpful for everyone. It can’t prevent you catching these germs but is now thought to significantly reduce the duration and severity of infection; particularly when taken alongside zinc and Echinacea.
Tips for taking supplements
Never use supplements as a food substitute; they should do as their name suggests and supplement and enhance an already healthy diet.
Always follow the directions for usage on the label, or as given by your qualified health practitioner.
In particular, check that supplements are suitable and are in safe dosages before giving to children.
Never take anything that claims to ‘cure’ or ‘prevent’.
Cheap supplements are usually a false economy; if they have fillers and poor quality ingredients you may as well not bother.
Most importantly, seek advice from a GP, Nutritional Therapist or other qualified health practitioner first, especially if you have a medical condition or are on medication of any kind.