According to the CRN 2017 Survey on Dietary Supplements, about 75 percent of Americans take dietary supplements. What’s more, the dietary supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate, projected to reach $278 billion by 2024.
Should this be a cause for concern? In an ideal world, we’re supposed to obtain the nutrition we need from diet alone! But the reality is we live in an imperfect world. With our fast-paced lives, take-outs and fast food are the new norms. Hence, we are forced to take supplements to complement the nutrients lacking in our daily diet.
This article explores the role dietary supplements play in nutrition and whether they’re good or bad.
Examples of Dietary Supplements
Dietary supplements consist of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, and amino acids. They come in different forms, including tablets, capsules, gel caps, soft gels, powders, and liquids. Common supplements include:
- Fish oil
Are Supplements Necessary?
Unless you have a self-grown garden and/or you cook what you eat, chances are you cannot reach the level of health needed to function effectively from diet alone. Here are some of the reasons for that.
- Poor soil quality
The quality of the soil determines the quality of the food we get. Plants grown in soil depleted of nutrients and trace minerals offer reduced nutritional benefits. This directly impacts our health when we consume such plants or animals that consume such plants.
Thanks to industrialization, the world is polluted than ever. Both at home and in our offices, we are exposed to several harmful pollutants. While healthy diets offer some protection, special supplements are needed to support our endogenous detoxification systems.
- Health History
We all have unique body systems. Sometimes our body is lacking some vital nutrients, maybe due to health conditions like a damaged digestive system, cesarean section birth, substance use, and more. In such instances, supplements can help provide the vital nutrients that are lacking.
Are Dietary Supplements Regulated by the FDA?
Contrary to what you might think, dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA as food, not as drugs. What this means is those supplement manufacturers are only obliged to produce supplements in a quality manner, ensuring it doesn’t contain contaminants or impurities. FDA does not review or test for medicinal efficacy.
Consequently, supplements with health claims are required to put a disclaimer on their label that such supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
Does this Mean Dietary Supplements are Dangerous?
Provided you’re not taking mega doses of supplements, most supplements are safe to use. However, some can be dangerous or even deadly. A 2015 study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that 23,000 people ended up in an emergency room after using supplements. Here are some common reasons for that:
- Fraudulent dietary supplements
- Due to lax regulations, some supplements with illegal substances go undetected.
- Unintended complications: Some supplements interact with certain prior medical conditions or medication. For instance, beta-carotene (a supplement used to reduce the risk of heart disease) can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Similarly, evening primrose can interact with warfarin to increase the risk of bleeding.
Dietary supplements offer tremendous benefits as they help ensure we get all the crucial nutrients we need to live healthily. However, here are some things to bear in mind concerning the use of supplements.
- Food first!
Nutritionists recommend food first because food contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, even those absent in supplements. For instance, dietary supplements usually do not contain bioactive compounds and dietary fiber, which are crucial.
Furthermore, for supplements to work effectively, it is important that you do not consume them with an empty stomach. Food helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in supplements.
But more than just eating, you have to ensure that your diet is balanced. A balanced diet provides you with all the nutrients you need, thereby boosting your immune system.
- Don’t go overboard
When taking supplements, ensure you don’t use more than the upper limit. Overdosing can lead to health complications. Simply follow the dosing instructions!
- Avoid these ingredients
According to Per Consumer Reports, certain supplements contain some ingredients that may pose health risks. Some of such ingredients include bitter orange, comfrey, chaparral, country mallow, kava, methyl synephrine, usnic acid, and red yeast rice. Stay clear from them!
- Consult with your doctor first
Before taking supplements, speak with a certified nutritional practitioner. They are trained to prescribe based on your case history and lab test results. This ensures that the prescribed supplements are well-suited for your individual body needs, with no risk of complications.
- Buy supplements from reputable stores.
Some experts kick against purchasing supplements from online stores like eBay because you cannot be assured of their legitimacy or safety. Similarly, be leery of cheap supplements, as they may reflect inferior production. Furthermore, ensure you only purchase supplements from countries that have safety standards in place.
- Keep track of side effects.
Ensure you take note of any side effects – such as nausea, dizziness, chest pain, etc. – you notice while using a supplement. Stop using the medication and promptly inform your doctor to determine the best course of action.
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