Are Nutrition Supplements Necessary & Safe?

We all know the importance of providing useful nutrients to our body, and how they are absolutely essential to maintain a healthy life! And yet, as demands of work increase and life becomes more and more stressful for families and individuals, we often find it hard to make sure that we are eating a balanced diet! The result, our body suffers from deficiencies, our bones grow weak, brain-function decreases and a routine physical examination shows that we need to start getting food supplements! Most of us know that nothing can come as close to natural products, fruits and vegetables in getting our daily nutrition needs, and yet, when most of your meals consist of grab-to-go foods, how does one make sure that your body gets what it deserves? Does taking vitamin and diet supplements help? And more importantly, is it safe?

Defining Nutrition Supplements
The word "supplement" means exactly that: a nutrient or group of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fats and oils) that are meant to supplement, but not substitute for a healthy diet that you eat on a regular basis. People have such busy lives that instead of trying to cook healthier food, they think its easier to just pop in a pill or two to compensate for the loss; it is this approach that needs to be changed. Many studies have shown that vitamins from supplements do NOT act on the body in the same way as vitamins from foods. Plenty of foods naturally contain vitamins, and some popular foods such as breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Almost all fruits and vegetables provide one kind or another of these essential nutrients, so try to eat 5 times a day, and space out your intake to fulfill your daily needs.

Are Supplements Necessary?
You probably don't need a general vitamin-mineral supplement if you are eating a reasonably varied diet most of the time, aren't restricting calories to lost weight, and generally don't skip meals. This doesn't mean you have to be a "perfect eater", it only means that you have to be careful you try to eat at least one balanced meal a day.

For some people suffering from certain medical conditions, it is imperative to prescribe supplements to alleviate their conditions. Even people on a strict weight-loss plan or those on a muscle-building plan, are restricted to a certain type of diet, and hence may need to compensate by use of supplements. A common scenario is for older men, generally suffering from prostrate or sexual health problems.

Use Supplements with Caution
That said, its not always possible, nor feasible to entirely depend on food to provide all nutrients to our body. Too little of just one vitamin may disturb the body's balance and cause health problems. But taking too many vitamins can also be dangerous. Older men are generally prescribed to take medicines to fight prostate cancer, but people can have the same results if they increase consumption of natural foods like Tofu, Fruits and Soy Milk .

However, a further reason to avoid overdose of vitamins is that they can have toxic effects. We do need vitamins, but more is not necessarily better. This is particularly true with the fat-soluble vitamins that will be stored in the liver, like vitamin A. They can eventually reach toxic levels and cause liver damage. Even the water-soluble vitamin C can cause diarrhea at levels of 2000mg a day, which is lower than the amount some people take in the hope of staving off colds.

Myth About Herbal Supplements
Some people feel herbal supplements have no side-effects, and are generally safe. However, recent research has proved that this is not entirely true. No federal regulations standardize quality of ingredients contained in these products, and some of these products contain steroids which can be harmful for the body when taken in wrong proportions. Additionally, not enough testing is done on the actual products that you see on the shelves in stores, so you can't be sure that what is stated on a supplement label even resembles what you are getting.

Some Supplements Can Be Useful
There are several people for whom the availability of supplements is a boon. For strict Vegans who do not include egg or milk products in their diet, iron, zinc and vitamin Bl2 supplements may be needed; those who can't digest dairy products may need calcium intake; People who suffer from chronic constipation may benefit from a regular serving of Fiber, and pregnant women are almost always advised to take some sort of multi-vitamin and iron supplements by their doctors. These are cases where artificial methods compensate for a genuine need of nutrients, but even then, extreme caution and consultation with your doctor about dosage and type of supplements is of utmost importance.

There's No ShortCut to Health
Most of the supplements were originally created to compensate for deficiencies; but as people started pouncing on them for every small need, manufacturers saw a huge market for their products. Some people go to great lengths to look beautiful, have a drop-dead-gorgeous figure, lose 15 pounds in 2 weeks, increase their sex-drive, or look like Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight! These are the people get carried away by the ads and do not pay attention to the harmful side effects scrawled in very fine print on the supplement bottles. There is NO shortcut to beauty or health, and though some supplements do help you maximize your efforts, it's always important to chart out a long-term plan to avoid any sudden damage or ill-effects to the body.

Natural is by far the Best
A few decades ago, there was nothing like nutrition supplements, and yet people used to live a healthy and happy life with a high age ratio. But over time, our food quality has deteriorated; with use of fertilizers & pesticides, we can't really be sure of the nutrients present in even raw foods, and the hectic life schedules have made it even more difficult to stick to a healthy routine.

Every action in our body consists of metabolic reactions that require specific nutrients. Without sufficient amounts of these various vitamins and minerals, the biological processes can become slowed, abnormal, or impaired. hence, we should make it a point to see that we do not deprive ourselves of these important nutrients. Try to include balanced foods in your diet which can fulfill your Recommended Daily Allowance(RDA). If this seems to be impossible without using supplements, or you are forced to use them as part of a special medical plan, start with small doses under the advice and supervision of professional doctors or registered dietitians, and choose only branded supplements from trustworthy pharmacies.

Diet & Nutrition Supplements can help you meet your daily requirements and keep you healthy, but going overboard will only affect your health negatively. Do not self-diagnose a deficiency yourself, and remember that supplements can never replace a healthy well-balanced diet.

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Anonymous said...

Supplements is not a solution in keeping healthy. As you said which I agree having a balanced meal every day is the best. No matter how busy one is eating well is important. Who can refused food which we Chinese will agree "live to eat" and not "eat to live".

Robin Plan said...

Great article about supplements. No supplement will replace eating healthy. A poor diet is still a poor diet.

One point I disagree with, you wrote:
"start with small doses under the advice and supervision of professional doctors or registered dieticians, and choose only branded supplements from trustworthy pharmacies."

Small doses is good but most doctors and many dieticians are not trained in use of vitamins. There are vast differences in supplements - they are not all equal.

If you want to or need to supplement do not use over the counter Drug Store brands. Find a whole food multi - that way you don't have the concerns about isolated synthetic vitamins. This is where the harm comes from- putting synthetic ingredients in a body is NEVER going to promote good health.

Thank you for the great article - I agree eating healthy is best, always.

Anonymous said...

got here from Health section of Fox News...what a great post! you cleared so many doubts, thank you so much!


Anonymous said...

Great post. Most people benefit, and are not hurt by a multivitamin.

I especially like that you included that supplements can, in fact, have side effects. Too much of some can cause toxicities. Something not mentioned in a lot of nutrition/supplement posts.

While most physicians are not well-trained in nutrition,it is good to check with them because of the interaction of some supplements with medications. Certain health problems such as renal or liver disease may make certain supplements dangerous.

James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

mitr_bayarea said...


an eye-opener post regarding supplements. While taking supplements is definitely not a substitution for a healthy living, we do need vitamin and calcium tablets, though.

Mansi said...

hi people! great to see some professionals commenting on this post! I'm sure our readers will benefit from your input! thanks:)

hope this article helps others understand the benefits and limitaitons of food supplements too!

A_and_N said...

Thank you for this informative post, Mansi! Well written.

Sunshinemom said...

Very informative article, Mansi. I am especially saddened when I see parents buying supplements in a bid to increase childrens' 'memory', and I wonder why they let all this stress get to them so much that they could play with lives of people! It is especially rampant in India where 'marks' rule everything! My own take is to provide nutritious, balanced meal rather than go for multivitamins unless recommended by a doctor and seconded by a good nutritionist!

resveratrol supplements said...

In my opinion, nutritional supplement effectiveness may also depends on a healthy diet.