Are Supplements Needed? If Yes, Who Needs them?

Many people across the world have become dependent on supplementation these days. Nutrition has got an alternative in them perhaps. Why do we need them? Is there a way we can do without them? Dietician Sanjana answers these questions in this article.

The best way to stay healthy is to choose a wide variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. I strongly believe that supplements can never be a substitute for a balanced diet. But for various reasons some people cannot reach the recommended nutrient amounts without using supplements or including fortified foods.

In our modern world, supplements are considered to be a big “NO,” because, if we look back in the history, our ancestors were not popping pills to stay healthy, so why should we?

But our modern environment is profoundly different than that of our ancestors, and the food we eat, no longer contains the nutrient levels we require for optimal health for many reasons.

  • Crops are raised in soil where nutrients have been depleted
  • Plants are treated with pesticides and other chemicals so they no longer have to fight to live, which further diminishes their nutrient levels and their phytonutrient contents
  • A decrease in diversity of plants species consumed
  • An overuse of antibiotics, contraceptive pills etc.

What most people don’t realise is that our food supply must be “enriched” with ample of nutrients and, today even with our “enriched food”, most people are deficient in one or more nutrients. Older adults, pregnant women and people; who are food insecure, are at increased risk of nutrient deficiencies.

In a study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers found that 6 % of those tested had serious vitamin C deficiency and 30 % were borderline low.

Humans are adapted to getting nutrients from food, and foods contain many co-factors and enzymes required to absorb those nutrients. On one hand, eating a healthy well-balanced diet should provide us with all the individual nutrients, we need. On the other hand, if our diet is not good enough, some of those nutrients might be deficient. However, there are certain nutrients that are difficult to obtain even in the context of a healthy diet (such as vitamin D and magnesium), and supplementing with them indefinitely may be necessary. Supplements can help people with Crohn’s disease or celiac, conditions that make it difficult to absorb certain nutrients. People with Vitamin B deficiency almost always need a supplement.

A supplement can help you fill those nutrient gaps in your diet. For example - a person, who doesn’t like fruits and vegetables, might not get enough vitamin C and someone who refuses to take dairy products may need some extra calcium. Taking a supplement or multivitamin product is an inexpensive and easy way to ensure the recommended dietary intake.

Who needs Supplements?

Dietary supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods, not as drugs. The label may claim certain health benefits, but unlike medicines, supplements can’t claim to cure, treat or prevent a disease. The most popular nutrient supplements are multivitamins, calcium and vitamins B, C and D. Calcium supports bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants—molecules that prevent cell damage and help to maintain health.

  • Women need iron during pregnancy, and breastfed infants need vitamin D. A daily dose of 400 micrograms of Folic acid, whether from supplements or fortified food, is important for all women of childbearing age.
  • Some individuals are limited in their food choices due to allergies or because they follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. Eg. animal foods are the main source of vitamin B12, and people who follow vegan diets, need to eat fortified foods or take a supplement. Vitamin B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy. “Vitamin B12 mostly comes from meat, fish and dairy foods, so vegans may consider taking a supplement to be sure to get enough of it.

  • People with lactose intolerance do not get enough vitamin D and calcium because they don’t eat dairy products also could benefit from supplement. Vitamin D might be a concern for infants, children and young adults also. Infants who are breastfed are ones who consume less than the recommended amount of vitamin D fortified milk or formula and those with increased risk of deficiency likely will need vitamin D supplement.
  • Some researches show that folic acid and B-complex vitamins may reduce the risk of stroke. Another study in 2012 by Harvard researchers, found that men who took multivitamin for 11 years had 8% lower risk of cancer and a 9% of lower risk of cataracts.
  • Supplements can play an important role for some high-risk groups. For instance, people diagnosed with osteoporosis may require extra vitamin D & calcium beyond what they get from their regular diet.

Deciding whether to take dietary supplements and which ones to take is a serious matter. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps a list of dietary supplements that are under regulatory review or that have been reported to cause adverse effects. If you are taking a supplement, it is a good idea to check the FDA website periodically for updates. Also, speak to your doctor or a qualified dietitian, about products of interest and decide together what might be best for you to take, if anything, for your overall health.

About The Author

Dt. Sanjana Sharma

A dietitian by profession, running an online clinic  named  "Diet My way." Also, practicing as consultant nutritionist  with an.... Read More..

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Recent Comments

  • 04-Apr-2020, 6:10

    Nipun Mehra

    I must say, this is a nice article Congratulations

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