As our bodies develop over the years, we require essential nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals and proteins. However, many among us fail to choose the path of consuming a balanced diet, and are instead intrigued by supplements that claim to take the place of some of these nutrients.
Dietary supplements are intended to provide nutrients that may not otherwise be consumed in sufficient quantities. Research suggests that more than 50,000 supplementary varieties are available in the market, and it is believed that more than half the adult population of the US actually consumes them – in tablet, capsule, liquid or powder form – as an alternative to following a healthy diet. Although some of these may actually be nutritionally favourable when used in right quantities, it is best to avoid them if possible, since they are not food substitutes, and often fail to provide the nutrients that whole foods deliver.
For instance, if an individual relies entirely on supplements, they will lack the necessary dietary fibre and several natural and protective substances such as photo chemicals and antioxidants, which can be obtained by eating protein-rich whole foods. For some people, these supplements may seem to be a magical solution for losing weight and staying fit. But don’t judge a book by its cover; artificial supplements can have serious or even life-threatening consequences, too.
Unlike most drugs, supplements are self-prescribed, and frequently come without any reliable information about their safety and potential risks. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracks reports of illnesses, injuries, and reactions from various supplements, noting that the number of these cases continues to climb each year.
Many supplements contain active ingredients that can have seriously detrimental effects on the body. Be aware of these risks, and make sure to do your homework if you are considering taking any type of supplement:
• Some supplements increase the risk of bleeding or, if taken before or after surgery, can interfere with the action of anaesthesia.
• Supplements can react with certain prescribed drugs that might cause problems. For example, consumption of vitamin K reduces the ability of the blood thinner Coumadin to prevent blood clotting, while consumption of vitamins C and E reduces the effectiveness of some types of chemotherapy.
• Most dietary supplements have not been well tested for safety in pregnant women, nursing mothers or children.
• Some people who have taken body-building supplements have required liver transplants and, in a few cases, it has led to death.
• Due to unlisted steroids, adulteration and excessive usage, mild to severe toxicity has occurred following consumption of supplements, even when they contained essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals or amino acids.
• Bitter orange – a common herbal ingredient in weight loss supplements – can cause high blood pressure and racing heartbeat.
• Consumption of omega-3 fish oil supplements can lead to loose stools, nausea, and stomach aches, and more than 3 grams of fish oil may increase the risk of bleeding.
• Calcium Sandoz, an alternative supplement for calcium intake, can affect the digestive system, resulting in diarrhoea, constipation and flatulence, due to a build up of gas in the intestines.
• Protein powders and bottled protein shakes are a powdered form of supplement, and often contain unhealthy quantities of sugar. They may also contain extra protein that exceeds the normal protein requirement, leading to gastrointestinal issues, osteoporosis, and kidney-related diseases.
Some experts estimate that one in four supplements sold have labelled quantities that are inaccurate. And many consumers aren’t aware of the fact that, unlike medicines or drugs, supplements are not subject to approval by the FDA or the government before they are sold. This can lead to a misconception that supplements are good for one’s body. Ultimately, the best way to ensure your safety is by avoiding supplements to the maximum possible extent, and instead obtaining these essential vitamins, proteins and minerals in your diet with natural foods.
Sayonara supplements! Hello healthy lifestyle!
- Nitya Bansal of NutriVise