A quick stop at a grocery store, department store or drug store will reveal thousands upon thousands of different supplements. They exist for men, women and children, address specific health conditions, and more. No matter where you turn, there seems to be a recommendation for someone to take a supplement. But should you? It seems that the evidences available are contradictory, with some saying supplements are essential to our health, while others are saying they are pointless, if not actually harmful. So what is the truth? Basically, it depends.
The Case for Supplements
Some experts take the stance that getting nutrition from food alone is actually a bad idea.
The idea that you can get all your nutrients from food is fine in theory, but virtually impossible in practice. Soil and water depletion, food and environmental toxins, poor absorption, pesticides, exercise, and lack of calories can all cause nutrient deficiencies.
Specific reasons are cited for this. Firstly, the food we purchase from stores simply isn’t healthy enough. It is often genetically modified, processed and filled with sugars and salts. Secondly, as we age, our bodies become less able to absorb nutrients. Add this to the fact that so many of our foods are already low in nutrients and it becomes clear that it is impossible to get all the right vitamins and minerals, even if we try to eat a healthy diet.
The Case Against Supplements
On the other hand, it is important to understand that supplements, as the name suggests, are supposed to do more for what we already do. They are supplements, not replacements, in other words. Some fear that we are becoming dependent on supplements, effectively using them as an excuse not to eat a healthy diet. Some experts now fear that this is a dangerous situation.
If you don’t have a serious vitamin deficiency, taking supplemental vitamins doesn’t provide any benefit, in almost all cases that have been studied. What’s even more surprising is this: routinely taking mega-doses of vitamins might actually harm you.
Experts feel that the only time someone should actually take a supplement is if it has been specifically recommended by a doctor. A good example is folic acid for women who are trying to conceive and during the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects (NTDs)—serious birth defects of the spinal cord (such as spina bifida) and the brain (such as anencephaly). Neural tube defects occur at a very early stage of development, before many women even know they’re pregnant.
However, supplements like vitamin C, vitamin A and beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and multivitamins should simply be avoided. These are the five most popular supplementation products, yet none of them offer any benefits that cannot be achieved by eating a proper diet alone. And since the supplementation industry is largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, there is achance that people will actually cause harm to their bodies.
Should You or Shouldn’t You Take Them?
Unfortunately, it is impossible to decide which one of the two camps are 100% right, probably because neither of them truly is. Instead, it is recommended to do sufficient research to make an informed decision.
Deciding whether to take dietary supplements and which ones to take is a serious matter. Learn about their potential benefits and any risks they may pose first. Speak to your health care providers about products of interest and decide together what might be best for you to take, if anything, for your overall health.
Finally, if a health professional recommends you to take a supplement, make sure you do.