Nutritional supplements are the supplement to your diet that are likely to benefit your overall health. It’s the additional nutrition that you take over and above your normal food to lower health risks like arthritis, osteoporosis, etc. Such supplements usually come in the form of pills, powder, capsules, gel tabs or liquids and provide vital nutrition like vitamins, minerals, fibre, amino acids or enzymes for enhanced bodily functions. The nutritional supplements are also consumed as add-ons to food and drinks. They are sold as over-the-counter products and a doctor’s prescription is not needed to buy them.
How does it help?
In case your meals fail to provide the essential nutrients though food you eat, nutritional supplements may help you to bridge this gap. It provides the required amounts of vital nutrients as pills, powders, capsules, etc. This usually happens when you fail to eat a variety of nutritious foods or your body fails to absorb the specific nutrient. However, if you are among those who rely on supplements to take care of the missed nutrients, then you should be mindful of the fact that nutritional supplements can’t take the place of a healthy diet.
Nutritional supplements may improve your health and even prevent some health conditions. For example:
- Calcium and vitamin D will reduce bone loss and keep your bones strong.
- Folic acid will reduce the risks associated with certain birth defects.
- Omega-3 may help people with heart disease.
- Vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin (known as AREDS) – this combination of nutrients may reduce vision loss for people with macular degeneration (AMD), which is related to age.
Note: Advertisements claiming benefits for some supplements may not be supported by scientific evidence.
Are there any side effects?
Usually nutritional supplements comprise of active ingredients that may have strong side effects in your body. So, it’s best to be aware of the possible side-effects while consuming a new product.
It’s quite likely that you may have side effects from supplements if you take them in high doses or in place of prescribed medicine, or if you take different types of supplements. Some supplements may affect your surgery by increasing the risk of bleeding, or if taken prior to surgery, it may change your response to anaesthesia.
Some supplements may react with some medicines and cause problems. Here are some examples:
- Vitamin K may hamper the function of blood thinner Coumadin® that prevents clotting of blood.
- St. John’s wort may reduce effectiveness of many medicines, including heart medications, transplant drugs, anti-HIV medications, birth control pills and antidepressants as well.
- Vitamins C and E may reduce efficiency of some types of cancer chemotherapy.
Many of the food product you consume may have added vitamins, minerals and other supplement. So, you may be getting more of these ingredients in your breakfast cereals and beverages. This not only increases the cost of products, but also increases the risk of side effects. For example, vitamin A is a vital nutrient, but too much of it may cause headaches, damage your liver, reduce bone strength, and can even cause birth defects. Even iron, when consumed in excess, causes nausea and vomiting, and may even damage your vital organs like the liver.
Many supplements are not tested to be 100% safe for pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children. So, pregnant or nursing women should be careful around nutritional supplement. Also, avoid giving supplements to your child, unless a healthcare provider has specifically recommended for it.
Companies must follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs) established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help ensure the identity, quality and composition of their nutritional supplements.
GMPs will help companies to add the right ingredient in proper quantity, reduce chances of contamination or improper packaging or labelling of products. In addition, the FDA inspects facilities manufacturing nutritional supplements from time to time.
Many independent organizations provide quality testing. The products that pass such quality testing are allowed to display a seal of quality assurance, indicating the product was manufactured properly, meaning it contains all ingredients listed on label, and that it doesn’t have contaminants at harmful level.
However, presence of the seals does not guarantee the safety or effectiveness of a product. Organizations offering quality testing include:
- U.S. Pharmacopeia
- NSF International
Things to remember before you buy nutritional supplements
Healthy body leads to wellness. Nutritional supplements are designed to benefit your overall well-being. In case you decide to take nutritional supplements to treat a health condition, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before buying the product. It’s a good practice to consult your healthcare providers to discuss what’s best for your health & wellness. They can help you decide the supplements that may be beneficial for you. Inform your healthcare provider about the supplements you take in case you are scheduled for any surgical procedure.
Remember that the term “natural” need not mean safe. Many all-natural botanical products can actually be harmful. For example, comfrey and kava may potentially harm your liver. The safety of a nutritional supplement will depend on many factors, such as the product’s chemical makeup, its mode of preparation, how the active ingredients react in your body, and the dose you take.
Note: Keep record of all supplements and medicines that you take. Use it to specify to your healthcare provider about the supplements for a more effective treatment to your medical condition.