There are many food supplements and vitamins available, but for whom are they intended? When do they work well, poorly, or even negatively? The majority of older persons use a dietary supplement purchased over the counter. But do these products work for everyone? In this article, we examine the broad guidelines for consuming dietary supplements.
Over-the-counter dietary supplements produce $30 billion in revenue annually in the US, from more than 90,000 different items. These sales also include a sizable portion of older folks. According to a poll of nearly 3,500 persons 60 and older, 70% of them use a daily supplement (either a multivitamin or a specific vitamin or mineral), 54% take one to two supplements, and 29% take four or more.
However, are these pills effective treatment or a waste of money?
Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, asserts that “supplements are never a replacement for a balanced, healthy diet.” Additionally, they may serve as a diversion from healthy lifestyle choices that offer far more advantages.
What are food supplements?
Food supplements, often known as dietary supplements or nutritional supplements, are intended to provide nutrients that may not be consumed in appropriate amounts. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and other substances can be included in food supplements, and they can be given as pills, tablets, capsules, liquid, etc.1 There are many various dosing and mix options for supplements. However, only a specific quantity of each vitamin is required for our bodies to operate, thus consuming more of a given nutrient is not always preferable. Some drugs may have negative side effects and become hazardous at excessive dosages. Therefore, only supplements that come with a recommendation for an acceptable daily amount and a warning not to exceed that dose can be marketed lawfully in order to protect the health of customers.
Various supplements are used in Europe. For instance, whereas it is less prevalent in Ireland and Spain (23% and 9%, respectively), it is more prevalent in Germany and Denmark (43% and 59% of the adult population, respectively). More women than males utilize dietary supplements.
Who needs food supplements?
Supplements cannot replace a healthy, balanced diet. All the elements required for optimum health should typically be present in a diet that contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, enough protein, and healthy fats. The majority of European nations concur that messaging intended for the general public should concentrate on dietary recommendations based on foods. Although supplements are not mentioned in these recommendations, there are some population groups or people who might need advice on supplements even if they follow a healthy, balanced diet, such as women of childbearing age or people taking particular drugs.
Not everyone is able to maintain a balanced diet, in part because of our contemporary way of life. According to dietary studies, some micronutrients are not being consumed to their full potential in Europe. Inadequate intakes of vitamin C, vitamin D, folic acid, calcium, selenium, and iodine were found by the EURRECA project, which was supported by the EU. Recent comparisons of national surveys revealed broad concern with vitamin D levels, although inadequate mineral intakes are more common among some age groups.
For instance, there are worries about teenage girls getting enough iron in Denmark, France, Poland, Germany, and the UK. Young women with low iron levels are also more likely to have babies who are born with low birth weight, iron deficiency, and delayed brain development. A woman’s folate status is crucial if she plans to get pregnant. Folic acid supplementation is indicated both before and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A newborn being born with neural tube defects like spina bifida is less likely to occur if the folate level is adequate.
According to recent studies, the vitamin D level of 50–70% of Europeans is subpar. There may be a better justification in Northern European nations for recommending vitamin D supplements because vitamin D status depends on both dietary consumption and UV exposure. Although there are calls for more research, there are currently recommendations for specific populations in various countries (such as the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden) to take a vitamin D supplement.
Therefore, if the health advantages of supplements are little or nonexistent for the ordinary, healthy individual, why do so many people use them? According to Dr. Manson, people frequently view them as something additional they may do to ensure their basic nutritional needs are addressed. She continues, “There may also be a placebo effect to supplement use.” “If they do something they think will make them healthy, people feel healthier.”
The fact that the FDA does not regulate supplements is their biggest drawback. According to Dr. Manson, supplements can be sold without needing to demonstrate any advantages. It’s also challenging to be assured that the supplement has the substances listed on the label and is free of contaminants due to the lack of regulation and inspection.
But there is some good news as well. Consider the possibility that folic acid and the B-complex vitamins may lower the risk of stroke. Additionally, males who took a daily multivitamin for 11 years had an 8% reduced risk of cancer and a 9% lower incidence of cataracts compared to a placebo group, according to the Physicians’ Health Study II, which was published in 2012 by Harvard researchers.
Particular risks for specific population groups
Although some people may benefit from supplements, not everyone may benefit from them. In reality, using some supplements, especially in large amounts, is not advised for some individuals. It has been suggested that multivitamins should be prepared with more attention for the intakes of micronutrients from foods as certain research reveal multivitamins can contribute to an increased risk of excessive nutrient intake.
People should pay close attention when reading the label to be sure a supplement is right for them. When used in excess of the authorized dose or for an extended period of time, supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), such as cod liver oil, can be detrimental to pregnant women and result in birth abnormalities.