Open your cupboard, medicine cabinet, or even table drawer and you will most likely find a bottle or two of vitamin and mineral supplements. In Australia alone, the vitamin and supplement market is a multi-billion dollar industry with an average annual growth of 6%. Manufacturers of supplements are continuously innovating especially in the design of newer delivery formats and in fortifying ordinary food items and other products with these supplements. But the real question remains: do you really need these supplements or not?
A Look at Supplements: The Role of Vitamins and Minerals
The human body is a very complicated biological machinery that requires optimum precision when it comes to the proper functioning of its individual parts. This can only be achieved if the body receives the right micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – necessary for supporting these processes.
Vitamins play a role in a variety of physiologic processes, from cellular metabolism all the way to the production of collagen and the optimum health and functioning of the different body organ systems. Minerals, on the other hand, are important structural components of cells, hormones, and other substances. In other words, vitamins and minerals help make sure that the body is functioning properly.
Where Should We Get Vitamins and Minerals?
All the vitamins and minerals that our body needs are supplied by the food that we eat. However, because there is no single food item that contains all the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, we have to consume greater varieties of food. This is where the problem lies.
Many have food preferences and dietary practices that somehow negatively affect their food choices. Some individuals simply cannot get themselves to like vegetables or even fruits, preferring instead meats. Others adhere to certain diets that severely restrict their intake of certain vitamins and minerals.
The real problem is that many of us today do not really pay attention to the food that we eat. We don’t think of variety to help cover for the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need.
Why You May Need Supplements
Given the fact that not everyone is eating a healthy, highly-varied, and well-balanced diet that includes all of the different food groups, supplements can be very beneficial. Supplements can supply the body with the right micronutrients in their recommended daily allowances. Supplements are generally recommended for those who simply cannot adhere to a well-balanced diet or those who cannot physically do so because of an illness.
You may also need supplements if there is a significant increase in your physiologic needs. You may be eating normally or eating a well-balanced diet, but there are physiologic changes in the body that will require additional support. For example, pregnant women will require additional iron, folic acid, vitamin D, and calcium supplements while babies can also benefit from additional DHA in their milk. If one is recuperating from an illness or even surgery, vitamin and mineral supplementation may be needed to help support the reparative processes.
Why You Don’t Need Supplements
There is an increasing body of evidence showing that multivitamins and minerals do not provide any significant benefit to those who take them. Manufacturers have to take the blame for this. They are often guilty of falsely advertising their products, claiming that it can prevent certain diseases. Watch any supplement on any broadcast ad and it is always associated with a certain disease. Unfortunately, supplements do not cure or prevent anything. They only support the human body.
Fat-soluble vitamins are notorious for acute toxicities. Vitamin A, for instance, can become highly toxic if consumed in excess. This can lead to liver damage as well as an increase in the pressure inside the brain. Even minerals can produce hypo and hyper states that will necessitate medical treatment. For example, having too much calcium in the blood can predispose you to the formation of kidney stones as well as confusion and depression.
The real problem with supplements is that you really cannot be sure of the ingredients that they put into each pill. They may always say that it’s made of all-natural ingredients. But since the product is a supplement, it doesn’t go through very stringent testing by government agencies. Their safety is, thus, questionable at best.
Obviously, certain individuals can benefit from supplements. For the great majority, however, you’ll be better off without them so long as you eat a well-balanced diet.