Dietary Supplements: Necessary or Waste of Money?
Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - September 9, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — These days, dietary supplements seem to come aplenty. These are now easily available and offered under various brands. And these products are also vigorously advertised.

Every year, consumers reportedly spend over a billion dollars on vitamins and other dietary supplements. It’s hard to resist the advertisements, which are in almost all media platforms. At some point people just become curious what’s all the fuss about and tend to get on the bandwagon.

Dietary supplements are not medication for illness. These are supposedly for restoring or preserving one’s health. One takes dietary supplements out of hope that these will deliver on their promise.

In the first place, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet should provide people with all of the individual nutrients they need. But if the diet isn›t so good, some of those nutrients might be deficient. And health professionals say that a dietary supplement or multivitamin can help fill the nutrient gaps.

The same health professionals say that multivitamins won’t totally compensate for an unhealthy diet. A person who hates fruits and vegetables might not be getting enough vitamin C, and someone who refuses to eat dairy products may need extra calcium. Taking a daily dietary supplement with those vitamin and mineral is a way to meet the recommended dietary intakes.

But for the purpose of reducing the risk of a specific disease, adding a supplement to one’s daily diet may not make much of a difference, if at all. For example, no research has shown that vitamins or other supplements will reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke, or improve lifespan. On the contrary, taking large amounts of vitamin E and some antioxidants has been found to be detrimental to one’s health.

Bottom line: Are dietary supplements really necessary or are these just a waste of money? Shereen Lehman, MS, in an article at www.verywellfit.com, explains that while taking vitamins isn’t going to fix all of one’s diet and lifestyle issues, there are some individual vitamins and dietary supplements that research evidence favors:

Calcium. The recommended amount of calcium for most adults is about 1,200 milligrams per day and many health professionals urge older women to take calcium supplements to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Vitamin D. One needs vitamin D to absorb and utilize calcium. Most of one’s vitamin D intake comes from exposure to sunlight. Otherwise, an average adult needs about 400 International Units of vitamin D. Most calcium supplements include vitamin D.

Fish Oil. Omega-3 fatty acids will help prevent cardiovascular disease. Oily ocean fish are the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids though plants such as flax also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that 0.5 to 1.8 grams of fish oil per day is an effective amount.

Folic Acid. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, and legumes. Folic acid supplements are recommended for women who may become pregnant. The recommended amount for adults is 400 micrograms per day.

Antioxidants and Zinc. Study results have shown that a combination of antioxidants and zinc taken as a dietary supplement reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration. The formula used in the study was: 500 milligrams vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15 milligrams beta-carotene, 80 milligrams zinc as zinc oxide, and 2.0 milligrams copper as cupric oxide.

Probiotics. Foods like yogurt and fermented foods naturally contain bacteria called probiotics. These bacteria are similar to the friendly bacteria commonly found in the human digestive system. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements and may be beneficial for people with irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea.

Many habitual takers of dietary supplements vouch that it works for them. Some even claim that their particular supplement has alleviated their health complaints. Others, though, do not report of any perceived benefit but continue to take supplements for fear that their health would break down if they stop.

Casual observers are of the opinion that dietary supplements must be offering something good. For one, it must be good business for their manufacturers, who seem to be enjoying increasing public acceptance of their products. At the same time, such widespread patronage of dietary supplements for a long time now may be a testimonial to these products’ efficacy.

Dr. Paul M. Coates, director of the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institute of Health, in the US, however cautions that “deciding whether to take dietary supplements and which ones to take is a serious matter.” He advises everyone to first learn about the potential benefits and risks of the dietary supplements they intend to take. And, guidance by a health professional shall be sought on what might be the best supplements to take, for one’s overall health.

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