Which Supplements to take ?

Which supplement to take?

Before we dig into which supplements to take, let's understand what supplements are. The dictionary meaning of supplements says “a thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it.”

Dietary supplements include vitamins, fish oil, herbs, minerals, calcium, and more! We see a lot of people taking them just because they have helped someone they know. But the question is SHOULD YOU?

Imbalances can occur easily and chances are, you might not even be aware about it! So the best way to get your vitamins and minerals is having healthy, balanced food. 

Do you REALLY need a supplement?

Most healthy people don’t need one. But some people might need extra help like if you are elderly, have been diagnosed to be deficient, take certain medicines, or don’t have access to healthy food. 

Some conditions where taking a supplement can be thought of are - 

  • Planning pregnancy - you might need more iron in your diet around this time if you aren’t getting enough from your food, especially if you are having morning sickness. Most women are also advised to take folic acid to get “an extra cushion of safety”.
  • For a young child - infants and children have to be monitored for Vitamin D and iron.
  • Eat a restricted or limited diet - nutrients like Vitamin B12, calcium can be less if you avoid certain food groups. That is if you are vegan or dairy allergic. 
  • Older than 50 years old - Your body absorbs less Vitamin D and B12 as you get older. You can consult your doctor to understand if you need a supplement for it. 
  • Certain health conditions - like inflammatory bowel disease (like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s), celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, liver disease, cancer, an autoimmune disorder (like pernicious anemia), alcohol dependence, darker skin (you may absorb less Vitamin D).

A lot of this depends on a lot of factors. Unless you haven’t taken up a blood test it is most unlikely to get to a conclusion as to what the underlying deficiency might be. Taking a test and a doctor’s advice is the only way to be sure and start the treatment accordingly. 

To take a supplement or not is decided on the severity of the deficiency. So unless the levels aren’t clear, it is difficult and also, in some cases, fatal.

What are the possible deficiencies that I may face? 

Taking a routine blood test to understand if you are lacking certain vitamins and minerals is a good idea. If you’ve been vegan for many years you need to check your Vitamins B12, Vitamin D levels. 

The best way to understand an underlying issue is by paying attention to what is going on on the outside. If you see any of the below symptoms, you can see a doctor to detect an underlying issue - 

  • Extreme hair loss
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Serious tiredness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vision changes
  • Wounds that heal very slowly
  • Low energy levels
  • Brittle nails

Supplements and safety - 

While research shows there is no harm in taking a multivitamin, you also have to take into account the total amounts you get in a day. This is calculated by your nutritionist before giving you any plan to follow since the “micronutrient” part is as important as “macro nutrient”.

Taking an overdose of these nutrients can show side effects like how your medicine works, can cause mild nausea, or bleeding, which can be serious! 

Always make sure you keep your doctor aware of all the ongoing medications before starting a supplement. Certain supplements need extra caution! Here are some common supplements and how you have to stay in limits with it! 

  • Beta-carotene and vitamin A - high doses over a period of time can cause chances of lung cancer if you smoke. If you are pregnant, Vitamin A in retinol form may make it more likely for your baby to have birth defects.
  • Antioxidants - Overuse of these, like vitamin C and E might trigger tumor growth. This also interferes with cancer treatment.
  • Vitamin B12- too much dose side effects could be anxiety, dizziness or headaches if you take too much!
  • Vitamin D - Too much can lead to calcium buildup (Hypercalcemia). They may give you kidney stones. 

The whole idea is to have the correct amounts in the correct way. Being widely available and a lot of data availability on the search engines have made it “look” easy. There is a lot of counting, balancing, understanding that goes behind taking these than just asking someone to pop a pill. 

Being aware and understanding your body and reacting to the signs it gives is the best way to get to the bottom of the problem in this! 

5 truths about supplements -

Though taking supplements are certainly beneficial to your health, evidence varies widely and it’s important to know more about your health and body before jumping into taking them. Here are 5 things you need to know - 

  1. Supplements come in many forms - it can be pill, powder or liquid. The goal of this is often the same - supplement the diet to get enough nutrients and enhance health. The most common supplements we see these days are - 
    1. Calcium
    2. Fish oil
    3. Echinacea
    4. Ginseng
    5. Vitamin D
    6. Green tea
  2. Some supplements are effective, while others are not - there is a reason supplements are so popular, ‘sometimes’ they work. Some supplements that benefit your health when taken with the right guidance are -
    1. Vitamin B12 - helps with keeping nerve and blood cells healthy, prevent anemia
    2. Folic acid - reduces birth defects when taken during pregnancy
    3. Vitamin D - strengthen bones
    4. Calcium - promotes bone health
    5. Vitamins C and E- prevents and reduces cell damage
    6. Fish oil - supports heart health
    7. Vitamin A - slows vision loss from age-related macular degeneration
    8. Zinc - promotes skin health and slows down vision loss from age related macular degeneration.
    9. Melatonin - helps counteract jet lag.

Make a note - most studies won’t suggest that supplements will make you live longer, slow cognitive decline or lower chances of disease such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes. All of this helps only if taken in the right amounts and with the right food habits. Otherwise there is very little that JUST supplements can do.

  1. Supplements aren’t always safe - like we saw initially, there is a lot that can go wrong when not done in the right way. These aren’t toys we can play with. They have adverse side effects and should not be taken lightly.
    1. Vitamin K - can reduce effectiveness of blood thinners.
    2. Gingko - increases blood thinning.
    3. Herbal supplements - causes damage to liver
    4. Beta-carotene and Vitamin A - Increases risk of lung cancer in smokers. 
  2. Speak with your doctor before taking supplements - we cannot stress this point enough to show how important this is to stay away from other issues. I guess you have an idea by now, do you?
  3. Nothing beats the nutrient power of a healthy diet! Make sure you focus on healthy eating rather than “dieting”. Supplements are made to be supplementary - meaning they enhance benefits that are already provided by eating well. 

Supplements should never be used in place of real food. Don’t underestimate what a nutrient-packed meal can do as compared to a pill made in a factory. 

Vitamins and minerals are vital to help your body develop and function the way it should. While most people get all what is needed from a healthy eating plan, others need a little extra nutrient boost. That’s where supplements come in - providing you with the “support” you need. Not overtaking the role of food itself! 

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