By: Jennifer Woods
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle means getting a good nutritional balance of the vitamins and minerals that the body needs to thrive. Often this can be done through a varied, sensible diet but for people not eating particularly well, those with certain medical conditions or those who want a little extra help in bulking up or losing weight supplements may be the way to give your body the nutrients that its missing. Because of their numerous health benefits, convenience and availability (most supplements can be bought over the counter without the approval of a healthcare provider) there was a reported 7.5% growth in nutritional supplements in 2009.
But despite their potential benefits, there are some practical and medical downsides of vitamin supplements too. People should never take any form of medication without fully understanding what it is for, how to take it correctly and knowing whether or not they actually need it. This is why it is important to consult a trained healthcare provider before taking supplements – although you may think you are doing your body a favour it might actually have the opposite effect. Here are some pros and cons to adding supplements to your diet.
(-) Excessive and unnecessary doses
People often don’t realise the specific amounts of vitamins and minerals within the foods they are consuming and may consequently use supplements to boost their nutritional intake unnecessarily. Taking excessive doses of certain vitamins can be dangerous and cause toxicities within the body’s organs and tissues – particularly the liver as it struggles to break down high amounts of various vitamins within the body. In a study carried out by Gustavo Castano, results indicated that a high intake of vitamin A can lead to liver failure and potential death.
Protein shakes are a popular supplement with athletes and body builders who want to bulk up and increase their muscle mass. But bearing in mind that the recommended daily allowance of protein is only 56g in men and that 3oz of meat sometimes containing 20g of protein, it can be easy to overdo it. The excess calories can cause athletes to actually gain fat rather than muscle. Understanding the nutritional value of the meals that you are eating is a good way to ascertain whether or not you need to add supplements to your diet at all.
(+) Beneficial for those with special diets
Some people have allergies to certain foods such as dairy products or may make the lifestyle choice to become a vegetarian. Things like this may make them deficient in certain vitamins and minerals and this is where taking supplements can be a great help. For example many vegetarians are often lacking in the vitamin B-12 which is found in meat. Inadequate amounts of this vitamin can lead to pernicious anemia so it is important to keep levels high even if you can’t or don’t want to eat the foods associated with it. Keeping levels of vitamin A, C and E high also means that you will be more protected against cancer and heart disease.
Because they usually need to be taken daily, maintaining a vitamin supplement ‘diet’ can become expensive. Although the more basic capsule form of multi vitamins can be purchased for as little as $2, the more specialized, high dose forms of vitamin supplements can cost a lot more. Their value for money is somewhat questioned by a British newspaper suggesting that 75% of the vitamin C in supplements is lost in urine as the kidneys simply flush it from the bloodstream.
With protein shakes costing up to $20 for a premade carton and $50 for a DIY tub of powder, it can certainly be an expensive way to stay healthy.
It’s not just the intial outlay for your supplements either. Another area where you may find yourself out of pocket if you are taking PRESCRIBED supplements is when purchasing health insurance. According to one report, insurance companies are now able to look at a patients perscription history and determine from this what sort of ailments or ongoing conditions they may have. Many of us presume our medical history is between us and our doctors. But insurance companies have the rights to this information through numerous loopholes that you have to adhere to before purchasing health insurance. Therefore if you have an ongoing health problem or deficiency that means you need to take regular supplements, don’t be surprised if your health insurers know about it then hike up your premiums accordingly.
In today’s hectic, high paced culture, many of us struggle to find the time to cook a healthy, nutritious meal. Vitamin supplements are a good way of getting what we need quickly and with no stress. They are also great for kids who need essential vitamins and minerals to grow properly but may be fussy eaters. The convenience of protein shakes is also great for athletes who are advised to take a protein hit directly after a workout in order to instantly repair and replenish the muscles and stabilise blood sugar levels. A premade shake is easy to carry around and is absorbed by the body more quickly than a meal.
They are also easy to get hold of with many health stores and supermarkets selling them over the counter as well as online.
(-) May interfere with medication
Studies suggest that vitamin supplements may interfere with prescribed medicines for certain medical conditions and disorders as they cause medications to be metabolised at a different rate. One prime example of this is taking a vitamin D supplement alongside Atorvastain – a drug used for controlling high cholesterol. This is one of the reasons why consulting a healthcare provider before taking supplements is so important.
(+) Different forms
Adding supplements to your diet is easy as they come in all different forms. The most well known is pill or capsule form but some people struggle to swallow these and can therefore try the teas, concentrated liquids, powders or even chewable wafers. Different forms may be absorbed by the body at different rates. For example throat lozenges are thought to take longer while pills are absorbed more quickly.