What Are The most important health supplements to take?
Choosing the right health supplements can be tricky given the various options in the market. Walk into a pharmacy or health store and shelves full of products claiming different health benefits greet you. To make matters worse, unscrupulous salesmen may promote unnecessary or uncredited supplements due to self-interest.
Understandably, shopping for supplements may leave you overwhelmed at first. Don’t worry, here is a guide on the most important health supplements for you and your family.
What is a supplement?
A supplement is any product that provides nutritional benefits to a diet and is used to enhance your health. The word “supplement” is an umbrella term for various dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, proteins, enzymes and so on. These products are typically consumed orally in the form of a capsule, tablet, liquid or powder.
Supplements do not require a prescription and are readily available in most pharmacies or online stores. Legit health supplements are not drugs and as such, are not controlled or heavily regulated like medication. Doctors may recommend supplements to complement an existing treatment or to address nutrient deficiencies.
Are health supplements good for us? The short answer is yes. The benefits of health supplements are evident and popular. In a recent study by a Swedish university, a supplement group had shown a 40% decrease in cardiovascular risk as opposed to a placebo group.
However, excessive use or overdose of supplements could lead to health complications. For example, too little vitamin A can lead to blurry vision and eye issues yet too much may cause liver damage. Be sure to follow the recommended dosage or consult a doctor when taking supplements alongside medication.
Types of food supplements
Food supplements may be referred to interchangeably as dietary supplements or nutritional supplements. Types of food supplements include those from natural sources such as meat and plants or synthetic sources. These supplements can even be found in drinks or energy bars.
However, supplements are not a replacement for a healthy and balanced diet. In an ideal world, individuals should be getting daily nutrients based on the food pyramid coupled with plenty of exercise.
In reality however, modern adults struggle to get daily balanced meals with sufficient nutrients. When was the last time you had a variety of meat, fruits and vegetables in your daily meal? National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of 2003–2006 showed most Americans did not receive a micronutrient intake based on the Dietary Reference Intake.
Hectic schedules and limited resources mean essential vitamins and minerals are omitted as we settle for more convenient meals. Because of this, supplements close the nutritional gap between what our bodies need and what we fail to obtain from our diets.
What vitamins should you take?
Vitamins are a form of supplement that are either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Most organic compounds can’t be produced naturally by the body. As such, vitamins are consumed in small doses daily to improve health and wellbeing.
Here is a list of vitamins and other supplements you should consider taking:
As the term suggests, multivitamins are a combination of various vitamins and minerals in one tablet. A quick and convenient way to obtain dietary supplements, everyone benefits from multivitamins. Ingredient levels vary in multivitamins and there are multivitamins catered specifically for men and women. General multivitamins typically contain vitamins C, D, B12, magnesium, zinc and calcium minerals.
Multivitamins for men may have ingredients to promote prostate health and endurance, among others. Women’s multivitamins aid nutritional needs resulting from hormonal changes and may reduce risk of breast cancer. Those with specific deficiencies may opt for standalone vitamins instead.
2. Omega-3 Fish Oils
Fish oil supplements with high eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are highly beneficial. These fish oils are associated with reduced risk of heart disease and cognitive decline.
The Omega-3’s in fish oil are said to increase HDL (good cholesterol), reduce inflammation and improve metabolism. Cod liver oil, which many of us grew up on, is also rich in vitamin A and vitamin D.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is naturally available from sunlight. However, having spent most of the time indoors, most people do not receive an adequate amount. 50 - 70% of Europeans have poor vitamin D status according to recent data.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to cancer, depression, low bone density and poor mineral absorption. Research shows more than 800UI of vitamin D is needed for good wellbeing.
4. Folic acid
Folate is a B-vitamin that is beneficial for all ages. In babies and kids, folic acid is shown to promote healthy development of the brain and spine. For adults, folate is shown to reduce risk of Alzeiheimer’s and improve arterial blood flow. This in turn minimizes risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
When your body lacks calcium, it strips off the mineral from the bones. It causes brittle bones and osteoporosis as you age. This is especially experienced by women, given loss of estrogen from menopause. Estrogen aids calcium absorption and retention.
Adequate amounts of calcium are needed for strong bones and healthy teeth. Regular consumption of calcium throughout your lifespan pays off especially at an older age.
Women with low levels of iron resulting from menstruation may be recommended these supplements by doctors. Iron is needed for more oxygen in the blood as well as healthy muscles and organs. Insufficient iron may result in fatigue, bruising and constant lethargy.
When should you take supplements?
Healthy individuals may not necessarily need supplements now, but will benefit from a regular intake in the long term. Blood tests can be useful in determining specific deficiencies but are not a necessity. According to a spokesperson for the Academy Nutrition and Dietetics, some groups of people need supplements more than others.
Groups of people who gain the most from health supplements include:
1. Infants and young children
Adequate nutrition is essential to the health and development of babies and young children. Vitamin K is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for infants immediately after birth. Additionally, vitamin D supplements are advised for infants who are breastfed or partially breastfed. Iron supplements are also recommended beyond the age of 4 months.
2. Women who are or could get pregnant
Research shows iron supplements taken during pregnancy significantly reduce the risk of anemia and perinatal complications in mothers. Folate supplements taken before conception until early pregnancy (periconception period) are well documented to reduce neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
3. Adults over 50 years old
As the human body ages, it tends to absorb less of certain vitamins and minerals. For example, the body struggles to process vitamins D and B12 naturally as you approach middle age. Hence, the need for supplements is greater in the elderly.
4. Limited or restricted diets
Vegans and vegetarians may find it difficult to obtain nutrients and minerals found exclusively in meat. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, consider taking iron and vitamin B12 supplements. If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience bloating, nausea or diarrhoea after consuming dairy products. Since milk is a prime source of calcium, consider calcium supplements as a substitute.
5. Genetic or health conditions
People with inflammatory bowels, Celiac disease, cystic fibrosis or cancer among other diseases may require additional supplements. Medical professionals may recommend supplements depending on specific needs and deficiencies. For example, nutrient supplements vitamin B and folic acid are shown to aid in the therapy of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Health supplements for Covid-19
Covid-19 is a viral pandemic caused by a new strain of coronavirus.The virus is highly contagious via saliva droplets in the air or on surfaces. As infection rates soared to the millions, it’s no wonder people are asking what are the best health supplements to take against Covid-19.
At the time of writing, health supplements are not known to cure or prevent transmission of Covid-19. There is insufficient research and clinical trials to assert whether vitamins or minerals are effective against the coronavirus. As such, any claims of supplements being used effectively against the virus are either a hoax or unverified for now.
That being said, it has been known that nutrition is linked to better immunity and corresponds with risk or severity of any infection. A healthy individual stands a better chance at recovering from infections. Individuals with poor nourishment face greater risk of various bacterial and viral infections. It is these nourishments that make supplements important regardless.
So while there is a lack of data to link nutritional factors and Covid-19, it is better to be safe than sorry. More importantly, studies in the past have also evaluated specific nutrients with regards to other infections.
Vitamin C improves enzyme function, builds immunity, limits inflammation and is an antioxidant. The effectiveness of vitamin C has been tested on soldiers in various countries as well as hospitalized patients in US, Egypt and Iran against various ailments. It also reduced the duration of stay in intensive care and the need for mechanical ventilation.
In clinical trials, vitamin D has been shown to lower the odds of developing acute respiratory tract infections by 12 - 75%. And this includes studies on the seasonal flu and the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. Improvements in health were seen across patients of all ages.
Insufficient zinc levels in the body can also limit our immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Multiple controlled trials have shown that zinc supplements could reduce the rate of acute respiratory infections or shorten the duration of flu-like symptoms.
With documented evidence on the effectiveness of supplements, the key takeaway here is supplements could help against infections. So if you’re worried about Covid-19, there’s no harm in taking precautions. Stock up on multivitamins or vitamins C, D and zinc but do follow the recommended dosage. You may get these supplements online from Nature’s Farm. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound in cure.
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