At this time of year, every billboard, internet advert, and Facebook post seems to be touting the benefits of dietary supplements— from promising astonishing results to making wild promises, it seems supplements are the ultimate answer to everlasting health and beauty—not to mention endless, glossy hair.
For many of us, modern lives are busy and relentless, leaving us with less time to consider whether our meals and diets are correctly balanced, and dietary supplements present themselves as an easy answer—but just how effective are these so-called wonder drugs?
There will be a myriad of different plans for everyone, and advice which seems contradictory. It is important to remember that everyone is different, and each diet is unique. We have put together a guide of ‘need-to-knows’ to help you make a balanced, informed decision on whether to add supplements to your diet.
Supplements, by their very nature, help to add to your diet. This boost can be useful if you lack certain nutrients; for example, vegans who lack B12. They can also help if your bloodwork shows that you are anemic or low in iron as it can be tricky to get enough leafy green vegetables and other essential sources of iron into our diet, and a supplement can help with that. This is especially important for women, who have a higher chance of anemia and its associated issues.
As well as boosting missing nutrients, supplements can offer their own health benefits. As an example, regular fish oil can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. St John’s Wort is a supplement often used to help combat mild depression, and chamomile is a renowned remedy for everything from sore throats to better sleep. If you have a specific issue, a supplement can be a great way to target and tackle this.
What To Watch For
Interaction with other medications
One of the issues with supplements is the effect they could have on other medicines—this is particularly true with natural herbs and vitamins. Some combinations can have complicated and possibly even dangerous side effects, while others prevent other medications from doing their job effectively. For instance, Vitamin K has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners, while St John’s Wort has a risk of interfering with the birth control pill and antidepressants. To be safe, consult your doctor if you are taking medication before starting supplements.
Too much of a good thing
Overdoing the supplements is possible. Like anything, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. In the worst cases, supplements can reach toxic levels in the body, and this can have unpleasant side effects. Too much vitamin A can lead to congenital disabilities, reduce the mineral density of bones, and even cause liver damage. While iron is essential, in excess it can cause nausea and dehydration, resulting in low blood pressure, dizziness, and a range of other unwanted effects. It is crucial to balance supplements as you would everything else in your diet.
In the end, it’s hard to say if supplements are right for you—because the answer to that question is going to be different for everyone. As a general rule, if in doubt ask your healthcare provider.