News / South Africa / Health
Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe
Normally you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet. The fact though is that we are constantly exposed to advertisements for supplements and how they can make us healthier and more energetic.
Dietary supplements are designed to augment your daily intake of nutrients, usually vitamins and minerals. Other substances in this category are: botanical (herbal) products, amino acids, essential fatty acids and oils, enzymes, probiotics and animal organ and glandular extracts.
Dietary supplements are regulated to some extent, but not as strictly as medication. In South Africa, proof that dietary supplements are safe or effective is not required. Some dietary supplements do offer health benefits, but there can be risks. In some cases there are no clinical trials demonstrating safety or effectiveness.
Always speak with your healthcare provider if you are:
Taking supplements can provide additional nutrients when your diet is lacking or when certain health conditions cause you to develop an insufficiency or deficiency.
In most cases, multiple vitamin supplements provide all the basic micronutrients your body needs. These multiple vitamins are generally safe because they contain only small amounts of each nutrient.
Individual nutrients can also be sold as dietary supplements, but usually in larger amounts. They may be used to treat a deficiency, such as iron deficiency, but sometimes they’re used therapeutically to treat specific health conditions.
Scientific research supports some of the benefits of using dietary supplements for certain health conditions, but in many more cases effectiveness has not been backed up by research.
It’s always best to speak to a paediatrician before starting your child on any new dietary supplements. Children who are extremely picky eaters, have certain health conditions or follow restricted diets might be at the risk of deficiencies.
The Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of tainted products that are marketed as dietary supplements. The worst offenders are usually weight loss aids, “natural” sexual enhancement pills and supplements targeted at bodybuilders.
Most dietary supplements are safe as long as you follow the instructions on the label, but large doses of certain nutrients can have strong biological effects on the body and can be dangerous.
For example, the fat-soluble vitamins A and D can build up to toxic levels in your body when taken in large doses over extended periods of time. Prolonged use of vitamin B-6 in large amounts can cause nerve damage. Large doses of vitamin C may cause diarrhoea.
Mineral supplements can also be dangerous. For example, both selenium and iron supplements can be toxic in large amounts.
Some dietary supplements can interact with over-the-counter or prescription medications, or even with each other, and some supplements should be avoided before undergoing surgery.
The amounts needed to prevent deficiency are given as the recommended daily allowance. The current consensus is that a proper diet provides all the micronutrients most people need.
In recent times, supplementing with vitamins and minerals has shifted from trying to prevent deficiencies to supposedly enhancing health.
For vitamin E and selenium, a recent trial found a 17% increase in the risk of developing prostate cancer in men who took 400 units of vitamin E daily, and no protection against developing prostate cancer from selenium.
Taking calcium and vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis and broken bones in older women. But there may be an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important in preventing and managing heart disease. But for the second time in two years, researchers have found a link between high levels of omega-3 fats in the blood and prostate cancer.
To build half a kilogramme of muscle the body needs between 10 and 14 additional grams of protein per day and some of powders have 80 grams of protein per serving. Your body will break down the excess protein for energy. Also, too much protein can be hard on the kidneys and liver.
Folate (vitamin B9) has important roles in the synthesis of DNA and cell division. Folic acid’s benefits in pregnancy are well documented. In children, men, and women beyond childbearing years, supplementation in the absence of deficiency has no benefits, and may raise cancer risk.
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