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Supplements :: Should You Take Them?

Vitamins and minerals (aka micronutrients) are essential for normal growth and function as well as overall health. The human body cannot produce its own micronutrients, so we need to get them from whole foods. Without vitamins and minerals the body is subject to disease and other ill effects of vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are everywhere. You can buy them in health food stores, supermarkets, chemists, even at petrol stations. Millions of people take one or more supplements, daily. While many people believe they are worth taking, there are still some questions about whether supplements are worth taking.

Let me put it out there from the beginning, I am not a fan of supplements and I believe consuming a healthy, balanced diet will provide you with everything you need; however I am in the minority with this opinion. The aim of this article is not to turn you off supplements, but help you understand both the pros and cons to taking them so that you can make an informed decision as to whether they are right for you.
Advantages to Taking Supplements
  • Dose Consistency: Manufacturers of synthetic micronutrients legally must provide the same amount per capsule. The quantity of nutrient in natural whole foods can vary, for example an orange may contain 50mg of vitamin C and another may contain only 10mg. In natural foods the amount varies due to where the food is grown, when it is picked, how it is stored, etc. You will always receive a consistent dosage with laboratory made supplements.
  • Purity: Synthetic micronutrients must meet certain standards set by the TGA (Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration); therefore there is less risk of product contamination. Some “naturally” made supplements have been known to be highly contaminated, the reason being that they may not comply with TGA guidelines. With all chemically made supplements you can be sure that there will be minimal contamination.
  • While dietary supplements are not intended to be food replacements there are those who could benefit from a multivitamin:
    • Those who eat less than 1600 calories per day
    • Adults and children whose diets exclude some whole foods (i.e. those who are lactose intolerant)
    • Women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding
    • Those who suffer from a digestive illness; have a chronic illness or are recovering from a major injury.
    • People with a decreased appetite (i.e. ageing adults)
    • Vegans or vegetarians

For those who fit into one or more of these categories supplements can offer ‘insurance’ that one is meeting their daily requirements. For those who do not take the time to eat or eat an unhealthy diet a daily multivitamin can provide them with the micronutrients that they are missing out on.

Disadvantages to taking supplements
  • The cost: Planning and preparing healthy meals is usually cheaper than buying supplements. Following a healthy diet also allows you to get all the vitamins and minerals that you need; you may have to take a few different supplements to get all the micronutrients you require.
  • Mega dosing: Often supplements provide you with more vitamin/mineral than you actually need. Consuming a quantity larger than your daily requirements, on a regularly basis, could cause toxicity. The side effects of toxicity can range from nausea and vomiting to muscle weakness and nerve damage.
  • They are synthetically made: Vitamins and minerals made in a laboratory are not absorbed as well by the human body as naturally occurring vitamins/minerals; therefore the majority of the micronutrients are excreted. Essentially you are paying money for a supplement which is being removed from your body rather than absorbed.
  • No Co-Factors: Naturally occurring vitamins and minerals are always made up of enzymes, co-enzymes and co-factors. These 3 elements of the micronutrient work together to produce their intended biological function. Synthetic vitamins are made without the accompanying co-enzymes and co-factors; this reduces their biological activity and decreases their absorbency rate by up to 30%.
The best source of vitamins and minerals are fruit and vegetables and other whole food groups; not only do they provide a variety of different micronutrients, they also provide fibre, antioxidants and a range of macronutrients such as protein and carbohydrates.
Choosing the right supplement:
It is your personal decision as to whether taking a supplement is right for you, so if you choose to it is important that you settle on a good one. Keep these things in mind:
  • Liquid supplements are absorbed 5 times better than pills so when possible choose liquid form.
  • Avoid mega doses.
  • Ensure supplements meet the TGA requirements.
  • Check expiration dates.
  • Store supplements safely; as directed on packet.

Supplements were designed to boost one’s daily intake of different vitamins and minerals. Vitamin and mineral supplements were not designed to be a food substitute because cannot replicate the nutritional benefits of whole foods. If you are generally healthy and eat a well balanced diet then taking a supplement may not be worth it. Do your research if you are considering taking a supplement, there is plenty of research out there, both for and against. Taking the time to consider all the advantages and disadvantages of multivitamins will help you make an informed decision as to the best plan of action for you.

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