Supplements. They’re everywhere. Fire up the internet and look around. You’ll find supplements promising to improve athletic performance, grow hair, inhibit hair growth, improve your skin, boost your brain power and everything else you can think of.
But how effective are supplements and do you really need them?
Sometimes, supplements can play an important role, but it seems to me that much of what supplements promise us – dietary supplements especially – is already available to us in the food we eat. The problem with this is that many of our diets are lacking in the vitamins and minerals we need to function at our best. Let’s unpack the question – are dietary supplements hype or hope?
When supplements aren’t your friend
I’m not here to demonize the practice of taking supplements. What I am here to do is to share relevant information which illuminates the question of their efficacy – and safety.
While you wouldn’t tend to think that taking supplements could be harmful, that’s not the case. In fact, at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in 2015, research was presented which suggested they can be exactly that.
While it’s believed in some quarters – without solid empirical evidence – that taking certain supplements can reduce cancer risk, for certain types of supplements the opposite is true. In fact, beto-carotene, when taken in high dosages, can contribute to the development of cancer in the body. The research presented also pointed to folic acid and Vitamin E as two types of supplement which might have a similar effect.
These three supplements were found to increase the risk of cancer. Beta-carotene was also found to increase the risk of heart disease.
The truth about supplements
Supplements are no substitute for conscious nutrition. A balanced diet is the best way to provide your body with what it needs to perform at its peak.
While a multivitamin isn’t a bad idea, super-dosing with vitamins is not a fix for a bad diet. It’s rather like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s a still a pig – and your diet is still not giving you what you need.
The ongoing obsession with Vitamin C for everything from healthy skin to cold prevention is a good example of how people mistake supplements for a silver bullet. Again, mega-dosing with this vitamin is not only not going to fix the problem, it may lead to complications like diarrhea and cramps.
Taken in sensible doses Vitamin can support your immune system. Going overboard can cause health problems. As with everything, balance is key.
There’s so much more I could say about supplements, but this will get you started thinking about your relationship to them and whether you’re neglecting your diet, using supplements as a crutch and an excuse.
If you take supplements, check to see that you’re not ingesting something harmful in quantities that present a health risk.
Think carefully about your diet. Ask yourself if you can’t replace some of the supplements you’re taking with better nutrition.
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