From protein powder to one-a-days, dietary supplements are a well-known concept in the world of food and health. A large variety of people use them, like senior citizens, athletes, young adults, and in some cases even children. But all of them use it for the same purpose: nutrition.
Nutrition is necessary for all of the body’s functions. You can do nothing without food. The nutrients contained in food like vitamins and minerals, or proteins, are needed by different parts of the body to do different things. Having too much or too little of essential nutrients throws off the regular function of the body, and can cause serious health risks. If deficiencies last for a long time, these health risks might even develop into chronic illnesses.(1)
There is evidence to suggest that getting nutrients through dietary supplements is beneficial for the human body, especially when getting those nutrients is not possible because of health concerns that limit nutritious food intake.
But many people have mental blocks and stigmas against the use of supplements. Even though the products may have been tested on various quality standards and received approval from the country’s respective food regulatory authorities, people feel uncomfortable about using supplements. Perhaps it is because they feel inherently medical (even though supplements are not medicine), and self-diagnosing and medicating (without getting blood levels checked) feels suspicious. And there is some reason behind that doubt – getting too much of a nutrient can also do harm. You wouldn’t need to take certain supplements if you already had the optimal level of that nutrient in your blood and your daily lifestyle could maintain it.
But most people have suboptimal nutrient levels, while others are often unknowingly deficient in essential nutrients like Vitamin D, Vitamin B, and Magnesium. By not getting their blood checked – let’s face it, how many of us honestly plan to spend a Saturday evening getting our blood tested? – people don’t realize that a lot of their daily health issues could actually be the result of unresolved nutrient deficiencies.
The best thing to do would be to get a blood test to find out the nutrient levels in your blood, and then to compare it against the optimal ranges of what those levels should be. If it’s insufficient, or if you are deficient, discussing with a trusted healthcare practitioner about what to do is a good idea.
If you lack the diet to naturally get adequate nutrients, then daily supplementation could work for you. Nutrients can improve overall performance and help the body to work against issues. That’s part of why athletes use them, because they enhance their physical abilities and allow them to achieve a lot more than they would have without them.
But Why Supplements? Why Not Food?
Okay, you get it – nutrition is important. But why supplements? If we can get it from food, why bother stuffing supplements into our bodies?
We, too, believe that when it comes to nutrition, natural is the way to go. If it can be obtained naturally, without pesticides, free of fertilizers, preservatives, additives, and fillers, it is the best choice for nutrition. But most food is conventionally grown with chemicals, processed heavily, or could have been genetically modified (GMO). These processes make these foods unsafe for consumption and at many times, straight-up toxic. If you can easily access organic and chemical-free foods – whether plant-based or animal-origin – on a regular basis, that’s the best way to go.
Now let’s assume you have regular access to clean and safe food. Why use supplements at all?
Sometimes, certain nutrients aren’t accessible because of dietary restrictions, limitations, and preferences. For example, vegetarians and vegans don’t have access to some of the best sources of micronutrients like Vitamin B12, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Minerals like Iron, Zinc, or Selenium, other macronutrients like protein, and more, because these sources tend to be of animal origin. Meats, offal (organ meats), and seafood are some of the most nutrient-rich foods you could get, but dietary preferences prevent vegans and vegetarians from eating them. Allergies also play a role.
Plant-based foods may contain enough nutrients, but they also contain antinutrients such as phytates (present in seeds and nuts), which interfere with the absorption of minerals. Even if you eat a cup of magnesium-rich foods like almonds, your body won’t get all of the minerals contained within. Antinutrients hinder nutrient absorption. (2, 3)
Not just phytates in nuts and seeds, many plant-based foods contain antinutrients such as(3):
- Goitrogens in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, or kale that hinder Iodine absorption, which is why those with Thyroid issues should avoid it.
- Lectins in legumes and whole grains, which interfere with the absorption of phosphorus, zinc, iron, and calcium
- Oxalates in tea, beans, nuts, and beets can interfere with calcium absorption
- Saponins in legumes and whole grains, that hinder nutrient absorption
- Tannins in tea or coffee, which hinder iron absorption
Other factors like taking antacids and certain other types of medications (Proton Pump Inhibitors) also interfere with nutrient absorption from food(4). Antacids are linked with reduced calcium and B12 absorption.(5)
Those on special diets due to health issues such as those who avoid cabbage or dairy because of thyroid issues or lactose intolerance are unable to get probiotics from natural sources like kimchi, kefir, or curd/yogurt. Probiotics help to maintain a balance between good and bad gut bacteria in our digestive tract. When this balance is thrown off, it can lead to many gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas, IBS/IBD, constipation, diarrhea, and even cancer and autism.(6) This makes it important to maintain a healthy balance of good and bad gut bacteria in the gut microbiome (the environment of the bacteria in the gut). Eating processed foods and not making up for imbalances will throw off the symbiosis of these two types of bacteria in the gut.
If one does not want to give up their dietary preferences, or if they cannot choose to give up their special diets for any reason, supplements can be used to make up for the nutritional deficiencies. They give a direct dose of the most bioavailable (most easily absorbable) forms of the nutrient to your body.
Now you know why using food instead of supplements for nutrition won’t always work out – mainly because of accessibility, antinutrients, and dietary preferences.
But ‘why not food?’ is scarcely the only concern people have regarding supplements. There are many reasons people might be skeptical about taking supplements. We have gathered some of the most common reservations and attempt to provide an explanation below:
FAQs About Taking Supplements
Do I Need It?
→ Chances are, yes.
While you may not need to supplement every nutrient, it is highly possible that you are deficient in at least 1 micronutrient, if not more. Studies have found that the Indian population suffers from a rampant Vitamin D deficiency(7, 8, 9). “Our Indian diet generally fails to satisfy the daily requirement of Vitamin D for a normal adult.” reported a study from 2018.
But it’s not just India. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is one of the biggest silent epidemiologies affecting the entire world.(10, 11, 12)
This study reported, “about 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency, while 50% of the population has vitamin D insufficiency.” The same study states that most elderly populations have Vitamin D deficiencies: “In the United States, 61% of the elderly population is vitamin D deficient whereas 90% in Turkey, 96% in India, 72% in Pakistan, and 67% in Iran were vitamin D deficient.”
Other reports have been published stating that there isn’t enough Magnesium in urban western diets to meet dietary demands, leading to Magnesium deficiencies and insufficiencies, which can be correlated with severe health risks(13).
Besides Vitamin D, there has been an upward trend in general nutritional deficiencies in global populations. More than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, which can be classified as a form of malnutrition.(14)
So, yes – you probably need to supplement some nutrients.
Is It Safe Without Prescriptions?
→ Dietary supplements are treated as food and not medications. You will notice that the regulatory authorities checking the quality of supplements for approval will be the same as the country’s regulatory bodies for food: FSSAI in India, FDA in the United States, etc.
This indicates that you do not need a medical prescription from a doctor to purchase dietary supplements, but if you are skeptical, there is no harm in consulting a healthcare professional first.
Especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have specific health conditions, or intend to get supplements for children, always consult with a healthcare professional first. Dietary supplements cannot treat illness, but they do have benefits that could help your body enhance its function, especially if it is deficient. Consult with a professional before use.
I Don’t Know Enough To Start
→ If you’re at a loss about where or how to start your supplement journey, asking someone you trust could be helpful. If you do not know anyone who uses supplements, there are mountains of studies about uses, side effects, efficacies, and more, on the internet. You can access many of them for free.
This blog, too, has many articles about the uses and benefits of many nutritional supplements. You could reach out to us with questions if you prefer, and we’d be glad to help you out!
Supplements Are Expensive – Why Spend If I’m Not Sick?
→ Because supplements aren’t meant to be used as medication to treat sickness or illness, but they can help to strengthen your system and improve your health, which could indirectly prevent an illness from manifesting to begin with – especially chronic illnesses.
It does this by providing parts of your systems with much-needed nutrition. These parts of you work together as one entity to form your body, like many parts form a machine. And nutrition is the oil that keeps this machine running and healthy. Supplements are a worthwhile investment to make for the sake of your health – especially if you are willing to spend money on costly medicines that do more harm than good after you fall sick.
You could browse the internet for affordable supplements, but keep in mind that clean and safe products could be on the costlier side because of high production costs, especially if you live on a tight budget. Companies often use additives to bring down their total production cost and increase profit at the cost of the consumer.
You can keep an eye out on www.ithrive.shop for great offers and discounts from time-to-time.
Do I Have To Take Them For A Lifetime?
→ Not all supplements need to be taken forever, but some do. The essential nutrients which you lacked because of your daily lifestyle and dietary habits (like Vitamin D, Magnesium, B-Complex, etc.) will be your lifelong partners. This is because your body requires them daily, and your lifestyle fails to cater to this need. You could choose to wean yourself off the supplements eventually, but you might end up deficient again if you do not alter your lifestyle to provide adequate nutrition.
I Just Don’t Like Taking Medicines/Capsules/Drops
→ Supplements are not medicines. Supplements are meant to make up for nutritional imbalances in the body, not to cure illnesses. If you have an issue with the form in which the supplement is available, such as in capsules, tablets, or liquid drops, you could always look for alternative forms of that nutrient. Good supplement brands aim to make their products as safe and easy to consume as possible. But keep in mind that sometimes supplements come in particular forms so as to allow for maximum absorption of that nutrient by the body, so while another form may be available, it might not be the best one.
There’s So Much Stigma Around Them
→ Most of the social stigma against supplements comes from improper usage, taking too much, or lack of awareness about their efficacy. To get the best results with little to no side effects, one should only take supplements as indicated on the product packaging or by their healthcare professional, ideally after getting tested to find out what exactly they are deficient or insufficient in, and after verifying that the supplements are safe to use. You can check this article for tips on choosing clean and safe supplements.
Supplements can be a useful tool on your journey to transform and elevate your health. They can have many beneficial effects, but mental blocks against them because of social stigmas prevent many people from getting the help they could very well need. Get your blood checked to find out your nutrient levels, and consult with a healthcare professional if required. Supplements cannot make up for an overall healthy lifestyle, but they can form an important part of it. Don’t let mental blocks stop your body from growing and thriving!