Do You Need Dietary Supplements? Yes and No.
As vitamin and mineral supplements continue to gain popularity, some conventional health proponents have written articles claiming that not only are they useless, they could actually be harmful to your health.
No wonder you’re confused.
The truth is, by and large, dietary supplements are not a danger to your health. The only way they can be is if you are allergic to them, overdosing on them, or combining them with contraindicated prescription medications.
However, in order to receive the maximum health benefits from them, you have to be sure you’re taking the right ones.
Why People Take Dietary Supplements
The most common reasons people take dietary supplements are to lose weight, improve their energy, sleep better, and treat nutrient deficiencies.
Over the past 20 to 30 years, nutrient deficiencies have risen to near-epidemic proportions. According to WorldWatch Institute, the nutrient density of the food we eat is much lower than it was in previous generations.
This means even if we got our recommended daily allowance (RDA) of fruits and vegetables each day, (which most of us don’t) we would actually need to eat twice that amount to receive the same amount of nutrition our great-grandparents received.
And many of us eat more junk food than health food anyway. Some of us don’t see a vegetable on our plate more than once or twice a month. A diet made up primarily of highly-processed foods interferes with healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, and often leads to the development of chronic health problems.
Chronic gastrointestinal conditions like acid reflux disease, leaky gut syndrome, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease can lead to malabsorption of nutrients as well.
The Health Risks of the Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies
1. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the United States and Canada.
Symptoms of this deficiency include chronic pain, lowered immunity, bone loss, cognitive decline, psychiatric symptoms, oral health problems, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
According to a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, supplementation with calcium and vitamin D3 reduced the risk of all cancers in postmenopausal women.
A generation or two ago, our soil was rich in magnesium, which was absorbed by our produce before it came to our table. Not so these days. This, coupled with poor digestion and malabsorption disorders, has lead to a widespread deficiency in this essential mineral.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include depression, anxiety, insomnia, nervous twitches and ticks, muscle spasms and weakness, abnormal heart rhythms, and bone loss.
Most natural healthcare practitioners and nutritionists recommend taking magnesium in combination with vitamin D3 as they work best together.
3. Vitamin B12
It is estimated that 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 to 40 are deficient in this essential vitamin.
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, have a malabsorption disorder, or are on certain prescription medications such as proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux or Metformin for diabetes, you may be deficient in vitamin B12.
Symptoms include learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, dementia, infertility, low blood pressure, and incontinence.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because your body cannot make them. You need to get them from food. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish, krill, algae, flax seed, and nut oils. If you are not eating a diet rich in these fats or if you have a digestive disorder, you may be deficient.
Symptoms of a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids include fatigue, poor memory, heart problems, dry skin, mood swings, and depression.
The World Health Organization estimates that up to 700 million people are deficient in this essential mineral. Vegetarians, vegans, and those who are on an extreme weight-loss regimen may be at risk for this deficiency.
Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, tingling or crawling feeling in the legs, and cravings for non-food items such as dirt, ice or clay.
Less is More – Avoid the Temptation to Take Too Many Supplements
As I mentioned above, dietary supplements are safe for most people. However, it is important to resist the temptation to try a bunch of new and different ones just because they’re natural and available.
Talk with your healthcare provider about testing for nutrient deficiencies so you can choose the right combination for your individual needs. If you take prescription medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are any interaction warnings.
Also, when selecting dietary supplements, avoid buying them from discount stores or from your grocer’s shelf. Oftentimes, those supplements are subpar and contain potentially-harmful synthetic sweeteners, food dyes, and other unnecessary chemicals.
Instead, shop at a health food store or, better yet, buy your supplements online. This way, you’ll save both money and time without compromising your health.