Published: 11/26/2015 - Updated: 03/08/2020
Author: Dra. Loredana Lunadei, PhD
There’s no doubt about it: the best way to get the nutrients that the body requires is through healthy foods. However, as our current diet becomes more and more deficient (nutritionally speaking) seeking supplements seems like the best alternative. Although it could be a good idea to take them, you also need to do so responsibly in order to decide which supplements are best for you.
Disadvantages of consuming dietary supplements
Whenever talking about supplements, we generally think that this is something healthy that’s going to improve health. There are some disadvantages, however, that go along with consuming things that, often times, we don’t even fully understand.
Food is healthier: Although you’ve heard that taking supplements is an excellent way to stay healthy, it’s important that you recognize that the healthiest option is simply to obtain these nutrients from your food. Supplements don’t always imitate the nutritional value contained in food, nor the unique combination of nutrients that each food offers. Nutrients consumed directly from foods have also been proven to be more easily absorbed than the majority of nutrients consumed in supplements.
Side effects: Although supplements contain nutrients that are normally consumed via the diet, they could also produce side effects if consumed in excess. For example, in high doses zinc could cause vomiting, nausea, and also certain allergic reactions. Excessive vitamin A could damage the liver or cause headaches, just to name a few examples.
Negative interactions with medication: Supplements can also cause medications to be less effective, although this is not common. You should always let your doctor day before including any sort of supplement into your diet, especially if you’re undergoing any sort of treatment.
Poor quality: Because dietary supplements are not regulated in the same way medications are, you could easily find poor quality supplements. These may not work, and they may also create unwanted side effects. To avoid consuming poor quality supplements, we recommend using a reliable laboratory and avoid any that promise miracles or unrealistic effects. It is quite likely that this is simply a bunch of talk.
Misleading advertising: Unfortunately, not all supplements are the same quality as those previously mentioned. Often times products can turn out to be something other than what you had expected, or they are not effective because they don’t contain the necessary amount of active ingredients to affect the body. That’s why it is always a good idea to look at the active ingredients list in your supplement before buying it.
Advantages of consuming dietary supplements
In spite of their disadvantages, we can’t overlook the fact that supplements can be a good alternative, if used responsibly and with the appropriate understanding.
They help balance a poor diet: If your diet is not sufficiently varied, you might have certain dietary deficiencies. In this case, supplements are a perfect alternative for improving your nutrition, although we always recommend that you try to make healthy dietary changes first.
General health benefits: Although not all supplements are recommended for just any condition, some, like folic acid, don’t have any side effects and can be consumed regularly. It helps prevent a certain type of anemia and birth defects for pregnant women. A lot of health professionals recommend that any fertile woman that wants to get pregnant takes a folic acid supplement.
Prevents illness: Some supplements can be useful for preventing the development of certain diseases. Iron, for example, can be used for people that need increased amounts of iron, such as pregnant women, in order to prevent anemia. Other illnesses can also be prevented by consuming different supplements. Some vitamins with antioxidant properties, for example, can be used to prevent diseases related to vision. Supplements are often times recommended to prevent dietary deficiencies.
Recommendations when taking dietary supplements
Responsible supplement consumption can be very beneficial for the body. That’s why it’s important to follow a few recommendations before including a supplement in your diet:
- Always see your doctor before starting any type of supplement.
- Don’t use supplements as a substitute for medication, especially without seeing your doctor.
- Read the labels.
- Try to choose supplements from trustworthy laboratories.
- Do not consume in excess. Your dosage level must be safe. When supplements are consumed in excess they could cause different health problems, depending on your case.
- Do not take supplements that don’t clearly indicate their contents.
- Get informed about side effects that your chosen supplement could cause.
- Follow directions on the label, and those from your doctor.
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