10 key issues to consider before taking supplements

By , K24 Digital
On Thu, 4 Apr, 2024 06:00 | 4 mins read
Tabltes. PHOTO/iStock

There has been so much hype about supplements and their potential benefits that it can be hard to separate facts from fiction.

Used properly, some may improve your health, but others can be ineffective or even harmful.

1. Try to get your vitamins and nutrients from food

Before spending a lot of money on supplements, i’s important to know that a balanced diet will usually supply enough of the necessary vitamins and nutrients, unless a deficiency has been diagnosed.

In other words, eat your vegetables and fruits, whole grains and nuts, and healthy protein sources, and you’re probably pretty much set. Supplements are just that — usually extras.

That said, if you have a particular deficiency, or if your access to a variety of nutrient-rich foods is limited, supplements can be a way to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and nutrients you need.

Still, this should ideally be something you discuss with a health care provider before you head to the health food store.

2. Supplements aren’t as safe and regulated as most people assume

There are two major misconceptions about supplement safety that can cause trouble for unwitting customers. The first is the assumption that if it’s available over the counter at a pharmacy or “natural” food store, it must be safe to take.

Unfortunately, over-the-counter status or even a label that says “all natural” doesn’t mean that it won’t have harmful side effects in certain people or when combined with certain substances.

Consumers should be, especially wary of product claims such as “works better than [a prescription drug],” “totally safe,” or has “no side effects.”

And while pharmacies and other retail outlets may vet their supplement products to the extent feasible before putting them on their shelves, that’s no guarantee that the quality and concentration are as advertised. 

3. Check with your doctor

The main reason for discussing your supplement usage with your provider is safety. Dietary supplements—and that includes vitamins and minerals—can interfere with prescription medications, and taking a larger daily dose than recommended can cause side effects.

The same goes for botanical or herbal supplements.

Another reason to talk to your doctor about supplements is because what your physician doesn’t know about what you’re taking could compromise your care if you do become ill.

For example approximately 80 per cent of cancer patients use complementary medicine tools, but only 14 per cent communicate this with their traditional practitioners.

There is also a gap in much-needed research so, fairly, the oncologists are concerned about potential  supplement interactions or conflicts with chemotherapeutic and immunologic agents, or radiation therapy.

4. Know how much you are supposed to take

Another common misconception about dietary supplements is that if a vitamin or mineral is good for you, increasing your intake might deliver additional health benefits.

People think that if a little bit is good, a lot must be better, but that’s not the case because the body absorbs only what it needs. Aside from being a waste of money, taking in more than you need can also be harmful.

Too much vitamin D over time, for instance can actually weaken the bones. Biotin—a popular supplement that people take to improve skin, nails, and hair—can interfere with lab-test results when taken at high levels, making them read falsely high or falsely low.

5. Don’t take vitamin supplements on an empty stomach

Do you usually pop a multivitamin before breakfast? Be waiting until you’ve had something to eat.

Taking vitamins on an empty stomach can cause nausea because sometimes your body excretes more acidic digestive juices than needed, just to break down the supplement by itself,which can irritate the stomach’s lining.

If there isn’t any other food to slow down and buffer the digestive juices, the result can be an upset stomach.

6. The body doesn’t break all vitamins down the same way

Some vitamins are also absorbed differently in the body, which can make a big difference in deciding whether to take them.

Be particularly careful with vitamins A and E because they are fat-soluble. This means that the body stores these nutrients in your liver and fatty tissues for future use rather than quickly breaking them down and metabolising them as it does for other types of vitamins.

Large doses of either one could actually harm you.

7. Do not combine daily vitamin E and fish oil

Fish oil can be a great belly fat zapper, but hey, both fish oil and Vitamin E are blood thinners and can make you bruise or bleed more easily.

And if you take a daily aspirin, it does the same thing—so definitely check with your doctor before combining any of these.

8. Calcium competes with iron for absorption

Calcium blocks absorption of iron. To avoid this interference, take calcium supplements outside the meal setting.

For example, take a spinach salad packed with iron, along with a tangerine so your body absorbs that iron, and then a calcium supplement several hours later before you go to bed.

9. Vitamin K is a critical factor in blood clotting

For some types of anticoagulants [medications that help prevent blood clots], the amount of vitamin K in the body needs to be maintained at a fairly constant level to avoid either over- or under-anticoagulation.

Therefore, if your doctor has prescribed an anticoagulant, you should have a conversation about whether you are on type that is affected by the vitamin K level.

10. Zinc and antibiotics don’t go together

Many people often turn to zinc as a cold-fighter.

But don’t take zinc when taking antibiotics (such as quinolone and tetracycline), as it will reduce the amount of zinc and antibiotic that the body can absorb. 

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