What you need to know before buying all those vitamins and nutrition supplements. By Sasha Gonzales
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You may pop vitamin pills daily, thinking they are doing you good. But food is really the best way to provide your body with essential nutrients, and if your diet is generally healthy and well balanced though, then you probably do not need supplements.
If you are unable to meet your daily nutrient requirements through your diet – does “I’m too busy to go for lunch” sound familiar? – then taking supplements might benefit you. (Not sure what you’re not getting enough of? Start here with the top five nutrient deficiencies in women.
What to know when choosing a dietary supplement: Some supplements are more beneficial than others
If you had to take only a couple of daily supplements, the most important ones would be calcium and vitamin D as well as omega-3 fatty acids. If your dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D is low, then supplements can help you meet your RDA and boost your bone health, says Magdalin Cheong, chief dietitian and assistant director with Dietetic & Food Services, Changi General Hospital. “Omega-3 DHA, the kind that is found in oily fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies and eel, is recommended to reduce inflammation in the body, boost joint and cardiovascular health, improve neurological function, and reduce your risk of depression. Speak to your healthcare professional about the appropriate dosage.
What to know when choosing a dietary supplement: There can be too much of a good thing
Excessive consumption of vitamin C, for instance, can cause nausea and kidney stones, while too much vitamin A can cause blurred vision, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhoea, dry skin, liver damage and in the worst case, death. If you are pregnant, too much vitamin A can cause birth defects.
Overdose on iron and you may experience nausea and bowel problems, and affect your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients. Problems associated with overconsumption of vitamin B6 include fatigue, mood swings, muscle cramping, and even nerve damage.
However, as long as you do not exceed the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for the supplements you are taking, overdosing should not be an issue. Read the labels very carefully.
What to know when choosing a dietary supplement: “Natural” does not mean “safe”
If a supplement is labelled “natural” or “herbal”, you might assume that it will not have any side effects. But just because something comes from a natural source, it does not mean it’s safe. Some people can have severe allergic reactions to such products, warns Magdalin. Also pay attention to how these herbal remedies were treated and stored. Before buying supplements like echinacea, gingko and the like, it is best to check the brand and dosage with your healthcare practitioner. More tips on supplement safety here.