Supplements are something we’ve all heard of or seen on the shelves of our local pharmacy, yet they can remain something of a mystery. Knowing exactly what supplements do and how they can support your health is something that many of us struggle to get our heads around. With so many choices available over the counter, deciding which vitamins, minerals, acids and probiotics your body does and doesn’t need can be quite the challenge. Let’s take a look at what these small diet aids can do for our bodies and how you can make informed decisions on your supplement intake.
What is a supplement?
Dietary supplements are a manufactured product intended to add to your diet when taken as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid. They come in many different types depending on the goals you have in mind for your diet. Supplements can include vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids, bodybuilding supplements, essential fatty acids, natural products and probiotics. Whether you’re looking for supplements to complement your high impact lifestyle or improve your general health, supplements are a popular choice for many looking to improve their health through increasing and tailoring their intake of essential nutrients.
Today’s most popular dietary supplements consist of vitamins D and E, minerals like calcium and iron, herbs such as echinacea and garlic, and speciality products like glucosamine, probiotics, and fish oils. Most people take these popular supplements to make sure they are getting enough essential nutrients to maintain or improve their health, however for some, it’s not essential to take supplements.
How effective are they?
It is widely disputed how effective taking a supplement can be. Although it’s claimed that it’s possible to get all of the nutrients that your body needs just by eating a variety of healthy foods, supplements can be useful for filling in the gaps in your diet. That being said, they shouldn’t take the place of foods that are important to a healthy diet.
Some of the more basic dietary supplements have been proven to be beneficial for overall health and even for managing some health conditions. Popular choices of common supplements include calcium and vitamin D that are important for keeping bones strong and reducing bone loss, folic acid that reduces the risk of certain birth defects, and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils which reduce the risk of heart disease.
What effects can they have?
Although supplements can provide health benefits, it is possible to experience side effects. Supplements such as Vitamin K can reduce the ability of blood thinners to work, whereas the herb St John’s wort can speed up the breakdown of many drugs such as antidepressants and birth control pills, in turn, making them much them less effective.
Alongside being aware of the possibility of experiencing the side-effects of supplements when taking other medicines, it is especially important to consider them when taking supplements before surgery or if you have certain pre-existing health conditions. Speaking to your health care provider for their expert guidance and carrying out your own research are the best steps to take before first taking any supplements.
How do you know which one is for you?
Knowing whether certain supplements will make a positive difference to your health or which ones to take can be a tricky task. The best option is to talk through your options with your health care provider; whether you look to the advice of your GP, pharmacist or dietitian, they will know which dietary supplements you should or shouldn’t be taking so that you can have certainty that you’re on track to making the right choices for your overall health. Alongside getting to know the health benefits and any potential risks of each supplement, you’ll need to firmly know how you should be taking each specific supplement as a key part of ensuring that they work to their best for your body.
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