A well balanced diet is rich in essential nutrients. If your diet lacks vitamin and minerals, supplementation alone offers the best way to fulfil your body's nutritional needs. However, how safe is artificial supplementation? Conflicting information and popular misconceptions have contributed to confusion about artificial nutrients, making it difficult to know whether a supplement is safe to use if your diet lacks essential nutrients.
There are all kinds of myths regarding supplements. Here are a few:
MYTH: Your diet can supply you all the nutrition, so why opt for multivitamins, which don't work anyway.
FACT: True, an ideal diet supplies all essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients required for good health. However, not all people are lucky to have diets rich in these essential nutrients. In fact, certain groups have higher requirements of essential nutrients, including pregnant women, children, aged people and people with chronic diseases. For such people, multivitamin supplements can make all the difference in their lives. In this hectic world, people are mostly dependent on refined and processed food, which do not supply all the nutrients needed for optimal intake. In these cases, multivitamins do work, whose effects have been backed by strong research.
However, before taking a supplement on your own, it is best to consult your doctor or dietician about any additional supplements to meet your health and fitness goals.
MYTH: If supplements are natural, they are good for health.
FACT: No doubt, natural or herbal treatments are regarded as safe and effective, they should nevertheless be taken after careful consideration. Research reveals that vitamins and minerals help to prevent a number of diseases, since they work like medicines and thus alter your body chemistry. It is therefore important to consult your doctor and learn about possible side effects before supplementing to find out if they interact with any medication you are already taking. Some herbs or supplements interact with other medications and deplete vital nutrients from the body. Also, avoid discontinuing a specific medication or changing dosage on your own, unless advised by a doctor.
MYTH: All the information about a supplement is available on the bottle.
FACT: Well, though government regulations require manufacturers to clearly mention about side effects or possible interactions of a drug or supplement, you cannot find all the information on potential side effects on the bottle label. You'll need to do research to explore about potential risks and benefits of a supplement. Consult a knowledgeable medical professional before starting supplementation, especially if you are treating a specific medical condition.
MYTH: The latest research is the final word on the safety or effectiveness of a supplement.
FACT: There is no end to scientific research. Scientists from different research institutes conduct tests to dig deeper into the side effects or interactions of a specific herb or nutrient on different groups of people, as they never consider one study to be the last word. Often research reports that claim a supplement to be dangerous are sensationalised, with the news media reporting only on them despite publication of hundreds of studies every year, proving benefits of those herbs and nutrients.
The next time a supplement makes a headline, consider the following:
- Find out who is behind the claims. Check whether it is a health column, a press release, or a reporter relating second-hand or third-hand news from proceedings in a conference.
- Try to find whether there are convincing conclusions regarding the claims.
- Where are the reports published? Are they published in a recognised, peer-reviewed journal?
- Was the research conducted on a control group?
- Was the research conducted by people having no vested interest in the outcome?
- Is there a particular body of research suggesting that it can help with a health condition?
MYTH: Medicines are more powerful and effective than natural therapy.
FACT: Well, there are natural treatments that may be as powerful and effective as medications if used in the right manner. However, you must first evaluate all treatment options before taking a final decision on whether to choose natural treatment or traditional therapy.
When you are considering all the treatment options, consult with your healthcare provider:
- Whether there is any risk of delaying a known effective therapy to try an alternative treatment method?
- Whether research on a specific supplement's effectiveness is complete or inconclusive?
- Whether it is safe to take the supplement in the proper amounts?
- Is the evidence for the medical treatment strong?
- Does the medical treatment is an effective remedy for a specific condition?
- Is the cost of a supplement equivalent or less than that of the medication used for treating the condition?
- Whether the potential risk of taking the supplements greater or less than the relative dangers of taking medication for treating the condition?
While there are a number of myths about supplements, it is always best to research available information about the matter. Research can help you identify the possible side effects or benefits of a supplement and whether such a remedy will actually work out for you. Consulting with a knowledgeable medical professional will help you find answers to most of your questions. Use a science-based resource to explore and interpret the importance of scientific findings.
You can make smart health decisions if you are fully aware of benefits and side effects of a specific remedy. After all, it is your life, and any decision about a treatment must be taken with due consideration.