Recent years have seen a boom in the use of supplements across the UK, which may be explained by their increased availability. Supplements containing various minerals, vitamins and amino acids are being targeted at those wishing to stay at optimum health. Consumers also use them as a means of tackling signs of ageing, curing illnesses, regulating bodily functions and even losing weight. However, there is no concrete evidence that these extra vitamins effectively resolve such ailments. Ingredients ranging from royal jelly and acai extract to zinc and calcium create a vast catalogue of options—a minefield for those who are less knowledgeable on their medical properties and nutritional values.
Get your vitamins naturally
According to NHS Choices, most people don’t need to take supplements chiefly because it is possible to gain all the required vitamins and minerals by eating a balanced diet. The best way to do this is by covering all the major food groups—starchy carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables (at least five a day), protein and dairy—in as many meals as possible. The consumption of foods high in fat, salt or sugar, on the other hand, should be kept to a minimum.
Individuals who are naturally deficient in certain vitamins and minerals may be prescribed a supplement by their doctor to keep their levels ‘topped up’. In this case supplements are hugely beneficial, as they can improve both health and vitality. It’s important to keep in mind that they shouldn’t be consumed in the place of a healthy diet.
There are, however, circumstances when supplements are sometimes deemed necessary: during the early stages of childhood, pregnancy or senior years. Imbalances or deficiencies are known to occur during these periods; supplements are therefore prescribed as a counteractive method. The Department of Health (DoH) advises the following:
Age five and below—At this age, it is recommended to give children supplements containing vitamins A, C and D—these can be administered via drops. These vitamins help to promote healthy growth and make up for any fussy eaters whose nutrient levels may be lacking.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding—Women who are trying to conceive are advised to take folic acid daily until the 12th week of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the foetus. Women with a family history of the condition or with diabetes may be recommended a higher dose. During breastfeeding, the mother will usually be advised to take vitamin D to prevent a vitamin D deficiency appearing in both her and the child.
Age 65 and above—As we age, our body begins to lose the ability to create vitamin D. In light of this, it is recommended that over 65s take a vitamin D supplement. The same is true for those who are not exposed to a lot of sunlight or are bedbound.
If you have any other condition that may demand the use of supplements, always consult your doctor who can suggest an adequate course of action. Such conditions may include anaemia, thinning hair, joint problems or muscle cramps.
Supplements sold on the internet may not meet UK safety standards and are less likely to have gone through rigorous checks. There is also an increased risk of false advertising; a product may not contain precisely what it says or could possibly include harmful substances. Always buy supplements from a reputable source such as a known pharmacist, chemist or supermarket. Check the label carefully to ensure you are familiar with the ingredients. Make certain that it is absolutely necessary for you to take them—always consult a doctor or dietitian for guidance.
Watch your dosage
Be wary of taking vitamins in large amounts or over long periods of time—taking too much of a certain supplement can cause more harm than good. Various health organisations have issued warnings that exceeding the recommended dosage can lead to medical problems.
Many supplements come as an effervescent tablet (one that fizzes). These can contain up to a gram of salt per tablet. Taking multiple effervescent tablets can be damaging, especially if your salt intake is already high—consider switching to oral capsules instead.