Most people are able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. However, if you therefore choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements, be aware that taking too much or taking them for too long can cause harmful effects.
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our body needs in small amounts to work properly. Those who do not take enough vitamins and minerals daily through the consumption of food may suffer from vitamin deficiency and may have a higher risk of developing illnesses, therefore the need for food supplements.
There are advantages and disadvantages of taking food supplements
1. Food supplements in addition to consuming food enable us derive our daily dose of vitamin and minerals.
2. Vitamins and minerals help protect the body from diseases, hence supplements can offer added “insurance” that one is meeting daily recommendations of vitamins and minerals needed by the body, especially in those who do not eat a healthy, balanced diet.
3. Supplements can contribute to improved muscular strength, endurance and overall physical performance, they are therefore commonly taken by athletes to improve their performance.
4. Some supplements are used in combination with drugs as a method of complementary or alternative treatment for health conditions.
5. Food supplements can also prevent a variety of diseases and health conditions. For example, pregnant women are advised to take folic acid to prevent birth defects. Taking a 400 microgram folic acid supplement before and during the early days of your pregnancy is the best way to protect your baby against conditions like spina bifida, where one or more of the bones in the spine is not fully developed. Also, because all pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly teenagers and young women, are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, they are advised to take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms. Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium in the body, which helps to keep bones and teeth strong and healthy. This also provides your baby with enough vitamin D in their first few months.
1. One potential drawback of vitamin and mineral supplements is the cost. Planning and preparing healthy, nutritious meals is usually less costly than purchasing a quality supplement.
2. Food supplements can cause adverse side effects. Consuming excessive amounts of vitamin A in supplement form, for example, may cause liver damage, reduced bone strength, headaches and birth defects. Large doses of certain vitamins and minerals can cause nausea, vomiting, nerve damage, weight loss, muscle weakness, and other illnesses.
3. Taking supplements may increase the risk of mega dosing. It's impossible to overdose on food, so the likeliest way to consume excess vitamins and minerals is through taking supplements.
4. Mixing certain vitamins and minerals with each other can interfere with absorption. Dietary supplements may interact with prescription medications and make it more difficult to manage medical conditions. To avoid this, speak to your doctor before taking dietary/food supplements.
5. Supplements are less healthy than food, for example, while B-complex supplements provide many nutrients present in whole grains and legumes, they do not provide valuable amounts of protein and fiber present in these foods.
Consuming food supplements do have advantages and disadvantages, therefore to be safe, it is better to speak to your doctor before taking them.
Researched and Written by Elizabeth SamCoffie (former Animashaun)
Livestrong.com (2012), ‘Advantages and disadvantages of Food Supplements’
NHS Choices, ‘Vitamins and Minerals’
Nutrition@suite101, ‘Benefits and Risks of taking Vitamin Supplements’
Start4life, ‘Suppersupplements- vitamin D and folic acid during pregnancy’