Dietary supplements are a general term that includes vitamins, minerals, botanicals, probiotics and other products to supplement the diet. They are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods and not as drugs. Companies need to follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs) established by the FDA to ensure the identity, purity, strength and composition of their dietary supplements. These practices can help prevent adding the wrong ingredient or incorrect quantities of any ingredient. GMPs reduce the likelihood of contamination or improper packaging and labeling of a product. The FDA periodically inspects facilities manufacturing supplements. Several dietary supplements, however, contain ingredients that have strong biological effects that may interfere with a medicine you are taking or a medical condition you may have. We live in stressful times and our dietary habits are inconsistent, yet most of us receive enough vitamins and minerals from our diet. Most doctors do not recommend health supplements in young, healthy individuals. That said, some studies have reported that folic acid and B-complex vitamins may reduce the risk of stroke. A study conducted at Harvard has found that men who daily took a multivitamin for 11 years had 8 percent lower risk of cancer and 9 percent lower risk of cataracts than the placebo group.
Many people often become negligent about healthy lifestyle habits and develop a sense of false security if they take vitamin supplements. It is important to remember that health supplements can never replace a healthy, balanced diet.
What is the best vitamin supplement to take?
The best vitamin supplement differs from person to person. There are certain vulnerable age groups and conditions where health supplements have a definite role. These are as follows.
Pregnancy: All women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant MUST start folic acid and B12 supplement. Prenatal vitamins give you an additional buffer in case you are deficient in folate and B12. Both these supplements prevent birth defects in a baby. Doctors advise iron supplements in these cases because anemia of pregnancy is a known condition.
Conditions that may make you vulnerable to poor bone health: If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis (low bone density) on the DEXA scan, you will require extra vitamin D and calcium. Individuals who stay indoors, those who stay in areas where sunlight is scarce or those with dark skin will need vitamin D and calcium in supplements. The same is true for those with lactose intolerance and malabsorption syndrome. These people need vitamin D and calcium supplements.
Macular degeneration: Research has found that vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, zinc and copper can reduce the progression of age-related macular degeneration, which is a major cause of vision loss among older adults.
Pernicious anemia: People with this condition need vitamin B12 supplements all their life.
Individuals on a restricted or limited diet: If you are a vegan or have a dairy allergy, you may need various vitamin supplements. The same is true for people on a keto diet or those who do intermittent fasting. Make sure you get these prescriptions from a registered dietician or similar health professional.
Gastric bypass surgery: Your gut may not absorb nutrients as well if you have had gastric bypass surgery. In that case, you need iron, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, copper and selenium supplements. Your doctor is the best person to provide you with the supplements suitable in your case.
People with certain genetic or health conditions: You may have trouble absorbing nutrients if you have the following diseases. You may need vitamins, probiotics and mineral supplements. Talk to your doctor.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- Celiac disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Liver disease
- Alcohol dependence
- A mutation in certain genes
Some studies have repeatedly suggested that when you take antioxidants in excess, they may cause more harm than good. A large, long-term study on male smokers found that those who regularly took vitamin A were more likely to get lung cancer than those who didn't. Therefore, be mindful of what you consume. Whether it is food or pills, you should take both with caution. There is no such thing as a regimen that is appropriate for everyone when it comes to supplements.
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