Dietary Supplements – When to Have Them

At some point or another in our lives, we will have to take a dietary supplement. Usually because we have been prescribed one. But there are some people who take supplements without a prescription. While dietary supplements are not harmful, it is advisable not to take them as you would an over-the-counter medicine (which also should not taken as and when one pleases).


Why do we need dietary supplements?
Our body needs certain minerals and nutrients to go about its daily functioning, such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins. Most of these minerals and nutrients are abundantly available in the foods we eat or we can get them from the sun (specifically Vitamin D). However, various factors such as change in diet, illness, and hormone issues can lead to the deficiency of one or more nutrients. In such a case, it becomes necessary to supplement the deficient nutrient from an external source. That is when you doctor would usually prescribe you a dietary supplement, which would be in the form of a pill or a solution.


Misconceptions about dietary supplements
There is a misunderstanding among many people about the purpose and properties of dietary supplements. Some believe supplements to have curative or therapeutic properties, whereas others find them to be excesses of a modern lifestyle. The truth is dietary supplements are neither. They do not cure diseases and are not just unnecessary options. They serve a specific purpose and are best utilized for that purpose. For example, vitamin D deficiency is extremely common as people spend more time indoors in the morning. Vitamin D is only available to the body via sunlight and the best way to make up for its deficiency is to go out in the sun or take supplements.


Are there any risks in taking supplements?
As long as you take dietary supplements prescribed by your doctor and for the duration prescribed, there is no risk. What can bring about risks is taking un-prescribed supplements and taking them for a long unchecked duration. For example, potassium is a very important nutrient for some critical body functions, but if there is a build-up of excess potassium in the body, it can lead to heart problems. So do not take any dietary supplements unless it is approved by your doctor.


Are nutrient deficiencies on the rise?
We’ve all heard our grandparents say that they never suffered from a calcium deficiency or vitamin deficiency while they were growing up. So why do most of us? The answer may lie in the quality of food we eat. With the population explosion, the demand for food has more than doubled. The agriculture and food industries struggle to keep up with this demand, and as a consequence of producing more food, we end up with food that is less nutritious due to “[r]educed dietary quality and diversity and inexpensive foods with low nutrient density” (Excerpt from Executive Summary of the IAASTD Synthesis Report).


What can we do?
A possible solution to the problem, suggested by nutritionists, is to add supplements directly to the food to maintain nutrient levels. Doing so will ensure the body gets the nutrients it needs and will promote overall health. A healthy body means a better immune system that can fight off diseases and infections and lead to a longer lifespan with a better quality of life.


Until then, if you want to get high quality, nutritious foods for you and your family, and avoid having to take supplements, consider supporting your local farmers’ market. They usually sell their surplus and are generally not motivated to fulfill corporate quotas of food production. Meaning, you can get nutritious wholesome food and support local agriculture and economy at the same time.


Remember though, that dietary supplements are not the enemy. Just make sure you are being cautious and prudent in using them.


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