An unhealthy lifestyle makes dietary supplements attractive.
Dietary supplementation is a contentious issue. Anyone who is healthy, eats a balanced diet and does not overstrain their body over the long term usually gets all the necessary nutrients from the usual foods and can safely do without food supplements. Most experts agree on this point. The USA is not considered to be a vitamin-deficient country, but about one in four people uses food supplements and regularly takes health products with micronutrients, according to a recent study.
Doctors disagree on the use of dietary supplements
We recently read a great quote from Pieter Cohen, MD, who is an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
He discussed the pandemic and how it has impacted the way people use diet supplements.
“There’s been a bunch of changes, obviously, to all of our lives. And some of those have had dramatic effects on sales of supplements and the use of supplements,” Dr. Cohen said.
View the full article featuring Dr. Cohen here.
When it comes to the topic of dietary supplements, nutritionists are divided. Among the experts there is a pro and a con camp. Only when it comes to the use of vitamin D and iodine do experts currently agree that there is a general undersupply in the population and that the additional requirement should be covered by food supplements. An approximation is also achieved in covering the increased folic acid requirement of pregnant women when it comes to the prevention of neural tube defects.
However, the demand by some doctors to use food supplements nationwide as a precaution is largely rejected by the medical profession.
Arguments against the use of food supplements
Opponents of dietary supplements vehemently advocate compensating for nutrient deficiencies through healthy and balanced nutrition alone.
The contra camp rejects the fact that many people take precautionary food supplements that do not have any nutrient deficiency at all, because studies to date have not been able to determine any positive effect of the supplements on test subjects who were already sufficiently supplied with nutrients through their diet.
Despite the fact that many health-promoting effects of secondary plant substances have now been proven, the opponents also specifically speak out against the supply of the health-promoting active ingredients in the form of capsules. This applies in particular to capsule preparations with polyphenols, catechin or linoleic acid (CLA). They justify the rejection by the fact that there are neither reference values nor a supply status for secondary plant substances.
In addition, opponents point out that there are no guarantees of safety or the optimal dose when using dietary supplements, as there are no results on long-term effects.
Pro – Dietary Supplements: Arguments from Proponents
Advocates of dietary supplements, on the other hand, take the position that dietary supplement products can compensate for a slight nutrient deficiency or an increased need for nutrients in various risk groups.
Nutrient preparations also serve as a precaution and can reduce the risk of certain diseases. However, they are not designed to correct clinical deficiencies in one or more nutrients. The treatment of a detected clinical nutrient deficiency, however, is the task of the doctor.
According to the advocating physicians, however, dietary supplements are generally not suitable as a substitute for a healthy diet.
Risk groups with increased nutrient requirements
Dietary supplements are usually recommended for certain risk groups. Research results show that the use of dietary supplements is recommended for various risk groups.
Micronutrients for patients with COPD, obesity or cancer
Patients suffering from diseases such as COPD, obesity and cancer have an increased need for vitamin D , B12 and folic acid as well as for the minerals magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. Patients with COPD particularly need water-soluble vitamins. In the case of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and patients with a short bowel, the absorption capacity of the micronutrients is reduced.
Dietary supplements for women who want to have children
Instead of the usual administration of folic acid, multivitamin preparations are recommended for women who wish to have children, as study results show that other nutrients are important for the development of the fetus in addition to folic acid. In one study, for example, there were fewer children with low birth weight after taking multi-vitamin preparations. A multivitamin preparation was tested in comparison to a placebo and a dietary supplement containing folic acid and iron.
A meta-analysis found that taking a multivitamin reduced the number of birth defects by half. According to findings, biotin is also important for the development of a fetus.
Micronutrients for vegans, trend diets and fat replacers
Nutrient deficiencies can occur when nutrition is compromised. Vegetarians and vegans are particularly at risk. People who follow trendy diets or take so-called “FatReplacers” also have an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies.
Use of dietary supplements in the elderly
Many seniors are at high risk for nutrient deficiencies because they are affected by malnutrition. In particular, vitamins A, B and D are missing. A vitamin D deficiency in the elderly is particularly due to the fact that vitamin D is less easily synthesized in the skin in old age.
Daily nutritional needs
Which nutrient groups does the body need on a daily basis? The nutrients you need every day include:
• trace elements
• ultra trace elements
• proteins and amino acids
• secondary plant substances
A nutrient deficiency can be permanently compensated for by a change in diet that can adequately cover the requirement. Nutritional advice and statutory health insurance providers offer support on the subject.
Form and content of nutritional supplements
What are dietary supplements exactly? In addition to liquid products, dietary supplements are also offered in the form of capsules, tablets, granules or powder bags. Nevertheless, they are not classified as medicines but as foods. Such nutritional products are suitable for supplementing the normal diet.
The remedies are mostly different isolated concentrates or concentrated mixtures of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids , roughage , plant or herbal extracts. They are taken in accordance with the recommended consumption amount in order to avoid overdoses. Dietary supplements include all products that contain nutrient concentrates or other substances that have a nutritional or physical effect.
Approval of dietary supplements
Proper registration is required for a dietary supplement product. The marketing of food supplements is subject to a number of legal regulations. Dietary supplements must be properly registered, but no evidence is required for dietary supplements, such as is required for the approval of medicinal products. They must not have any side effects; the manufacturer is responsible for their safety.
When are dietary supplements useful?
According to the top experts, almost a quarter of all people use food supplements. According to experts, supplements can be useful if there are signs of a slight nutrient deficiency or if it cannot be ensured that the daily requirement can be regularly covered by a balanced diet. The reasons for this can be manifold.
Experts recommend an appropriate dietary supplement, for example in the following situations:
• Difficult living conditions
• To help with various diseases
• food intolerances
• Unfavorable eating habits
• Advanced age
• Persistent heavy physical exertion
• Regular high stress
Risks of using dietary supplements
The danger of overdosing should not be underestimated. Evaluations of consumption study II showed that people who already eat healthily also regularly take food supplements. According to the experts, however, there is a risk of overdosing on some nutrients in these cases.
Competitive athletes and strength athletes in particular often resort to special protein-containing food supplements to support muscle growth. Strong overdoses of protein-containing food supplements lead to increased formation of urea (purines), which puts a greater strain on the kidneys. In the long term, therefore, there is a risk of purines being stored, which can lead to gout.
But some vitamins in food supplements can also cause health risks if overdosed. The property of accumulating in the body has been demonstrated, for example, for isolated substances such as the fat-soluble beta-carotene. According to study results, it is suspected of having a carcinogenic effect, especially in connection with smoking. On the other hand, overdoses are not known when consuming natural foods.
According to the Federal Risk Assessment (BfR), the risk of overdose justifies setting safe maximum levels for the substances contained in food supplements. Binding maximum quantities are now to be regulated across the EU. A corresponding regulation is in preparation.
Possible Health Risks From New Herbal Plants
In addition, not all exotic plants, parts of plants and their substances that are offered in food supplements with the attribute “natural” in this country have been sufficiently researched and can pose unknown health risks for users or risk groups such as pregnant women or children.
There are known to be many risks of herbal remedies in general.