Supplements – Smart or Scam?

Supplements are a billion dollar industry in North America and almost every other person has a bottle or two of multivitamins or herbal supplements in their kitchen or bathroom cabinets.  However, many of us are often unsure of whether or not these supplements do in fact have any medical benefit and are indeed improving our health in any way.  Despite the large amount of conflicting research and journals published on supplements, one thing is certain from a medical standpoint – If you are deficient in something (ie a mineral or vitamin), or are unable to get that mineral or vitamin from a food source (due to allergy, absorption problem, religious restriction etc.),  a good supplement will replace it.  Therefore, there are some instances and general categories where supplements are helpful and should be used, and that’s what will be discussed in this article.

Firstly, women are more often than men to require certain supplements.  Many women suffer from anemia (a decrease in red blood cell count most often due to lack of iron).  For anemia due to low iron, iron supplements are important to take regularly and should be recommended by your family doctor based on the dosage you may need.  Women also require supplements prior to and during pregnancy.  Amongst these are folate (to prevent spinal cord and brain deficiencies in the fetus) as well as general multivitamins that include iron.

If you have a medical condition in which you are unable to digest or obtain certain vitamins and minerals from a regular diet, supplements will most often be recommended by your doctor.  These issues can range anywhere from peptic or duodenal ulcers, to Chron’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Sprue, or even food allergies.  Patient’s who undergo bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) such as gastric banding, or gastric bypass are also good candidates for supplements because their daily caloric intake is greatly decreased after the surgery.  Also, they are often required to go on an initial liquid diet for a couple of weeks after the surgery while they are healing and it’s especially important for them to maintain proper nutrition.

Bodybuilders and professional athletes are probably the major consumers of dietary supplements. Their supplements can range from basic protein shakes to several dozen supplements a day depending on the extent of their physical activity.  Although many people look for guidance from these professionals regarding supplements, it’s important to remember that unless your workout routine is as demanding as theirs (or you plan to be in a bodybuilding competition), you probably don’t need to invest in expensive supplements to get the basic results of a good exercise and nutrition program.  It’s also important to remember that these professional athletes also have extremely strict nutrition guidelines and eat on a very regular schedule.  Therefore, the results they achieve with their supplements is only because of their intense workouts and highly disciplined eating habits.

So you may be asking yourself “Do I need to take multivitamins or other supplements?”.  If you don’t fall into any of the above categories, AND have a healthy diet that includes at least 2-3 servings of raw fruits and vegetables, you probably don’t need them.  Also, most vitamins and minerals are stored in your digestive system for long periods of time (months) and thus you won’t feel the effects of a deficiency if you miss a week of eating veggies.

If however, you are one of those unfortunate people (like many North Americans) who eat takeout and fast food on a regular basis and can’t remember the last time you had a salad, then it may be a good idea to have a daily multivitamin – or better yet EAT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES.  And if you are having regular fruits and vegetables and a good serving of daily protein, grains, and dairy products, then eating a multivitamin isn’t really doing you any good. In fact all you’re really doing is making expensive urine.  That’s right, whatever you don’t absorb get’s tossed out of your system, and your wallet.

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