Go to any health store and you’ll see rows upon rows of vitamins, greens powders, and supplements. But they’re no replacement for a good diet – and in some cases may cause issues.
Why do people take health supplements?
Health supplements are a billion-pound business (latest estimates suggest the market will be worth £214M by 2024). At a time when most food can be made available all year round in the Western world, why are dietary supplements more popular than ever?
I believe it comes down to two things: our increasing anxieties over health and wellness, and a wildly successful marketing message around supplements.
People of all ages buy a huge range of supplements from daily multivitamins to digestive support supplements, greens powders, joint care and more. The trouble is, most of these supplements are bought online and none of them are supported by proper medical advice.
Individuals have a hunch that they need “something extra”, they get served a powerful marketing message, and the supplement is just a click away.
Women remain the biggest demographic in the UK for dietary supplements, but men are catching up – sales of supplements to men increased 29% from 2015-16.
When might supplements be useful?
On the one hand, this rise in supplement use tells us that people are placing a bigger focus on their health, and willing to take matters into their own hands. This is largely a good thing.
But it’s not great when so many people leapfrog right over the idea of a healthy diet, and go straight to the supplement shelf.
There are a few valid reasons to take good quality supplements. For example, a protein powder can be a great addition to your daily diet if you need to eat more protein and need the convenience of a portable mini meal. And iron supplements during pregnancy can reduce the risk of anaemia and associated perinatal complications. The use of individual vitamins or minerals can be used for issues such as osteoporosis. (1)
But for most people, are multivitamins and “off the shelf” generic supplements really any use? Or could they actually be harmful?
Beware high-dose vitamin supplements
It wasn’t until recently that scientists looked into the long-term effects of taking a daily multivitamin, which is pretty worrying when we consider how huge the supplement market is.
In 2016, a meta-analysis was published in Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin: “Vitamins, Are They Safe?” (2) This paper concluded that “taking high-dose supplements of vitamins A, E, D, C, and folic acid is not always effective for prevention of disease. It can even be harmful to the health.”
The adverse effects of these vitamins may be dose-related, which is a concern when we think about the lack of general understanding of daily intake needs (and lack of attention to vitamin labels!)
So what should you do? Is it time to stop buying the expensive supplements and reinvest the cash into more fresh, seasonal food? If you are generally healthy and haven’t been prescribed dietary supplements by your Doctor, I would say yes…
The basics of a healthy diet
1. Consume the correct number of calories to lose weight, gain weight, or sustain your weight as appropriate
2. Make sure you are eating enough protein (roughly 1.2kg per 1kg bodyweight)
3. Get most of your carbohydrates from plant sources – root vegetables, potatoes, wholegrains
4. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, in season where possible
5. Eat a range of grains, pulses, legumes, protein sources, fruits, vegetables, berries and leafy stuff
The benefits of a varied diet
There are so many reasons to focus on a varied, healthy diet aside from vitamins and minerals. A healthy diet will support your energy levels, encourage good digestion, and lead to a cascade of healthy habits like exercise and looking after yourself.
Get in touch if you have questions about healthy eating, diet or supplements.
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References used in todays blog: