More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. Supplements are available without a prescription and can come in a pill, powder or liquid form. People take these supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to improve their health. But not everyone needs to take supplements. “It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods,” says Carol Haggans, a registered dietician. “But supplements can be useful for filling in the gaps in your diet.”
Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. You should discuss the supplements you are taking with your doctor.
While manufacturers cannot claim that supplements can cure, treat or prevent disease, there is evidence to suggest that taking certain supplements can enhance health in different ways. The most popular nutrient supplements are multivitamins, calcium and vitamins B, C, and D. Calcium support bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants—molecules that prevent cell damage and help to maintain health.
Vitamin B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 mostly comes from meat, fish, and dairy foods, so vegans may consider taking a supplement to be sure to get enough of it. Research suggests that fish oil can promote heart health. The National Institute of Health reports that of the supplements not derived from vitamins and minerals, fish oil probably has the most scientific evidence to support its use.
Many supplements have mild effects with little to no risks. But…..use caution with some supplements. Vitamin K, for example, will reduce the ability of blood thinners to work. Ginkgo can increase blood thinning, and St. John’s Wart can speed the breakdown of many drugs, such as antidepressants and birth control pills, making them less effective.
Just because a supplement is promoted as “natural” doesn’t mean it is safe. It’s important to know the chemical makeup, how it’s prepared, and how it works in the body, especially if you are dealing with herbs.
Scientists still have much to learn, even about common vitamins. The scientific community once thought that taking Vitamin E would reduce a man’s risk of prostate cancer, but a recent large study of more than 29,000 men found that taking vitamin E actually raised, not reduced, the risk for prostate cancer.
It’s always wise to talk to your doctor about the supplements you should or should not be taking. The National Institute of health has fact sheets on dietary supplements at http://ods.od.nihgov/factsheets/list-all/