Food supplements are concentrated sources of nutrients taken as a dietary top-up. They include fish oils, which have been shown to benefit heart health; minerals, like iron to help prevent anemia, and a whole list of vitamins, from A to K. Supplements contain higher amounts of nutrients than are found in most foods.
Why people take food supplements
All women of childbearing age and who are sexually active should take a 400μg folic acid supplement daily to prevent birth defects, such as spina bifida, in the baby.
Many pregnancies are unplanned so it is important that women take folic acid even if they are using contraceptives. In certain circumstances your doctor may advise you to take a food supplement e.g. supplements may be needed for fragile bones and sometimes older people may have difficulty absorbing the nutrients they need from food and need to take extra in supplement form.
Generally, you do not need to take food supplements if you are healthy and eat a normal balanced diet. That means a diet which contains a variety of foods, including starchy foods (preferably wholegrain), fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, lean meat and fish. Too much of certain supplements can be harmful and cause unwanted side effects.
Nigerians and food supplements
Food supplements have been quite popular in Nigeria for some years now. They are often packaged in tablets, pills, capsules or liquid forms, and they can be vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanical plants.
While these supplements have become an integral part of many seeking good health and wellbeing, some medical experts have expressed caution on their use especially in excess dosage or without prescription from a medical doctor.
This is because some supplements might be unsafe especially for people with certain medical conditions or those who are taking some medications.
According to Dr. Gabriel Omonaiye, while it is true that it is good to use vitamins and minerals supplements, there is no doubt that supplements when inappropriately used are harmful, could cause different ailments and even death. There are different kinds of supplements in terms of the composition and preparations. For instance, supplements could contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes or herbs. They could be in the form of tablets, capsules, powder or liquid.
Omonaiye avowed that it is disheartening that several people see supplements as substitutes for good and balanced diet, and replacements for life-saving drugs. “This wrong mindset had led to the deterioration of the health status of sufferers of chronic ailments like diabetes mellitus, hypertension, who were deceived into forgoing the drugs they really need for food supplements.” Unfortunately, some diabetics and hypertensives have fallen for the lies some food supplement marketers are peddling and paid dearly for it, in terms of their health going south.
How to use food supplements
Dr. Omonaiye advised that before embarking on the use of supplements, ideally a medical consultation should take place to know the right which type vis-a-vis the composition, the existing (if any) medical problems that the prospective user has, which medication(s) the person is using, the presence of a pregnancy etc.
But this hardly ever happens in our environment. Many people see supplements as being able to keep them healthy and have the power to give longevity. Several marketers of supplements are less than honest when promoting the products, either out of ignorance or because of the naira factor. Omonaiye said: “It is important that the populace should eat well, go for regular medical check-ups, exercise and if need be because of some medical conditions use supplements under medical guidance.
Advantages of food supplements
Food supplements in addition to consuming food enable people derive their daily dose of vitamins and minerals which help to protect the body from diseases and meeting daily nutrients recommendations needed by the body to be healthy. Supplements can contribute to improved muscular strength and overall physical performance. Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium in the body which helps to keep bones and teeth strong and healthy. Collagen is an important supplement when it comes to repairing damaged muscles, cartilage and bones, as well as maintaining the mobility of our joints and connective tissues as we age. The protein is readily available in many foods, but budding research indicates that taking a collagen supplement may benefit active people.
Dangers of abusing supplements
The dangerous settings for supplements include overdose especially for vitamins C, D and K, using supplements to replace medications for certain ailments, and using supplements to replace adequate feeding. Other dangers of abusing food supplements are combining different supplements without the input of health professionals and mixing supplements with medicines without guidance.
“Finally, many of the herbal supplements are being touted as better alternatives to the western medicines without any shred of scientific proof. And unfortunately our people are gullible enough to buy into the scam with the attendant consequences, Omonaiye said.”
Overdose of Vitamin C can cause abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea. Too much of selenium can cause hair loss, nerve damage and fatigue.
Other problems from vitamin over use are difficulty with sleep, poor concentration, irritability, nerve damage, numbness and tingling sensation, and possibly cancer.
Consuming excessive amounts of Vitamin A may cause liver damage, reduced bone strength, headaches and birth defects. Large doses of vitamins and minerals can cause nausea, vomiting, nerve damage, weight loss, muscle weakness and other illnesses. Mixing certain vitamins and minerals with each other can interfere with absorption. Dietary supplements may interact with prescription medications and make it more difficult to handle certain medical conditions.
Supplements are less healthy than food. For example, while Vitamin B Complex supplements provide many nutrients present in whole grains and legumes, they do not provide valuable amounts of protein and fiber present in these foods.
Omonaiye said that in Nigeria today, the problems are now beyond overdosing on some vitamins. He said that in this internet era where people are ‘hustling’, the truth is being discarded and aggressive money-centric marketing is going on without ethics or concern for the wellbeing of the consumers.