By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer
People exercise, eat a balanced diet, consult their doctors, and they take a variety of vitamins and other supplements spending thousands of rupees. Though figures are not available in Sri Lanka, in the US people take more than 25 billion worth of vitamins and supplements every year.
The question is, "Do they make you feel healthier, give more energy, strength and longevity?" On the contrary there are many people who don't take any supplements, doctors included, other than nourishing food and some form of exercise regularly. The end result seems to be the same for both who take them and those who do not take them, as far as health and longevity are concerned. Research seems to show downing these pills and powders do not make you healthier.
Actually, it is not a shortcut to health bypassing exercise and nutritious food. The fact remains that those who gulp supplements are people who could afford to spend money on them, and they too have a balanced diet, eating fruits to obtain their vitamin and other micro-nutrient requirements, while the poorer people who do require vitamin and micro-nutrient supplementation do not seem to obtain sufficient vitamins with their food.
Vitamins don't prevent chronic illnesses and help longevity and their use can't be justified, unless those who take them have had debilitating illnesses, such as malabsorption syndromes, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other gut infections that prevent absorption of macro and micro-nutrients in the diet. On the other hand, people who gulp daily supplements feel better- a beneficial effect of taking such supplements. Medical profession refers to this good feeling as the "Placebo effect".
It has to be stressed that people who exercise daily religiously and consume a nutritius diet may still suffer from stress and other anxiety states. Vitamin and other supplements may have a beneficial effect on them. After all, statistics are based on large populations and not on individual needs. Vegans may need vitamins and other supplements due to the restrictive vegetarian diets they consume. So their diet routine may lack certain vitamins and micronutrients. There is a saying that when you take vitamins and supplements in excess the fish in the ocean seems to benefit and not the consumers.
There is much truth in it, because most of those micronutrients are excreted as the body controls the requirements. It is also dangerous to take fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E, K in excess, because they get stored in your fat cells and may become toxic. Taking excess vitamin C may give a burning sensation in your urine caused by ascorbic acid. So, taking little supplementation, including vitamins cause no harm and may be beneficial. Always read the label before buying vitamins and supplements.
Recently four large retailers in New York had to stop selling their herbal dietary supplements due to allegedly mislabelled or adulterated product content. The band supplements were Gingko biloba, St John's Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, Saw Palmetto and Valerian root.
These products have been tested by a DNA barcoding technique developed at the University of Guelph, Ontario. It was revealed that only 4 percent to 41 percent of products contained DNA from the plant species indicated on the product label. In Sri Lanka herbal supplements, including Ayurvedic herbs are a big trade. The efficacy of these products is not generally quality controlled by any government organisation, and the people may be fooled by purchasing such herbal products imported from abroad. Most of these products come from China and Hong Kong, and at one stage it was revealed that arsenic was found in most preparations.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
But for a host of conditions like the common cold, breast cancer, thrush, hepatitis, and many more, the science just isn't there yet to prove any effectiveness. (World Science Festival) Many people turn to complementary and alternative medicine for chronic or recurrent pain. They are recommended to be taken as complementary and not as alternatives to standard proved therapies. Then there are the popular herbal diabetic cures. When you read the pamphlets that come within the boxes, it clearly states that this is not alternative therapy but needs to be taken with your proved therapies.
Most people are gullible to take them and give more credit to such complementary therapies. It is always good to discuss with your medical practitioner before taking such supplementary and complementary therapies, as there may be interactions and side effects taking these therapies. In the US melatonin has become popular for sleep disorders, and the popular supplement like Echinacea, supposed to have an effect on colds and influenza.
Glucosamine is another supplement taken by older people suffering from arthritis of the joints. There are good and bad reports on glucosamine, but the placebo effect must be doing some good. How glucosamine help regenerate cartilage in joints is difficult to understand. Some claim that glucosamine increases the hydration in the joints and that may help to move the joints more freely. In the US today, people are going away from supplements for their ailments and swapping for yoga, becoming most popular among women. In America, about 21 million adults practise yoga, in addition to about 1.7 million children, a survey found.
Even though the medical profession discourages people taking multivitamins, it is a losing battle. Your food contains more natural vitamins necessary for your body, rather than taking in powder form in minute capsules. A fresh egg will contain most of those vitamins except water soluble vitamin C, much cheaper than paying lots of money to maintain those manufacturing companies. For certain groups of people, especially those whose diet has nutritional gaps, a multivitamin can help fill in such situations as a temporary measure. Eat one or two eggs daily replacing the multivitamins, and ignore the high cholesterol content which does not seem to enter your blood stream.There are important supplements to be taken daily recommended by your practitioner.
Calcium is required at all ages, and as people grow older, there is a natural drop in their intake. Dairy products give you the daily requirement of calcium. Dark green vegetables are calcium-rich sources. Cheese is another source of concentrated calcium. If you need to supplement do not take more than 300-500 milligrams per dose daily. The body stores excess calcium and the process can contribute to kidney stone formation.
As one gets older vitamin B12 absorption gets less in h/her gut. It is advisable to take vitamin B12 after consulting a doctor. If you are on proved western medication for chronic illnesses, consult your doctor before experimenting with herbal medicine and other supplements.
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