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Supplements 101: Do You Need Them?

Dietary fads have been around for decades.

Right now, nutrition and wellness supplements are everywhere. The internet is flooded with information about them. A lot of this information can be misleading and confusing for consumers.

It has people asking: “Do I need them?” “Which ones should I be taking?” “How often should I be taking them?” “Do they actually work?”

Your family physician can likely provide answers specific to you and your health. However, we have done some digging. From scientific based research, we rounded up information about some of the most common supplements out there.

First, let’s check out how the supplement market started. Why did we start taking supplements? Where did they come from?

A Brief History of Supplements

Throughout the 1900s, we increasingly started to become more aware of our nutrition and wellness needs. Governments began to encourage regular physical activity. Science unveiled a variety of new insights and facts about our general health.

As studies continue to explore what contributes to optimal health, we generally now know what is good for us and what is bad for us.

Dietary supplements became a thing in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that the supplement industry took off. 2002 saw a record number of sales of dietary supplements. In 2002, the supplement market sold around 18.7 billion dollars worth of products.

Still, scientists and researchers agreed that it was best for nutritional requirements to come from the food we eat. This fact continues to be a hot debate topic among nutritionists, scientists, health care professionals, researchers, and the general public.

By the early 1990s, Canada and the US had set regulations and laws outlining what is considered a supplement. These laws continue to be amended and altered to suit the ongoing changes of the fitness and diet industry.

Today, health organizations supply many developing countries with nutritional and wellness supplements to help meet dietary requirements and improve health on a global scale. There are now numerous physician-recommended supplements and pre-workout supplement cocktails to help those that want to bulk up. Supplements are incredibly versatile and have the potential to help many kinds of people achieve better health.

So, do you need them? What’s the deal?

Common Supplements in Today’s Market

Interestingly, most adults take at least 1 supplement every day.

Supplements can help balance out deficiencies in your diet or body. For example, iron deficiency is a common condition in women due to menstruation. Thus, many women take iron supplements to counterbalance.

Further, they can help us make sure we get the proper amount of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. A lot of food today comes prepackaged. It is often high in calories, but low in nutritional density; this is what many nutritionists refer to as “empty calories.” Supplements can ensure we get the nutrients that are missing in the food we eat so that we can function properly.

Before taking any supplement, always make sure to consult with your doctor.

Now without further ado, here is the low-down on some of the most popular and easily accessible supplements that people are turning to today.

Probiotics

We hear a lot about probiotics in yogurt. However, you can also find them in supplement form. Probiotics are live microorganisms, or bacteria. They are thought to help with digestive health.

Surprisingly, all this talk comes with very little evidence. Some research suggests that probiotics could help relieve some digestive disorders. However, most think further research is necessary. It appears that the media has far outrun the scientific evidence to back this one up. This is not to say that they aren’t helpful, but before you start taking a probiotic capsule every day, know that it may not be essential for your nutrition and health.

Protein

Protein supplementation is highly sought after in the fitness realm. People use protein supplements to grow and build strong muscles. It is a popular addition to pre and post workout meals. But, does it actually work in supplement form?

A 2014 study explored how and if protein supplementation promotes muscle recovery. The study found small changes in the muscles. Researchers also noted that it didn’t appear to promote muscle recovery.

However, another study in 2015 concluded that athletes with higher frequencies and durations of training, protein supplementation did increase muscle mass and performance. In other words, if you are a steady gym-goer and looking to gain muscle mass, protein supplementation may help speed your progress along.

It also appears to depend on the type of protein supplement and when the protein is consumed. Whey protein helps build strength, while other combinations did not appear to generate the same effect. Researchers further gathered that it may benefit individuals to consume protein after exercise to guarantee absorption of the protein at an optimal time.

Another aspect that impacts efficacy of protein is the type of exercise you are doing. We recommend consulting with a pro on this one, or doing your own research. The type of exercise, frequency, duration, volume, intensity, and weight all impact muscle growth and development.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 is a type of fatty acid. The body needs a particular amount of Omega-3 to function properly. Certain fish and seeds are high in this nutrient.

If you browse the aisle in your local pharmacy, you will see an array of Omega-3 supplements. There are often a variety of types and sizes to choose from.

Here’s the deal with Omega-3s in supplement form:

  • There is no evidence to show that Omega-3 supplements help reduce heart disease. However, in foods, it does have this effect.
  • It can help reduce dangerous levels of triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides can be a huge indicator for various health conditions.
  • It may help decrease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
  • It has mild to no side effects.
  • It could interact with blood clotting medication or certain allergies.

So, should you take protein supplements? This is entirely up to you. If you eat a lot of fish or eat fish on the regular, you probably don’t need to. As previously mentioned, consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.

Multivitamins

Multivitamins vary across the board. Studies go back and forth on whether or not you should take them.

It really depends on what is in them and your health condition. For example, multivitamins with folic acid may be beneficial for pregnant women. We recommend talking to your doctor about whether multivitamins are right for you.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and aids in bone growth.

You have probably been told to take vitamin D throughout the darker winter months. Why? We get a lot of our vitamin D from the sunshine. With a lack of sun exposure during the wintertime, most people tend to have a vitamin D deficiency.

According to research, moderate, regular dosages of vitamin D supplements or fortified vitamin D foods can help balance out such deficiencies. It is considered one of the safest vitamins to take on a regular basis. That said, like any vitamin in large amounts, vitamin D does have some harmful effects. Don’t go overboard, but it may be the exact nutrient you are missing during those long winter months.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is known as a powerful antioxidant, meaning it cleanses your body of toxins, protecting it from damage. It is also a primary part of connective tissue throughout the body. It can be found in many vegetables and fruit.

Unfortunately, in capsule form, studies agree that taking vitamin C is essentially useless. It does not, as popular belief would say, help reduce the risk of the common cold. However, it is reasonably safe to take with no reports of any harmful effects.

Instead of taking a vitamin C supplement, stick to getting this nutrient in food sources like kale, kiwi, and oranges. Give our Kale, Chickpea, and Tahini Salad a try!

Turmeric

Turmeric is best known as a spice, but you can also find it in your local supplement store.

Throughout history, turmeric has been used to alleviate various health conditions, such as pain, breathing issues, rheumatoid arthritis, and general fatigue symptoms.

Many boast about this popular supplement for its use in inflammatory conditions, arthritis, liver problems, gallbladder issues, and even, cancer.

Here’s what has been supported by research:

  • It doesn’t necessarily help with inflammation. Few studies have proven this.
  • It may reduce heart attacks in bypass patients, lower knee pain in those suffering from osteoarthritis, and decrease skin irritation in those that have undergone radiation for breast cancer.
  • It is generally safe to take, but not in high doses. High doses could potentially cause digestive issues.
  • It has potential to help those who have Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, and arthritis.

Like most supplements, further research is needed. As for whether or not you need to take it, it never hurts to add a little kick into your favorite recipes.

Calcium

Calcium supplements can help you meet your dietary requirements, especially if you are vegan, have osteoporosis, or are lactose intolerant.

With calcium supplements, there is a lot of controversy. There are a variety of types and many debates about the risks. Again, this popular supplement is best left up the advice of your doctor. It can potentially help with certain conditions, but you want to make sure you aren’t left with any harmful side effects due to your body’s unique chemistry.

B12

Vitamin B12 is a common deficiency. It is highly useful on a cellular level, impacting blood and nerve cell function. It is often prescribed to those that are lacking in the recommended amount.

In supplement form, the main restriction is the amount that the body is able to absorb. Researchers found that in healthy individuals who took a 500mcg capsule, only 10mcg was absorbed.

Conclusion

It is always best to obtain nutritional and wellness necessities through our regular diet and food. Supplementation is often only beneficial when an obvious deficiency is present.

As with any product, do thorough research before you put it in your body. Talk to your family doctor. They know your medical history and what is best for you.

Don’t believe all the health fads out there. The internet has offered a channel for mass miscommunication. It is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. You only get one body. Stick to a healthy and balanced diet. Be aware of what is in the food you are eating. Read food labels. Stay informed and stay healthy!

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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