The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements

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The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements

Today, more people are taking vitamins and supplements than ever before. But are they really what they're made out to be? We explore a rash of mineral misconceptions and supplement superstitions in this episode of Medical Myths.

Perhaps no vitamin, with the potential exception of vitamin C, is debated more than vitamin D, or vitamin D from sunlight.

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It makes sense because vitamin D is a powerful nutrient. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) list its benefits as enhancing immunity, absorbing calcium, and strengthening bones.

Nevertheless, some misunderstandings result from all that talk. According to Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and author of Starved: A Nutrition Doctor's Journey From Empty to Full, "there's an expectation that vitamin D is a miracle drug and that if we all just take megadoses of it, it will solve all problems." Of course, that isn't accurate at all. Health professionals concur that there is no one-size-fits-all vitamin or dietary supplement. 

The more, the better.

More is not necessarily better when it comes to vitamin intake. In fact, having more occasionally poses a threat. People can be excused for thinking that vitamin and mineral supplements are safe at any dosage because they are readily available without a prescription.

However, taking excessive amounts of several vitamins might interfere with the body's intricate processes. For example, too much vitamin C might prevent the body from absorbing copper, a necessary element, according to the American Cancer SocietyTrusted Source: Phosphorus excess can prevent the body from absorbing calcium. Large amounts of vitamins A, D, and K cannot be excreted by the body; therefore, when taken in excess, they can be poisonous.

Additionally, diarrhoea and stomach discomfort may result from consuming too much vitamin C or calcium. Hypercalcemia, or taking too much vitamin D over an extended period of time, can lead to calcium building up in the body. Hypercalcemia has the potential to harm the heart, kidneys, and bones.

It must be safe if "natural" is included on the label.

Sadly, when it comes to a supplement's safety or efficacy, the word "natural" has no real relevance. As an extreme illustration, cyanide is a naturally occurring substance that plants create. We are not implying that any supplements contain cyanide, of course.

There is more to natural plant components than just their therapeutic qualities. For instance, dandelion leaves are a diuretic whereas dandelion roots are laxatives.

The degree to which the plant ingredient is still present in the finished product is another issue. It could only be a very slight trace, or the extract might be very potent.

It is okay to use supplements in addition to traditional medications.

As was already said, a prevalent misconception is that since supplements do not require a prescription and many of them promote as "natural," they cannot interact with prescription drugs.

In reality, several of these products include active ingredients that could interact negatively with other prescriptions. As a result, dietary supplements might improve or lessen the effects of prescription drugs.

In a 2012 Trusted Source analysis, researchers examined "drug interactions and contraindications related with herbs and nutritional supplements." 1,491 unique interactions between herbal and nutritional supplements, drugs, and supplements were found.

The supplements that included the most interactions were those that contained magnesium, St. John's wort, iron, calcium, and ginkgo.

The majority of people who take nutritional or herbal supplements don't discuss them with their doctors, which raises the possibility of issues.

Supplemental vitamins and minerals safeguard heart health. 

It is comforting to know that consuming vitamin and mineral supplements will safeguard our hearts. 

Overall, the benefits were minimal even though they did discover that "Folic acid alone and B vitamins with folic acid, B6, and B12 decreased stroke."

Having said that, a 2019 meta-analysis from a reputable source found find associations between folic acid supplementation and lower stroke risk in persons at risk for cardiovascular disease. Another study from a reputable source found that folic acid intake "indicated a 10% reduced risk of stroke and a 4% lower risk of total [cardiovascular disease]."

Vitamin C prevents a cold

This kind of "common wisdom" does have some validity, but there isn't much proof that vitamin C will shield you from the common cold.

The researchers discovered that vitamin C supplements did not save the general populace from the common cold. They did come to the conclusion, nevertheless, that it lessened the severity and length of the cold.

It "may be advantageous for persons exposed to brief periods of intensive physical exertion," such as marathon runners, they said in their conclusion.

Prebiotics and probiotics are the panacea.

Numerous items that promise to help gut health and a host of other problems have shown up in recent years. We have all seen the popularity of probiotics and prebiotics grow in particular.

Prebiotics are meals or supplements that include substances intended to support gut flora, whereas probiotics are foods or supplements that contain microorganisms.

Probiotics may assist with a number of health conditions, including lowering diarrhoea brought on by taking certain antibiotics and alleviating some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, according to research done by scientistsTrusted Source (IBS). However, there is no proof that probiotics or prebiotics can improve health outside of a few particular circumstances.

Of course, as more research is done, this might alter. However, at the moment marketing, which uses nebulous phrases like "gut health" and "digestive health," is what drives the selling of probiotics and prebiotics.

Antioxidants extend life

Oxidation is a chemical reaction that takes place in numerous bodily functions. Free radicals, which are extremely chemically reactive and can harm cells and their constituent parts, are produced by oxidation.

Vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids, such as beta carotene, are antioxidants, or substances that stop oxidation.

Antioxidants are prevalent in fruits and vegetables in general. It appears reasonable to assume that antioxidants may be one of the factors contributing to these foods' importance for good health.

Despite the generally low risk, it is always advisable to speak with your doctor or another knowledgeable healthcare professional before beginning a vitamin D supplement. Not only might they have additional recommendations regarding how much vitamin D is appropriate for you, but they may also be able to provide brand recommendations. Getting a brand recommendation from your doctor might be beneficial because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't monitor supplements as strictly as it does conventional pharmaceuticals.

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