By Rivaldo Richardson ’19
Vitamins and minerals are essential for survival, and they come in numerous foods that we eat everyday. Without them, the immune system will slowly begin to deteriorate and the body will become more susceptible to deadly ailments.
However, if you had some sort of restriction that forced you not to eat certain foods, then you would most likely turn to supplements.
Dietary supplements are artificially made products that are intended to supply the body with certain nutrients. Since they generally come as a pill or liquid, this makes them easy to digest. Once consumed, the vitamins and minerals in said supplement are dispersed into the immune system. These products are used in many different scenarios.
For example, vitamin supplements can be helpful for women during pregnancy, since folic acid and Omega-3 help prevent birth defects and other deficiencies in the fetus. People who have an irregular diet, such as vegans, or those with digestive conditions, are recommended to take vitamin supplements because without them, they may suffer from deficiencies in the future.
According to Anthony Komaroff, M.D., “People who do not have a regular, balanced diet—because they are poor, abuse alcohol, or have dietary restrictions (like being vegans), for example—may well need particular vitamin pills. The same is true for people with various gut conditions— like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, chronic diarrhea, or gastric bypass surgery—that interfere with the absorption of vitamins in food.”
Although some people may not adopt the best of dietary practices, some vitamin supplements may provide them a sufficient amount of the necessary vitamins and minerals. Despite this being true, eating a proper diet would be superior in benefit because all the vitamins and minerals come from natural sources.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “Supplements are most likely to cause side effects or harm when people take them instead of prescribed medicines or when people take many supplements in combination. Some supplements can increase the risk of bleeding or, if a person takes them before or after surgery, they can affect the person’s response to anesthesia. Dietary supplements can also interact with certain prescription drugs in ways that might cause problems.”
A survey conducted by the Computer Reseller News in 2015 shows that 68 percent of people take supplements in the United States, and this number has stayed consistent for the previous five years. This shows that more than two thirds of Americans take supplements for any of the reasons formerly mentioned.
In that same survey, 84 percent of Americans have shown an “overall safety, quality, and effectiveness of dietary supplements,” thus showing that supplements are safe for use and regulation by both the people and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, ratified in 1994, calls for all supplements, when marketed, to be evaluated by the firms that produce them to meet all
standards set by the Act and the FDA.
However, supplements can be used in excess, thereby causing an unsafe overabundance of some vitamins and minerals. This is especially true for fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K), as they are stored directly in the body, and high amounts of these can intoxicate the body. High amounts of other vitamins or minerals can also harm the body.
According to the NIH, “High doses of some water soluble vitamins, like vitamin B6, can also become toxic. Large folate intakes can hide vitamin B12 deficiencies. In extreme cases, for example, where people take 100 times the recommended dietary intake, this can stop the work of anticonvulsant drugs, such as those used in epilepsy.”
In teenagers and young adults, these supplements are mainly a source for allowing them to more proficiently lose weight or gain muscle. About 12 percent of teenagers use them, primarily because the side effects may differ in their bodies since they are still growing. Some of these supplements contain some ingredients that have not been examined when
in use by children.
“Teens should try to consume as many nutrients as possible, especially for those with eating disorders who aren’t receiving the amount of nutrients that they need on a daily basis,” said Karriem Lomas ’19.
In addition, most supplements provide vitamins through natural means. However, they are not always the safest option since the consumer does not know where they actually come from. Because federal regulations are not as strict for over-the-counter supplements as they are for prescribed drugs, what is in a supplement bottle may be completely different from what is on the label. Therefore, there is an average of about 4,600 children who end up in the emergency room due to supplements.
“I think the use of supplements is fine so long as it does not affect their health in a negative way,” said Yamilette Sanchez ’19.
As a result, dietary supplements are a great way to gain some nutrients under certain circumstances. However, the labels may not always ring true to what the actual content may hold, so it is best for supplements to be taken in moderation or to get nutrients from natural foods.