Discretion in taking supplements


Vitamins and minerals termed as micronutrients play a special role in keeping good health. Although they are considered micronutrients they differ in their composition. Whereas vitamins are organic substances (made by plants and animals), minerals are inorganic elements that come from the soil and water and get into our bodies from the plants, animals and water that we consume.

Vitamins, namely – Fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E and K) and Water soluble vitamins (Vitamin C and B group vitamins) have a specific role to play in our body. For example Vitamin A is responsible for healthy cells and good vision, Vitamin D is essential for building strong, dense bones, the B group vitamins help in energy production and also are components of coenzymes that help release energy from food and so on and so forth.

Our bodies also need minerals, the macro minerals (calcium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride and sulphur) and the trace minerals (iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium) in the right amounts to strengthen bones and teeth, maintain a healthy immune system and also help vitamins do their work.
A lack of any of the micronutrients can lead to substantial harm whereas sufficient amounts can promote good health and wellbeing.

Our bodies do not have the ability to make most micronutrients hence, it becomes important for us to obtain them from the food that we consume which is a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods such as plentiful vegetables and fruits, low fat milk and products like paneer and curd, lean meat, eggs, fish, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds and whole grains.
Today urban, fast paced lifestyles is seen having an impact on the general health of the people and so taking vitamin and mineral supplements is seen as a way to maintain good health. However not all medical and healthcare professionals are in favour of taking supplements.

The December 17, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine contains three articles that address the role of vitamin and mineral supplements for preventing the occurrence or progression of chronic diseases.

An editorial co-authored by five doctors in the issue says –

“most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.” They say” this is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies who represent most supplement users in the US and in other counties.”

The authors of the editorial also believe that future trials in this area are futile and that supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. However according to them Vitamin D supplementation needs to be further investigated especially in deficient persons.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in preventive andevidence-based medicine published new guidelines on Vitamin, Mineral and Multivitamin supplements in the February 25, 2014 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. They concluded that there is not sufficient current evidence to ascertain the harms or benefits of single or paired nutrients supplements in the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer in the healthy adults with no known nutrient deficiencies. They also found sufficient evidence that beta carotene supplementation may increase the risk for lung cancer in individuals at a higher risk of this disease. Also there is sufficient evidence to state that Vitamin E has no role to play in the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer.

However it was stated that this report included the healthy population with no known nutrient deficiencies and not the group of people at risk of deficiencies of the micronutrients namely the pregnant women, children, people who are ill or have known deficiencies. This group may actually benefit from supplementation according to them.

Many other experts also see a role of vitamin and mineral supplements in maintaining and promoting good health. An earlier study of 725 women from Puerto Rico presented in the American Association of Cancer Research Annual Meeting stated that a decreased risk of breast cancer in women was associated with use of multivitamins. A few more studies in the past have indicated the positive role of supplements in the prevention of cancer.With much conflicting data it is prudent to consult your physician before taking any kind of supplements. High doses of some vitamins can cause harm.

Regardless of what research says one message that goes loud and clear is -Supplements cannot replace whole foods and
More supplements in no way means better health