Are your supplements really working?

Food supplements: not without my vitamins!

Dietary supplements are popular, but mostly unnecessary. Those who are healthy, have a healthy and varied diet, usually provide their body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs. So can you save yourself the need to take expensive preparations?

Are Diet Supplements Necessary?

Vitamin B for the nerves, vitamin C for a strong immune system and omega-3 for the blood vessels - many people turn to dietary supplements because they think they will do something good for their health.

Studies show that at least one in two American adults regularly swallows at least one dietary supplement; 10% even use up to four different products. The most popular supplements are vitamin and mineral supplements.

In most cases, however, the products cannot meet the expectations placed in them of improving health, increasing performance, strengthening the immune system and preventing diseases.

On the contrary: "Overdoses or interactions with other drugs can occur. Self-medication without a confirmed deficiency can be dangerous," warns Univ.-Prof. Dr. Kurt Widhalm, specialist in paediatrics, human genetics, nutritional medicine and medical and chemical laboratory diagnostics.

+++ More on the topic: How is a vitamin D deficiency expressed? +++

No health benefits from dietary supplements

Most clinical studies do not show significant benefits from supplementing in the prevention of chronic diseases that are not due to nutritional deficiency.

Some studies even reflect negative effects in the intake of various micronutrients, such as beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin E or selenium. If the recommended amounts are exceeded here, the risk of cancer and strokes even increases.

Supply in a targeted and controlled manner

Does that mean that you should always have certain blood values ​​analyzed first to determine whether there are any deficits, and if so, which ones, before resorting to vitamin supplements? - In order to supply micronutrients in a sensible and targeted manner, that would be the best approach, says Prof. Widhalm. "If you discover a deficiency, which is not so easy in the laboratory, then it is indicated to undertake targeted supplementation," he explains.

"Anyone who wants to do something good for their health belongs in the hands of an experienced nutritionist. He will advise, monitor and control the intake and thus avoid overdosing or interactions with other drugs.

Anyone who takes a vitamin C supplement for three weeks will not have any problems. But if you take larger doses over a longer period of time, you should discuss this with a doctor. Swallowing vitamin supplements on suspicion does not make sense. "

When do i need supplements?

In certain circumstances, however, dietary supplements may be necessary. "After operations, after chemotherapy, after antibiotic treatments, in the case of one-sided nutrition, during pregnancy, in the elderly or in athletes, there may be an undersupply of essential nutrients. Supplementation makes perfect sense," says Prof. Widhalm.

  • The need for micronutrients increases during pregnancy. Folic acid intake is recommended for women planning to become pregnant and during the first trimester of pregnancy. In addition, the intake of vitamin D, calcium and iron is recommended.
  • Babies should be given vitamin D from birth until they ingest a milk fortified with vitamin D. Screening to determine iron supply should be performed at one year of age. Healthy children who eat varied and healthy food do not need any additional supplements.
    Today, vitamin D supplementation is also useful in adolescence and adulthood.
  • From the age of 50, vitamin B supplementation can be considered, as it is no longer absorbed as well at this age. Vitamin D should also be taken. Calcium supplementation is no longer recommended as recent studies show that an oversupply of calcium increases the risk of kidney stones and cardiovascular disease. The calcium requirement should be met through the diet; supplements are only recommended if a deficiency is diagnosed.
  • If you are vegan, you should get vitamin B12.

Drops, capsules or tablets?

Dietary supplements are offered in different forms. Whether they are taken as drops, capsules or tablets is not decisive - they are absorbed equally well. "Basically, a healthy person who eats a healthy and balanced diet and does not climb the Großglockner every day does not need any supplements", Prof. Widhalm is convinced.

+++ netdoktor recipe ideas: You can find vitamin-rich recipes here! +++

What You Should Know About Diet Supplements:

  • Dietary supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet.
  • Micronutrients from food are usually better absorbed and have no side effects.
  • Those who eat a varied and balanced diet provide the body with all the important vitamins and minerals.
  • Only if a deficiency has been diagnosed, you belong to a risk group (senior citizens, after surgery or chemotherapy) or are in a certain life situation (a lot of sport, pregnancy) should supplements be used in addition to normal nutrition.
  • Diet supplements should only be taken in consultation with a doctor.

+++ More information: The future of medicine: The special magazine from +++

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Silke Brenner
Medical review:
Univ. Prof. Dr. Kurt Widhalm
Editorial editing:
Mag. Julia Wild

Updated on:
swell magazine "Future of Medicine", autumn / winter 2019

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