Supplementation has become common practice for many people in the hopes of maintaining and improving their overall health, but what are dietary supplements exactly and who should be taking them? Will dietary supplements become essential in our modern world to meet our nutritional requirements?
What Are Dietary Supplements?
Also called food or nutritional supplements, dietary supplements are pills, capsules, tablets, powders, or liquids containing different vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytochemicals or antioxidants etc. that are meant to enrich or help supplement our diets to ensure that we’re getting all the nutrients that we need. There are a variety of good reasons to take supplements, especially with today’s modern diet, and for certain groups of people who might be at risk of deficiencies.
Why Dietary Supplements are Important?
In a study done in 2004, researchers looked at nutritional data on 43 different types of fruit and vegetables from 1950 to 1999 and found “reliable declines” in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C, in the fruits and vegetables grown. Researchers attributed this loss to modern agriculture practices that focus more on larger yields and production than on food nutrition. That’s not to say that fruits and veggies aren’t at all nutritional it’s just they have declined in the last few decades meaning that it might become more difficult to meet our nutritional needs from food alone.
Some studies done within Europe suggested a low nutritional intake in a variety of genders and age groups across Europe. This study also helped to identify different groups of people who are at risk of low intake.
Further, our lifestyle choices and environment can also affect our abilities to absorb and maintain optimal nutrition levels. For example, alcohol consumption depletes B vitamins, vitamin C, a variety of minerals, as well as antioxidants and pollution, toxins, and smoking can deplete our antioxidant levels.
Who Should Take Dietary Supplements?
While many people can benefit from taking dietary supplements, there are a few groups of people who should consider taking dietary supplements if they’re not already taking them. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before taking any dietary supplementation.
- Vegans/Vegetarians: Vitamin B-12 is essential for making red blood cells and for proper brain function. Vegans and vegetarians are at risk of being low on vitamin B-12 since it is not a vitamin that we produce naturally but rather from animal sources. Vegan and vegetarians should look into B-12 supplement and make an effort to eat foods that are fortified with B-12 such as fortified nut milk and cereals and nutritional yeast.
- People over 50: After the age of 50, people have trouble absorbing vitamin B-12. Vitamin D and folate are also important, especially for women. Those over 50 should concern looking into a daily multi-vitamin ensuring these vitamins are included.
- Women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing mothers: Folic acid and iron are two essential vitamins for pregnant and nursing mothers. Folic acid is essential for the development of children, and doctors sometimes give folic acid supplements to pregnant women. Folic acid helps the growth of the baby's neural tube. Women are also at higher risk of iron deficiency than men because women need more iron. Iron is essential for blood development, and low iron levels can lead to severe fatigue and muscle weakness.
- Children Under Five Years of Age: Children require an ample amount of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin D to develop properly. While a well-rounded diet is often able to provide that for children, kids can often be difficult or picky eaters making them more apt to low intake in the nutrients they need.
- Sun-deprived: The majority of people don’t get enough vitamin D. We get vitamin D from the sun but even those who live in sun-rich locations are still at risk with our modern lifestyle since the many of us spend our time inside.
Talk to your doctor today about what supplementation would be appropriate for your gender and age to help reach your optimal wellbeing.