How useful are dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements are more popular than ever – the market is booming! Amino acids are said to help with weight loss, and biotin to ensure a radiant complexion. But according to scientists, the miracle pills seem to have no positive health effects at all – on the contrary. What nutritional supplements can and cannot do? Here is the current inventory.

How useful are dietary supplements? – Article overview:

How useful are dietary supplements?
  • The risk to our health?
  • Overdose with side effects?
  • Food supplements for pregnant women
  • Dietary supplements for athletes
  • Food supplements for the elderly
  • Food supplements for children
  • Food supplements for vegans

Two-thirds of Austrians now and then take dietary supplements and believe in doing something good for their health. The miracle pills are supposed to make us more powerful, more beautiful, and healthier – so the manufacturers promise.

But what many do not know, according to experts, there is absolutely no reason for the majority of the population to take additional vitamin supplements. “Anyone who has a varied diet and is not in a special life situation does not need any food supplements,” explains the microbiologist Bodo Speckmann from the German Institute for Nutritional Research in Potsdam.

In addition, more and more studies come to the conclusion that dietary supplements are anything but healthy and in some cases can even be harmful.

Risk to our health?

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen found in a large-scale vitamin study that some vitamins, especially vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, which are actually considered to be strong antioxidants, can support free radicals in attacking our body cells.

The Danish researchers examined the results of 68 vitamin studies with over 230,000 participants. In the meta-analysis published in 2008, you came to the conclusion that taking antioxidant vitamins increases the risk of death!

In other studies, beta-carotene and vitamin E have been linked to an increased risk of lung and prostate cancer.

Another Swedish study found that women took multivitamin supplements and iron supplements for a long time, had an increased death rate and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Overdose With Dangerous Side Effects?

In addition, many supplements are available in high doses and often exceed four to five times the recommended daily dose.

This can be particularly dangerous with the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, since these are not quickly excreted via the kidneys like the water-soluble vitamins, but are stored in the body and can lead to life-threatening symptoms of poisoning.

Dietary Supplements – Complete Nonsense?

A healthy person in our part of the world does not need any food supplements. From a nutritional point of view, there is no general recommendation for supplementation, since the majority of the substances offered have not yet been thoroughly investigated for their health-promoting potential

Above all, nutrition experts point out that even if the positive aspects of taking nutritional supplements are secured, they can at best complement, but never replace, a responsible diet. According to surveys, this is exactly what many consumers hope for.
The extra portion of vitamins, trace elements & Co. only makes sense under certain circumstances and for special risk groups.

Dietary supplements can be useful for the following groups of people.

• Pregnant and breastfeeding women
• Competitive athletes
• Elderly people
• The chronically ill
• Children and adolescents (with one-sided diet)
• Vegans

Food supplements for pregnant women

During pregnancy or breastfeeding, the body has an increased energy requirement and needs more vitamins and minerals than usual. Above all, there is an increased need for folic acid, calcium, magnesium, iodine, and iron. The German Nutrition Society recommends the additional intake of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, the intake of so-called “combination preparations” (eg iodine folio capsules) can be useful.

Dietary supplements for athletes

Even for competitive athletes with an additional energy consumption of at least 2,000 kcal per week, dietary supplements can be a useful addition to the daily diet.

Critical nutrients here are in particular the vitamins of the B group and the minerals iodine, zinc, and iron, which are excreted in sweat.

Attention: Many strength athletes regularly use protein concentrates that are supposed to promote muscle building. However, according to the DGE, there is no connection between increased physical activity and increased protein requirements. A balanced diet (with an average of 100 grams of protein per day) completely covers athletes’ protein needs. Regular additional protein intake (more than 2 g protein per kg body weight), on the other hand, can stress the kidneys!

Food supplements for the elderly

Problems with chewing or swallowing, loss of appetite or a very unbalanced diet are some of the most common reasons why the elderly are sometimes undersupplied with essential nutrients.

Many only consume 1,000-1,500 kcal a day! Also, older people have an increased need for vitamin A, B vitamins, D, E, and folic acid.
A deficiency in vitamin B12 is also often found in seniors. This is because the absorption of vitamin B12 is inhibited by gastrointestinal diseases or by taking medication.

Dietary supplement for the chronically ill

People who regularly have to take medication (e.g. pain relievers, antibiotics, estrogens) and especially people with chronic diseases (e.g. gastrointestinal diseases, diabetes mellitus, chronic dialysis, cancer, rheumatic diseases, and liver diseases), may require more essential nutrients than what is consumed with a normal diet.

Food supplements for children

In children and adolescents, the problem often arises that they eat too little or very one-sidedly (e.g. only a few fruit and vegetables or no meat). Since children and adolescents have a higher nutritional requirement than adults, additional supplementation can temporarily support the supply.

Caution is also advised in this context with diets! Because with the reduction of the portions, the supply of vitamins and minerals is automatically reduced.

Food supplements for vegans

If the diet deviates from the usual mixed diet (usually consisting of foods such as whole-grain products, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, fish, and meat), an undersupply or deficiency of vitamins and minerals can occur.

Since vegans who forego all animal products in their menu often experience a lack of vital substances, the German Vegan and Vegetarian Association (VEBU) recommends taking additional preparations. The most critical nutrients for vegans are vitamins D, B12, B2, B6, calcium, iron, zinc, and iodine.
Also, the DGE warns against a purely vegan diet for children in the first years of life, as it increases the risk of neurological disorders and developmental delays.

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