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Sometimes we need a little help to get us through the day and nutritional supplements could be the answer. However, if they are not taken correctly, they can cause more harm than good. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of dietary supplementation.

Our current lifestyle forces us to be always in a rush. We are constantly exposed to different types of stress, including physical and mental stress that can make us feel exhausted and promote premature aging. Both the stress and the fact that sometimes we don't have enough time to worry about what we eat, have introduced a new way of getting all the nutrients that we need in the form of a pill or a powder. Nevertheless, sometimes we believe that because they are nutritional supplements they can't cause any harm, when they actually do if they are not properly administered.

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From Vitamins To Herbal Extracts 

Nutritional supplements are currently used by children and adults, not only for medical purposes, for example to treat certain types of anemia, but also to improve overall health and prevent damages that come with being exposed to the environment toxic substances and as a result of the aging process.  

According to the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. (FDA), nutritional or dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals and other substances, such as herbs, amino acids, enzymes and botanical and animal extracts that are sold in the form of capsules, tablets, softgels and gelcaps.

A recent study showed that the main reasons why adults in the U.S. use nutritional supplements are basically to improve and maintain health; women, for example, report the use of these substances for bone health and men use them mainly to keep their heart in good conditions and cholesterol levels under control. 

Among some of the most common supplements that people use are multivitamins, followed by calcium and omega-3 supplements. 
The shocking part though is that only 23% of the people that were interviewed for the study were taking nutritional supplements based on the recommendation of their health carer; the rest were using these products without medical supervision.

The Good Side 

It is definitely true that nutritional supplements are a great option when it comes to protect our body from daily stressors and harm. For years, research has focused on finding the benefits of using medicinal plants and natural chemical substances present in food, such as the antioxidants present in green tea for example, to improve health and increase our chances of a better and longer life. These studies have provided several evidence that support the use of nutritional supplements and herbal extracts, for example, and scientists even believe, based on research already performed, that some of them may even help in the treatment of certain diseases, such as cancer.

This is the case of omega-3, which is now being studied as a potential therapeutic agent to treat leukemia.

Studies are obviously in a very early stage but this encourages both doctors and patients and makes dietary supplements look good. 

Vitamin and mineral supplementation is also really helpful when it comes to provide our body with the proper amount of nutrients, especially when we expose it to intense physical activity, just like athletes do or when we suffer from a disease that does not allow their correct absorption, such as Crohn's disease or any other related illnesses. 

Continue reading after recommendations

  • BAILEY, R. L., GAHCHE, J. J., MILLER, P. E., THOMAS, P. R. & DWYER, J. T. 2013. Why US adults use dietary supplements. JAMA Intern Med, 173, 355-61
  • PETROCZI, A., TAYLOR, G. & NAUGHTON, D. P. 2011. Mission impossible? Regulatory and enforcement issues to ensure safety of dietary supplements. Food Chem Toxicol, 49, 393-402
  • STICKEL, F., KESSEBOHM, K., WEIMANN, R. & SEITZ, H. K. 2011. Review of liver injury associated with dietary supplements. Liver Int, 31, 595-605.Photo courtesy of Stevendepolo by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/7315274972
  • Photo courtesy of Kimubert by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/treevillage/3297205866

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