Are Health Supplements All They’re Hyped Up to Be?

For many of us, gulping down health supplements every day along with our breakfast (or whenever you take your supplements) is routine. They’re part of our everyday doings, much like drinking water or grabbing a meal. In our quest for a healthier life and for a better body, we turn to all kinds of health supplements that claim to do many wonderful things.

But when it all boils down, are these health supplements actually doing us a favor? Are they really improving our lives? When did these supplements start growing in popularity? How did they come about?

All these any many other questions you might have will soon have answers.

Health Supplements: A Definition

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, health supplements are products that “intend to supplement the diet; contain one or more dietary ingredients [including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, or other substances] or their constituents; are intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid; and are labeled on the front as being a health supplement.”

Presently, there are all kinds of health supplements that exist and serve a number of purposes. Some provide extra energy, some help you sleep better and build healthier sleeping patterns, some build muscle, some help you with your sex life, and some make sure you get the vitamins and minerals that you need.

Whatever you’re feeling or whatever issue you have physically, there’s bound to be some sort of health supplement that can help you out.  

The Regulation of Health Supplements by the FDA

The FDA regulates health supplements as food. However, they are regulated differently from other foods and drugs. More often, you classify a product as a health supplement depending on the information the manufacturer provides on the product label or the accompanying literature. However, product labels of many food and health supplements don’t include such information.

Health supplement ingredients sold in the United States before October 15, 1994 (the day when the Act took effect) are not required to be reviewed by the FDA for safety check before they are marketed. This is because the department presumes the products are safe from the history of use by humans.

However, for new ingredients (those not sold as health supplements before 1994), the manufacturer must first notify FDA of its intent to market a health supplement that contains a new ingredient. They must also provide information and research that shows the FDA that the product is indeed safe for human consumption. The FDA can then either refuse or allow new ingredients into or remove existing ingredients from the marketplace for safety concerns.

The Emergence of Health Supplements

So how did these health supplements come about? Scientists and other health professionals started thinking of other ways to supplement people’s health when the condition and quality of food started getting worse and worse. With the emergence of fast food and junk food came poor eating habits and glutinous practices. To ensure that people were still getting the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals the body needs in order to function properly, health supplements were born.

But health supplements before were far different from many health supplements available nowadays. In the past, companies were putting out low-quality, chemically derived, and nonabsorbent “vitamins.” Many people appreciated the convenience of taking in nutrients and eagerly bought into the farce.

Luckily, many consumers nowadays are more conscious about active and inactive ingredients in products. They are doing more research and ensuring that whatever it is they’re taking is natural, has no chemicals, and can really boost the nutrient content in their bodies.

Yes, natural, organic, and plant-based health supplements is the way to go.

The Pros of Taking Health Supplements

Health supplements were made with the good of the population in mind. Here are some ways taking in these supplements can be beneficial to the human body.

Optimal Health

The basic goal of health supplements is a great benefit in itself: to ensure that the body gets the right nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs for optimal health. And yes, there are many supplements that do that. You just have to make sure that the health supplement you’re taking is from natural and organic ingredients. You have to be sure that no chemicals were involved in making the product.

Proper Metabolism

Properly absorbing nutrients from the food you eat requires a specific types of vitamins, the B vitamins. And it’s imperative that you consume these each and every day for a healthy metabolism. Lucky for you, health supplements chock-full of B vitamins will ensure you get the right dose in order to absorb these goodies into your body. These supplements also help prevent the many bad effects of vitamin deficiencies. These include skin disorders, nerve damage, anemia, and joint pain.

Tissue Maintenance and Repair

The everyday activities that we do put a strain on our bodies tissues and will eventually wear them down. The specialized cells in our body produce proteins that create healthy new cells to replace the old and damaged tissues. If ever there is a defect in the process of tissue repair and maintenance, then other diseases can occur. By taking in the right kind of health supplements, then we ensure that our cells will be able to do proper tissue repair and maintenance and promote healthy tissue growth and strengthen our bones as well.

Prevents Diseases

Because these health supplements provide us with essential nutrients, the risk for certain kinds of diseases and illnesses may lessen. All those vitamins and minerals provide the body with plenty of antioxidants, which protect the body from harmful free radicals that bring about disease.

Cons of Taking Health Supplements

Of course, with the good, there’s always the bad that goes along with it. Here are some questionable and some dangerous effects that health supplements can produce.

No Proper Regulation

According to an article by Consumer Reports, over-the-counter health supplements are not regulated in a way that ensures their safety and efficacy. These products have the potential of contamination by harmful and potentially dangerous bacteria. Or they may vary from what their labels claim them to be. And in some cases, they deliberately contain ingredients that can cause cancer, organ damage, cardiac arrest, and other serious health problems.

Too Much Is Too Much

Taking in large doses of individual supplements can be dangerous and life-threatening. One example is taking in too much fat-soluble vitamin A and vitamin D. Over time, too much of these vitamins build up the toxic levels in the body. Other minerals also do this, like selenium and iron. Also, prolonged use of vitamin B6, in large amounts, causes nerve damage. And finally, large doses of vitamin C causes diarrhea.

Actual Food Is Ignored

Some people solely rely in these health supplements. Meaning they ignore actual food that is the most natural source of many vitamins and minerals as well. There are many types of vitamins and minerals that are in food that supplements just can’t provide. For example, healthy phytochemicals are in food sources such as whole foods, grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Not Safe for Cancer Patients

There are a number of ways that taking in health supplements cause complications for patients undergoing cancer treatment. Some supplements cause skin sensitivity and severe reactions when taken during radiation treatment. The additional antioxidants in these supplements might also interfere with cancer cell–killing treatments.

The Last Word

Whatever way you see it, there are always two sides to every story. In the end, it’s ultimately up to you to weigh them out and make a decision based on what works for you. Of course, it is very important that you talk to your health care provider first before making any final decisions.

Kate B. Forsyth is a writer for Be Healthy Today, who specializes in health and nutrition. Her passion is to help people get an overall transformation of health that lasts a lifetime. In her blog posts, she goes beyond research by providing health-concerned citizens doable and simple tricks to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

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