Vitamins and herbal supplements: Myth or fact
A large number of Nigerian adults and children take vitamin, mineral or herbal supplements in one form or the other. There are several claims of how vitamins and herbal supplements can cure cancer and other chronic diseases, or drastically improve the quality of our lives.
Whether in pharmacies, open markets, mass transit buses, in the electronic and print media, these products are touted as “super wonder drugs.” It is difficult to tell which of them are genuinely beneficial, or which of them are fake promises or in the extreme, dangerous to health.
There are many questions consumers grapple with in choosing any of the products under reference, questions on which ones are genuinely beneficial and if they are worth the money spent on them. It is essential to eat a healthy and balanced diet.
Foods provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, some of which cannot be found in dietary supplements. As their name implies, they are supplements and so cannot be replacements for a healthy and nutritious diet. Vitamins are a good safeguard against periodic vitamin shortfalls in one’s daily diet.
Dietary supplements are defined as products that supplement the food we eat, containing vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanical substances. These may come in a pill, liquid or powder form and are labeled as dietary supplements.
Different types of dietary supplements, vitamins and minerals contain micronutrients that help the body to function smoothly. Herbal supplements that have medicinal purposes support a specific area of the body health such as the liver, bones or skin.
Herbal supplements are different from vitamins and minerals supplement in that they are considered to have medicinal value. Herbs, also known as botanicals, are one of humanity’s oldest healthcare tools and the basis of many modern medicines.
Primitive and ancient civilisations relied on herbs for healing, as do many contemporary cultures throughout the world. In fact, the World Health Organisation has estimated that 80 per cent of the world’s population use traditional therapies, a major part of which is derived from plants.
If you are taking other medications, refrain from taking herbal supplements by first checking with your doctor. Herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs can combine to cause adverse side effects. Just because an herbal supplement is extracted from a “natural” source does not render it any less potent than any other chemicals you may ingest.
In general, children and adults may benefit from taking one multivitamin per day. A multivitamin helps provide a consistent source of the necessary vitamins and micronutrients. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “a daily multivitamin, and may be an extra vitamin d supplement, is a great way to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to be healthy.”
However, the very first consideration is to eat a healthy diet. Even the best supplement is no substitute for good nutrition. In many western countries people tend to consume foods that are high in calories, but lack nutrients that are vital for good health.
Some groups of people, because of distinct nutritional needs, benefit most from taking a vitamin and mineral supplement:
Women of childbearing age (need extra calcium and iron)
Expectant or lactating women
Children and teenagers with irregular eating habits
Vegetarians or vegans (may be deficient in key nutrients)
Dieters or people avoiding certain food groups (may be deficient in key nutrients)
People with eating disorders or medical conditions (deficiency disease, absorption problems, lactose intolerance, etc)
People who often eat processed and fast food.
Before deciding to take supplements, here are few facts to consider before taking vitamins or herbal supplements
Consult your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you are a nursing mother and children, as some of these may cause adverse side effects such as allergic reactions, aches, nausea etc. It is advisable to research the supplement online to determine if it has been subject to any alerts, warning or recalls.
It is possible to overdose on supplements: Even if supplements can be beneficial in small doses, in excessive doses they can cause health problems. For example, drinking green tea may provide some antioxidant benefits; taking high amount of it may be toxic to the liver. Also taking too much selenium poses a risk of prostate cancer.
Supplements have not been proven to cure any major disease – There is no scientific evidence to show that any of these herbal or vitamin supplements can cure or treat cancer or any major life threatening disease. A lot of these claims can be found on a lot of websites and remain a threat to public health. There is a need for people to protect themselves by researching these supplements at genuine sites such as www. Fda.gov
Be cautious with herbal supplement: There are a lot of herbal supplements in the market that make a lot of false promises. Doctors have cautioned on possible side effects or the risky interactions that can occur when herbs are taken with a medication. Conclusive scientific research has not been carried out on a number of herbal supplements on their efficacy and safety. It is advisable to check with your doctor before taking traditional herbs, as well as knowing their source.
Heart and cancer protection: Not proven: Omega 3 pills and antioxidants are generally believed to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, but recent evidence casts doubts on their efficacy. Far from reducing cancer risks as widely believed, high doses of antioxidant supplements may actually increase cancer risk as new evidence suggests.
Some vitamins are synthetic: Some vitamins don’t have to come from nature, as they can be synthetically produced in the lab. Some manufacturers mislabel their products as natural or botanical when in fact they are actually synthetic. A lot of the dietary supplements do not go through rigorous testing for safety and efficacy the way regular drugs are tested.
If you are eating a balanced diet you may not need supplements at all: Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, cereals, dairy and
protein will definitely provide the required nutrients.
What are vitamins?
Vitamins are an essential part of our diet. Without an adequate amount of vitamins, a deficiency will occur. Vitamins are naturally found in foods that we consume and are also found in supplements. A well balanced diet is often enough to meet the vitamin needs of healthy individuals. When a supplementation is needed, it is important to know how much you need to take and the best way to take it.
Vitamin A plays a very important function in your body. It helps regulate your immune system; helps form and maintain healthy teeth, skin, and tissue. It produces the pigments in the retina of the eye and promotes good vision. A deficiency in this vitamin can lead to problems with any of these. The vitamin A found in plants serves different functions than the vitamin A found in animals. The animal sources of vitamin A are liver, whole milk, and fortified foods and the plant sources include colourful fruits and vegetables like carrots, spinach, kale and cantaloupe.
Vitamin B6 is also called pyridoxine. Vitamin B6 helps form red blood cells and maintains brain function. This vitamin also plays an important role in the proteins that are part of many chemical reactions in the body. Eating larger amounts of protein may reduce vitamin B6 levels in the body.
Vitamin B12 like the other B vitamins is important for metabolism. It also helps form red blood cells and maintains the central nervous system.
Vitamin C also called ascorbic acid is an antioxidant that promotes healthy teeth and gums. It helps the body absorb iron and maintain healthy tissue. It also promotes wound healing.
Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin, “since it is made by the body after being in the sun. Ten 15 minutes of sunshine three times a week is enough to produce the body’s requirement of vitamin D. People who do not live in sunny places may not make enough vitamin D. it is very difficult to get enough vitamin D from food sources alone. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which you need for the normal development and maintenance of healthy teeth and bones. It also helps maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant also known as tocopherol. It plays a role in the formation of red blood cells and helps the body use Vitamin K.
Vitamin K is not listed among the essential vitamins, but without it blood would not stick together (coagulate). Some studies suggest that it is important for promoting bone health.
Biotin is essential for the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates, and in the production of hormones and cholesterol.
Niacin is a B vitamin that helps maintain healthy skin and nerve. It is also has cholesterol-lowering effects.
Folate works with vitamin B12 to help form red blood cells. It is needed for the production of DNA, which controls tissue growth and cell function. Any woman who is expectant should be sure to get enough folate. Low levels of it are linked to birth defects such as spinal bifida. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid.
Pantothenic acid is essential for the metabolism of food. It is also plays a role in the production of hormones and cholesterol.
Riboflavin (vitamin B12) works with the other B vitamins. It is important for body growth and production of red blood cells.
Thiamine (vitamin B1) helps the body cells change carbohydrates into energy. Getting plenty of carbohydrates is very important during pregnancy and breast-feeding. It is also essential for heart function and healthy nerve cells.
It is advisable not to rely on supplements alone as there isn’t enough scientific data to suggest that healthy people benefit by taking vitamins and minerals in excess of the daily recommended amounts rather balanced and nutritious diet is encourage.