Food supplements

Food supplements

Are you sure that you need them?

Dietary supplements are products-formulations intended to be incorporated into a normal diet of healthy people. They are not designed to prevent or treat any disease but only to support general well-being. A nutritional supplement is not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle but complements our diet without replacing it.

The chemical structure of vitamins in food is different from that of vitamins in supplements and usually a food is much more complex as it contains a wide variety of nutrients. It is not known precisely whether the positive effect we observe on health from different nutrients is due to a specific nutrient or to some other substance found in the food or to the interaction of the nutrient with another bioactive substance found in the food and we may not know.

Our body can control whether a nutrient has reached toxic levels by reducing its absorption from the gastrointestinal tract or increasing its excretion through feces or urine. Conversely, taking too much of a nutritional supplement does not control the nutrients from the body with possible side effects of toxicity or hindering the absorption of other nutrients.

There are cases and categories of people for which the use of nutritional supplements is indicated, such as people with a deficiency in some element-vitamin, women during pregnancy (mainly in folic acid). People following a specific diet, eg vegan (need for vitamin B12), elderly people with nutritional problems, smokers or athletes. Also, patients where the absorption or digestion of a nutrient is affected and people taking medication where the absorption or excretion of a nutrient is affected.

There are many nutritional supplements on the market, and their effectiveness is affected both by the way of preparation and the source of their main substances. Supplements from natural sources are more effective because they also contain a number of nutrients that either have not been isolated or are not yet known. Natural supplements have more balanced proportions of the elements they contain thus limiting the possibility of insufficient or excessive intake of an ingredient. The majority of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids act cooperatively with each other and for this reason their combined intake or their administration in a more natural form is required.

In most cases, taking supplements is best done after eating. Stomach acid aids absorption, while fat aids absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and certain phytonutrients. Liquids also help the tablets and capsules to dissolve, as well as helping the absorption of water-soluble vitamins.

Some nutrients are also better taken together such as vitamins A, D, E and K need a fat source in order to be absorbed by the body. Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium. Minerals are better absorbed when combined with citrus or acidic foods. Fat helps the body absorb lycopene and other carotenoids from foods like tomatoes and carrots. Finally, vitamin C enhances the better absorption of iron.