Powders, Juices and Pills: is modern society addicted to nutritional supplements?

Fat blasting smoothies, super fruit juices, pills to pop for energy. It seems that there is a quick-fix for everything today, hardly surprising as recent reports have estimated the nutritional supplement market to be worth a cool $37 billion US dollars.

The pages of the internet and celebrity magazines are filled with the likes of Khloe Kardashian and Jennifer Aniston speak about their hefty vitamin regimens. Gwyneth Paltrow released her own line of nutritional supplements earlier this year, complete with witty names like ‘High School Genes’ to relieve the symptoms of menopause, or ‘Why Am I So Effing Tired’ to relieve the symptoms of fatigue.

In the aisles of our supermarkets whole shelves are dedicated to everything from A to Zinc, including vitamins that boast they contain exactly that. Every vitamin and mineral in one tiny pill. What could be more convenient?

But how much do all these stylishly packaged and portioned dietary supplements really do for us?

The science has long been out on the benefits of all kinds of vitamins, multivitamins. In some cases, there is peer-reviewed research to back-up the health claim. Take folic acid as an example. There is a large body of research which supports the health benefits of folic acid for pregnant and breast-feeding women. In certain other cases, such as St John’s Wort or Echinacea supplements, there is no medical evidence to support the claimed benefits to health and well-being, although anecdotal evidence about their benefits abounds.

And in certain circumstances, we’re taking something our bodies don’t need when they’re already healthy. Take the current trend of probiotic supplements available. The benefits of probiotics have been proven – for people with specific conditions. But studies have also found that giving healthy people probiotic supplements doesn’t provide any health benefit.

So how do you know if you should be taking those multivitamins morning and night? The answer comes from your diet and life-style.

Are you already eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains? If so, chances are your body is already getting enough of everything you can get in powdered form from your health shop.

Have you been putting in a lot of late-nights at work, skipping breakfast and feeling stressed? You could probably use an antioxidant boosting juice or multivitamin until you can get back to some better eating habits.

The most important thing to remember is supplements can never become a replacement for the foods that you should be eating.

There is simply no substitute to the intake of a healthy and balanced meal. Always and in all age groups, regardless of gender, weight or height. When you consume such a diet that limits the intake of trans fat, excess calories, sodium and is rich in foods like fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, dairy, whole grains and legumes your body can get all the nutrients it needs. Potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiver and vitamins like A, C and E all occur naturally in the foods that we eat, and while we can produce them synthetically. There’s really no need.

While there is a culture that promotes a routine intake of a variety of vitamins to maintain a healthy lifestyle, or consume more vitamin supplements as they age, the truth is that some of these supplements are useful and others may even be harmful.

If you are deciding to start taking some sort of daily supplement, your best bet is to look for one made from an abundance of natural ingredients. If you can’t pronounce most of the names on the ingredients list, then it’s better to ask your doctor before you incorporate it into your daily diet.

Advice from medical experts suggests staying clear of supplements advertising benefits like sexual enhancement, those that claim to quickly build body mass or muscle, or those that claim rapid weight loss. These three categories are often adulterated with dangerous substances, including illegal drugs.

Even a buildup of naturally occurring substances can pose risks, and you can never be certain how your own, individual genetic makeup will react with whatever new health-booster you’ve just incorporated into your daily regimen.

Around 20,000 emergency visits to US each year, are because of a negative reaction to a form of nutritional supplement. A 25-year-old Australian woman died, thanks to a reaction caused by the body building supplement she was taking. While scientists studying male smokers recently linked high doses of vitamin b to lung cancer.

The desire to function at our peak and protect and nourish our bodies is natural, but there isn’t a one-size fits all solution when it comes to an individual’s dietary requirements. Until we can convince ourselves that nutrition can’t be simplified into a math equation, our addiction to health may be the most dangerous addiction of all.

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