Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.
As a person of science, one of the things that makes my blood boil is when another person with the letters 'Dr.' before their name uses their credentials to make exaggerated and sometimes utterly ridiculous claims about the health benefits of the latest fad. Typically, these men and women do so for marketing purposes and might even derive some benefit from it. The latest berry diet trends are a perfect example of this. That is why it's so important to distinguish between common facts and myths when it comes to the risks and benefits of supplements, trendy diets, and the like.
The Benefits of Food Supplements
The best way you can become a knowledgeable consumer is by arming yourself with knowledge that can be found from many credible sources on the Internet. If there are a lot of experts that disagree with a commercial's claims or a TV doctor's preaching of a new product, then maybe you should save your hard earned money. When appropriate, dietary supplements can be beneficial and help prevent disease.
One of the biggest trends nowadays, and in the recent past, has been the use of dietary supplements. Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, proteins, herbs, and other substances intended to supplement a person's usual diet. What this means is that these supplements can be taken in addition to eating a healthy and balanced diet.
For example, pregnant women can benefit from supplementation with folic acid. This is a B vitamin (B9 to be precise) that is important in preventing birth defects. A vitamin, by the way, is an organic compound important in small amounts for the regulation of biochemical processes within the body. Likewise, children who do not get enough sunlight or dietary vitamin D may need vitamin D supplementation in order to maintain healthy and strong bones. If they do not get enough vitamin D, they can get a disease called rickets, which is a condition where children have weak and soft bones.
But there's a common myth that absolutely everyone needs to supplement their diet with a lot of vitamins, minerals, and other stuff through enriched water, juice, or pills. This is not so. If you are a healthy person eating a proper diet, you do not need to consume supplements on a regular basis, if at all. On the flipside, if you are in a certain stage of life, such as advanced age or pregnancy, or you are sick, then your doctor may advise you to add certain things to your diet. This is because these types of situations can increase the body's demands for different kinds of vitamins or minerals and their supplementation can help a person maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The Risks of Food Supplements
But nothing in physiology is a one way street. For every action in the body, there must be a reaction to the action. The risks of improper supplementation are, therefore, many. Let's examine some of them.
Taking too many vitamin supplements, especially those containing high levels of fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, and K, can present serious dangers to a healthy person eating a normal diet. This is because excess amounts of fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body. This accumulation can lead to vitamin-based toxicities. The same idea applies to over supplementation of minerals, which can also poison the body. For instance, taking too much of the mineral iron may cause liver damage.
Furthermore, another risk lies in the over reliance on supplements as major sources of nutrition. There are many other important substances found in food that may not be available in your standard vitamin pill, including important fats, proteins, and carbohydrates just to name a few. Conversely, your typical protein shake supplement may be missing a lot of vitamins, minerals, and so forth.
Again, that is why a balanced diet provides you with far more nutritional value than a supplement. But there's a lot more here than meets the eye. I think you probably already knew that taking too much of anything - vitamin, mineral, or otherwise - is bound to be bad for you in one way or another.
The latest rage seems to be the marketing of phytochemical-based supplements. A phytochemical is a substance found in fruit, vegetables, or grains that has antioxidant properties. An antioxidant is a substance that neutralizes dangerous substances called free radicals. Free radicals are like little bullets zipping around your body that destroy anything they come into contact with. Thus, antioxidants act like bullet proof vests for your body.
Many phytochemicals, ranging from vitamin C to vitamin E to flavonoids have been touted as having great benefits in the fight against many chronic (or long-term) problems, such as heart disease and cancer. While some very well conducted studies have shown a few of these to be truly beneficial, especially in people who do not get enough of them through a proper diet, the true benefit or lack thereof is yet to be established for most phytochemicals.
In fact, many health claims surrounding the latest berry pill or juice that claims to help prevent or cure one thing or another are largely baseless. If you look at the scientific studies that claim some sort of beneficial effects of many phytochemicals, they are commonly in vitro studies. In vitro studies are test tube experiments. This means that some very limited and specific potential beneficial effect was found to be possible in a glass tube.
What does this mean when it comes down to how this phytochemical affects our very complex body? Very little until an in vivo study is conducted. An in vivo study is a study conducted with a living organism. In our case, hopefully a human, since extrapolation of data onto humans from other animals like rats or dogs may be fraught with peril as we're not exactly the same, physiologically speaking.
For every action in the body there must be a reaction to the action. The next time you hear a dietary supplement has no side-effects when you take it in any amount, remember that simple statement. The reason there are no side-effects is because the dietary supplement is either inert or the reaction hasn't been found in a credible, in vivo study.
Remember, there are many dietary supplements out there. Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, proteins, herbs, and other substances intended to supplement a person's usual diet. Some dietary supplements are necessary. For example, pregnant women can benefit from supplementation with folic acid. This is a B vitamin (B9) that is important in preventing birth defects.
A vitamin, by the way, is an organic compound important in small amounts for the regulation of biochemical processes within the body. But taking too many vitamin supplements, especially those containing high levels of fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, and K, can present serious dangers to a healthy person eating a normal diet. The same goes for taking too many minerals, like iron, which can result in liver damage.
The latest rage seems to be the marketing of phytochemical-based supplements. A phytochemical is a substance found in fruit, vegetables, or grains that has antioxidant properties. Many scientific studies that find potential benefits of a certain phytochemical are in vitro studies. In vitro studies are test tube experiments. These studies are far less credible and sometimes almost meaningless when compared to in vivo studies, which are studies conducted with a living organism.
Upon completion of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe dietary supplements and compare when they can be beneficial or harmful
- Define vitamin and phytochemical
- Summarize why phytochemicals are often ineffective
- Differentiate between in vitro and in vivo studies
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