Natural supplements, also known as nutritional supplements, are minerals, vitamins, medicinal or botanical ingredients, amino acids, probiotics, antioxidants, and fiber that are eaten to augment a person’s diet by supplying extra foods that are not consumed in adequate quantities to enhance optimal health (Valavanidis 69). Aside from the typical substances listed above, supplements include additives that are seldom found in human diets, such as reservatol, bee pollen, omega 3-fatty acids, and ginseng, among others. The range of available natural supplements in the present-day market come in pill form, as capsules, in tablets, as powders, energy bars, and drinks or tonics, and they can be purchased in supermarkets, health and wellness shops, pharmacies or on many sites over the internet. In addition to improving one’s health, natural supplements are taken to reduce the effect of ageing, aid in weight loss, improve sexual performance, boost immunity against chronic diseases such as cancer and arthritis, increase energy and vitality and basically prolong life (National Health Services). Due to these benefits, natural supplements have become increasingly popular among several people especially those in the developed world. In fact, statistics indicate that the majority of adults in the United States and the U.K take some form of natural supplements daily (National Institutes of Health). In 2013, the global natural supplement industry was estimated to make 30 billion dollars annually, an amount that was largely constituted of markets from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan (Valavanidis 70). Unfortunately, as with all popular and costly products, many companies are venturing into the natural supplement industry, claiming to have discovered some obscure ingredient that will resolve a health problem that no other products in the market have been able to combat. In addition, some companies will deliberately mislead the public on the effects of their supplements so as to boost their sales, and seeing that regulatory bodies only look into the safety of the ingredients that have been used, they are unable to recount the effects that manufacturers tout (National Health Services). The prevalence of such information on the market has made the public dubious, with most of them questioning if natural supplements are truly helpful or if the industry is simply seeking to make a profit by preying on their fear of diseases.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of scientific evidence which proves that it is indeed beneficial to take natural supplements for the improvement of day to day life. Present day food trends and eating habits essentially eliminate the necessary elements that the body needs to function. For instance, the overreliance and preference for commercially produced food stuffs as well as junk food by the greater majority of residents within the developed world sees their bodies denied of the nutrients that they need. Most of the processes that these foods undergo to prepare them for the market rid them of the good elements and fill them with harmful trans fats, saturated fats, sugars and salts which are all know to contribute to the development of chronic illnesses. Also, in the pursuit of a slender or muscular figure, a lot of people are choosing to decrease the amount of calories that they ingest, a feat that is achieved by eliminating certain foods from one’s diet, most especially starches and fatty foods. While reducing caloric intake is effective for weight loss, the body will eventually suffer from being denied certain elements. Fortunately, with the increase in occurrence of preventable chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, arthritis, cardiovascular, strokes and different types of cancer, people are increasingly becoming aware of the advantages of good nutrition. However, while the conventional balanced diet will provide the human body with most of the nutrients that it needs, some of them such as omega-3 fatty acids cannot be sourced from common foods. Besides, as people grow older, their dietary needs tend to change. As such, some of the foods that they regularly eat might not be as useful to their bodies as they were at a younger age. Due to these reasons, it is increasingly becoming important for people to take dietary supplements for good health. An exploration of all the benefits that natural supplements offer will exemplify the different ways in which they can improve the different parts of one’s life.
Maintenance of Good Health
Undoubtedly the greatest part of life that improves when one begins to takes natural supplements is one’s health. The presence of the required vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats and all other nutrients ensures that bodily functions run smoothly, with slimmer chances of complications or illnesses. Evidence from numerous scientific studies indicate that ingesting some supplements will significantly boost one’s health (National Institutes of Health 2). Supplements that contain vitamin D or calcium are essential for strengthening bones and teeth as well as regulating never and muscle function. Potassium regulates the working of muscles, the heart and the nerves, therefore eliminating the occurrence of abnormal heart rhythm and muscle weakness. Iron produces blood cells that oxygenate the body. Without it, it is easy to contract anemia which results in hair loss, fatigue and the paleness of skin. Vitamin B12 fosters the production of DNA and neurotransmitters (National Institutes of Health 2). Women who take folic acid when pregnant reduce the chance of giving birth to a child with defects. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are only sourced from oily fish, have been proven to decrease the risk for heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and asthma (National Institutes of Health 2). Vitamin A maintains good vision, promotes the healthy growth of bones, cell differentiation and cell division. The vitamin is a key ingredient in the production of surface linings that cover the intestines, the urinary tract and the respiratory tracts. A health lining is critical for keeping bacteria out of the body, therefore preventing infections. Vitamin A also regulates the immune system and ensures that there are enough white blood cells to fight off germs that cause disease (National Institutes of Health 2). Fibers lower cholesterol, decrease high glucose levels, aids the movement of the bowel and assists weight loss. There is no shortage of the good health benefits that a package of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, fats and minerals can provide if taken in the proper amounts.
Prevention of Illnesses
While supplements do not alleviate the symptoms of illnesses or reduce their effect on one’s body, the consumption of specific vitamins, minerals, herbs or fatty acids lowers the risk of contracting certain diseases. While many vitamin deficiency illnesses have been adequately combated among the developed countries, some of them still occur in nations that lack proper nutrition. Taking supplements that are needed by the body keeps illnesses such as scurvy, marasmus, rickets, night blindness and anemia at bay. Men who take supplements that contain lycopene or selenium are at a lesser risk of contracting prostate cancer (Willett, et al. 20). Zinc, a trace element found in the body, boosts the body’s immune system and prevents the replication of the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold (National Institutes of Health 21). Apart from lowering the chances of contracting an illness, taking supplements in addition to the prescribed medicine when one is sick will help the body recover much quicker. An illness typically affects the majority of bodily functions, including the way in which nutrients are broken down and absorbed for use. At such a time, taking a supplement will replenish the nutrients that the body fails to take from food, therefore aiding the recuperation process. However, before taking a supplement in combination with drugs, one should always consult a doctor because some active ingredients may interfere with the function of a drug or result in an interaction that might be unsafe for the body. For instance, the blood of patients taking vitamin K supplements may not react to administered blood thinners that prevent the formation of blood clots while cancer patients that take vitamin C and E might not recover from chemotherapy treatments as the antioxidants tend to reduce their effectiveness (National Institutes of Health 1). One should always keep an account of the supplements that they use and inform their physicians as soon as they are diagnosed and given a prescription for drugs. Otherwise, supplying the body with nutrients will keep the doctor away for extensive periods of time.
The Reduction of the Effects of Ageing
Natural supplements have been known to reduce the impact of ageing, enabling the elderly to live a full, active lifestyle by keeping the body supple and strong and slowing down the process of degeneration (National Institutes of Health 21). The most popular supplement marketed among the ageing is ginkgo, an herb that is derived from a tree that is indigenous to China. Those that take supplements with the extract are known to have less problems with memory, increased energy levels, healthier eyes and improved sexual performance (National Institutes of Health 21). Tests on gingko have also shown that it decreases the thickness of blood, aids in the maintenance of neurotransmissions and it reduces the abundance of free radicals in the ageing body, therefore lowering the risk for certain types of cancers (National Institutes of Health 21). The older body also does well when provided with ginseng, a substance that has been proven to reduce stress, increase vitality and improve cognitive performance and concentration; functions that tend to decrease as one grows older (National Institutes of Health 22). While glucosamine and chondroitin occur naturally in the body, as one grows older, the cells fail to produce the elements. The cartilage will therefore become thinner and stiffer thereby causing osteoarthritis. Taking such supplements will ensure that cartilage remains soft and flexible while rebuilding those that have sustained damage (National Institutes of Health 24). As one grows older, the body finds it harder to produce or synthesize certain nutrients. Luckily, with the existence of supplements, the body can be supplied with the minerals or vitamins that it needs to retain normal functioning.
One of the populations that is most targeted by natural supplement companies are women that are planning on having children and those that are already pregnant as they require a greater amount of minerals and vitamins, most especially folic acid and iron. As such, as soon as a woman falls pregnant, it is advisable to visit a physician who will subscribe the required prenatal vitamins. Taking folic acid will help in the early growth of the fetus and prevent the occurrence of any birth defect, especially during the development of the neural tube, an embryo organ from which the brain and spinal cord emerge (Willett, et al. 19). If the tube is defective, the child could be born with spina bifida or a brain disorder known as anencephaly (BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board). Due to the critical nature of these complications, women planning to conceive are advised to supplement their folic acid intake at least one month before conception and continue to take it throughout the gestation period. Other birth defects that can be prevented by the sufficient amount of folic acid in a pregnant woman are heart defects as well as the cleft lip and palate. In addition to ensuring the proper growth of the child, folic acid will reduce one’s susceptibility for preeclampsia, a form of blood pressure that commonly occurs in pregnant women, resulting in reduced blood flow to organs, kidney damage and a complicated birth. On the other hand, iron is essential because it aids in the formation of blood for the fetus. A lack of iron may cause anemia which increases fatigue in pregnant women, causes an underdeveloped fetus and the occurrence of early birth which could be dangerous when the baby is not fully formed (Web MD). Taking prenatal vitamins throughout pregnancy make for easier trimesters and the birth of a healthy child.
The Reduction of the Impact of Risky Health Behaviors
While it is best to avoid behaviors that may complicate one’s health, it is sometimes impossible to completely give up vices such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that an abundance of vitamin C in the body of a smoker can help to offset some of the consequences of this habit (Dickinson and Mister 14). The antioxidant nature of this vitamin can repair the blood vessel damage that is caused by smoking, therefore reducing the risk of strokes, heart diseases and arterial complications. Avid smokers also need to consume a lot of vitamin E as the intake of tobacco depletes it, thus increasing the risk for the development of cancer (Dickinson and Mister 14). The vitamin also reduces the deposit of fat along artery walls which prevents them from blocking. As it reduces, the walls are left to harden, resulting to occurrence of arterial diseases. Because the smoking of cigarettes slows down the breakdown of calcium and vitamin D, it would be beneficial for smokers to take supplements that provide these elements. Fiber supplements will reduce the level of free radicals in the blood stream of smokers, thus lowering the risk for cancer. Alcoholics are yet another group of risk takers that require supplements to minimize the impact of their habit to the body. While smokers rarely miss meals regardless of how many packs they consume per day, a state of constant drunkenness prevents alcoholics from eating, further limiting the access that the body has to nutrients. Alcohol also has a worse effect on digestion and storage of nutrients as compared to smoking. Heavy drinkers therefore need supplements with amino acids for the repair of cells as well as vitamins A,D and E whose absorption from food sources is inhibited by alcohol (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Natural supplements will not cure the body of risky behavior, but they will minimize the effects.
Maintenance of High Energy Levels
If you are one to get easily fatigued, natural supplements rich in vitamins such as B12, coenzyme Q10 and herbal products such as ginseng will provide the boost needed to get through the day. While the best source of energy comes from calories, it is common for many people to avoid ingesting high amounts of the best source, namely carbohydrates, so as to prevent weight gain. Even if you make the decision to eat a healthy snack as a pick me up, the poor cultivation practices applied in present day farms has drastically reduced the amount of nutrients a food will render when ingested (Group). Therefore, when one is having a particularly slow day, the feelings of laziness can be eliminated by supplements. Substances such as iodine, vitamin B12, melatonin, coenzyme Q10 and L-carnitine help in the metabolism of energy within the cells which in turn powers the body for the completion of daily activities (Group). Supplements with ginkgo help with the improvement of blood flow and improving the health of cells and increasing their lifespan. Ginseng helps the body respond better to anxious situation, stress and physical exertion. There are studies that also indicate that the substance boosts energy in patients suffering from chronic fatigue (Group). For women, the loss of iron during the monthly periods can leave one feeling tired and with low energy. To remedy this occurrence, women are advised to consume at least 18 milligrams of iron daily. Where sources are not available, supplements will ensure iron level are maintained at every time of the month. Whether one is too busy to get enough sleep, too fearful of increasing the size of the waistline or the if foods that are being eaten lack what is needed, taking a supplement with any of the above ingredients will rejuvenate and revitalize the body.
Overall, it is apparent that the consumption of natural supplements can improve different parts of one’s life in significant ways. The regular taking of supplements reduces the effects of ageing, prevents the onset of illnesses, eases pregnancies, boosts energy levels and reduces the effects of alcohol as well as smoking The above advantages significantly improve all aspects of day to day life, enabling one to go about their activities without the fear of having their body fail them. However, even if there are benefits to taking supplements, it is important be cautious when making the decision to include them in one’s diet for many reasons. First, although many of the ingredients used are mostly sourced from plant and animals, they are active, and as such they might provoke unwarranted side effects. Correspondingly, in the instance where a person takes more than one supplement, the mixture of ingredients could do more harm than good. Apart from dangerous ingredient interactions, taking a supplement can increase the presence of a vitamin, mineral or any the many other substances that constitute supplements to a level that can affect one’s organs. More often than not, people tend to ingest more vitamins or minerals than they need as the popularity of supplements have prompted food manufacturers to fortify cereals, beverages, flour and many other food items. Therefore, if a person taking vitamin C supplements eats cereal providing the same, the body will be unable to process the excess amount which often leads to many complications (National Institutes of Health 2). For example, an excess intake of vitamin D and calcium can cause the development of kidney stones (Willett, et al. 12). Taking too much vitamin A can damage the liver, make the bones more brittle and cause painful headaches while too much iron causes iron poisoning, which damages the liver and other organs as well as provoking the incidents of nausea (National Institutes of Health 2). As good as they are for the body, these complementary diet substances should be taken in moderation, and if they are missing from one’s diet.
It is also important for people seeking to take supplements to consider the needs of their bodies as there are some vitamins and minerals that are unsuitable for some populations. For example, while it is advisable for women to take iron supplements because they lose a lot of it through mensuration, the same action will lead to iron poisoning in men (National Institutes of Health 2). Women who take iron supplement should also decrease their consumption as soon as they hit menopause because the cessation of periods retains the mineral and supplements might make it excessive. Pregnant and lactating mothers should also avoid taking supplements without consulting a doctor as they might negatively affect the child (National Institutes of Health 2). Always read the label of a product to ensure that the supplement provides what is needed within the required limits.
Caution should also be exercised when purchasing natural supplements. In the present day market, there are a dizzying array of products, each claiming to offer the best health benefits in comparison to the rest. Before buying a product, one should ensure that it has been tested for quality by regulatory bodies, a practice which is indicated by a seal of approval on the packaging. However, such seals are not proof of the positive impact of the product. Rather, they indicate that the supplement is properly manufactured, the ingredients that are listed are present in the indicated amounts and that the substance is free of any contaminants. Quality tested products are a safer option for the improvement of health.
Moreover, as much as supplements are beneficial to one’s health, they should only be taken to boost a healthy diet and not as a substitute for balanced daily meals. In fact, some supplements will not be as effective if they are not consumed as part of a nutritious diet (National Institutes of Health 2). It is also not advisable for supplements to be taken to alleviate symptoms or cure illnesses in place of medicines. Several regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.A and the Food Standards Agency in the U.K expressly forbid supplement manufacturing companies from making claims that their products can treat illnesses or alleviate pain (Valavanidis 69). Where possible, it is advisable to consult with a nutritionist, a dietitian or a GP before embarking on a new course of supplements. Otherwise, if high quality supplements are taken in the proper manner, science indicates that one should see positive results for years to come.
BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board. “Folic Acid: Why You Need It Before and During Pregnancy.” BabyCenter, Apr. 2016, www.babycenter.com/0_folic-acid-why-you-need-it-before-and-during-pregnancy_476.bc. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.
Dickinson, Annette, and Steve Mister. “The Benefits of Nutritional Supplements.” Semantic Scholar, 2012, pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ca88/8aa77a806e973148dc793c44fe758f411ec0.pdf. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.
Group, Edward. “The Top 10 Supplements to Boost Energy.” Dr. Group’s Healthy Living Articles, Global Healing Center, 16 June 2017, www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/top-10-supplements-increase-energy/. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.
National Health Services. “Supplements: Who needs them?” NHS Choices, June 2011, www.nhs.uk/news/2011/05May/Documents/BtH_supplements.pdf. Accessed 11 Nov. 2017.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol and Nutrition – Alcohol Alert No. 22- 1993.” Brochures and Fact Sheets | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 1993, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa22.htm. Accessed 11 Nov. 2017.
National Institutes of Health. “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know.” Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), 17 June 2011, ods.od.nih.gov/pubs/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.pdf. Accessed 11 Nov. 2017.
Valavanidis, Athanasios. “Dietary Supplements: Beneficial to Human Health or Just Peace of Mind? A Critical Review on the Issue of Benefit/ Risk of Dietary Supplements.” Pharmakeftiki, vol. 28, no. 2, 2016, pp. 69-92, www.researchgate.net/profile/Athanasios_Valavanidis/publication/308901334_Dietary_Supplements_Beneficial_to_Human_Health_of_Just_Peace_of_Mind_A_Critical_Review_on_the_Issue_of_BenefitRisk_of_Dietary_Supplements/links/57f6409b08ae91deaa5e9487/Dietary-Supplements-Beneficial-to-Human-Health-of-Just-Peace-of-Mind-A-Critical-Review-on-the-Issue-of-Benefit-Risk-of-Dietary-Supplements.pdf. Accessed 11 Nov. 2017.
Web MD. “Are You Getting Enough Iron?” WebMD, 2017, www.webmd.com/baby/are-you-getting-enough-iron#1. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.
Willett, Walter, et al. “Food and Vitamins and Supplements! Oh My! Demystifying Nutrition: The Value of Food, Vitamins and Supplements.” Harvard Medical School, 5 Mar. 2013, hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/assets/Sites/Longwood_Seminars/Nutrition_3_5_13.pdf. Accessed 11 Nov. 2017.