Judith Haudum

Why One Should Reconsider the Use of Supplements

Since COVID disrupted our daily lives, many people have started taking supplements out of fear of the virus to stay healthy. Keeping up with the latest news, we also hear advertisements talking about the immune system and certain nutrients that promote our health. This applies not only to multivitamin supplements but also to a variety of herbal extracts that are now sold in pharmacies and drugstores, readily available on the internet as well. Although some people believe these supplements are safe because they are natural, we should be cautious. We should generally be careful with the use of dietary supplements.

'Water-soluble vitamins are excreted in the urine when consumed excessively. So, it doesn't matter if I take them, especially if my diet already provides enough.'

Every nutrient that is present in excess in the body means the body has to get rid of it in some way. Overloading the organism with nutrients brings no additional benefits. On the contrary, it can lead to other essential nutrients being less readily available (see also literature reference at the end).

'Herbal extracts come from nature, so they cannot be harmful to the body.'

Just because they are "natural and purely plant-based" does not mean they cannot be acutely harmful to humans. Not only is the quality of such supplements highly variable, but many of the claims on the packaging are unfounded and not scientifically proven. Some studies have also shown that the concentration in the supplements often does not match the information on the packaging.

'I believe I do not get enough vitamins through food intake, so I take some supplements.'

Self-diagnosis is always risky. Many vitamin supplements contain very high dosages, especially when they are individual nutrients. These concentrations deviate significantly from the recommended daily amount. Excessive intake is almost impossible through food, but people underestimate the risk of overdosing on dietary supplements.

Weight loss supplements to lose weight faster? No scientific evidence!
Supplements for faster weight loss are very popular. People hope to lose weight faster and easier through these products. However, there is currently no scientific evidence that these products are effective. On the contrary, there have been cases where serious health complications occurred. For now, a combined nutrition and exercise intervention is the most effective (and safest) approach to weight loss.

Before taking a supplement, it's important to know what nutrients are already being obtained through food. This initial step is often neglected and forgotten. A nutritional analysis with subsequent adjustments to the diet, if necessary, is the first step. Imagine eating fresh fruit (e.g., kiwi, orange) or a bowl of fruit salad daily, having freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast, adding salad to lunch—and then taking a vitamin C supplement on top of that. Do you have an idea of how much vitamin C you're getting by the end of the day? Are you sure you're not already getting enough vitamin C through your diet?

Only if it's not possible to meet the nutritional needs through diet should a supplement be used. In such cases, it should be done under the supervision and planning of a medical professional or nutrition expert.

Further reading:

Maughan et al (2018) IOC Consensus Statement Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099027

A-Z Nutritional supplements. British Journal of Sports Medicine (Sammlung von wissenschalftlichen Beiträgen)

Gurley et al (2018) Clinically Relevant Herb-Micronutrient Interactions. When Botanicals, Minerals and Vitamins collide.

Covid19 und Nährstoffe: Statement von EUFIC

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