Forty-five per cent of Canadians regularly take health products, such as vitamins, minerals or herbal remedies.
With annual sales at an estimated $1.4 billion in Canada, I ask:
- Are these supplements worth the price tag?
A recent University of Toronto study looked into the evidence supporting the use of supplements, such as vitamins, minerals and fish oils. Specifically, the study looked at the effect on the risk of heart-related illness.
It found there was no significant effect from taking supplements. Supplements don’t help to prevent cardiovascular disease, and they come at a cost.
I take a look at the main vitamins and nutrients, and how you can ensure you’re getting enough without paying excessively for the benefits.
The government only recommends a few supplements, depending on age. Vitamin D is recommended for all Canadians, because most of us are deficient due to a lack of sun exposure.
Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, and is needed to keep bones, muscles and teeth healthy.
Being deficient in vitamin D can lead to rickets in children, which is a type of bone deformity. In adults, it can cause a condition called osteomalacia, which is a softening of the bones.
During summer, we should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight. However, as most Canadians are deficient in this vitamin, taking an oral supplement is a good idea.
Vitamin A and C are also recommended for children aged six months to five years old. Vitamin A helps your body’s natural defences, including keeping skin healthy, while vitamin C also helps maintain healthy skin, bone and blood vessels.
Eating a balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables and dairy (or alternatives fortified with vitamins), should ensure that you get all the vitamin A and C needed.
The recommendation to supplement children’s diets is due to the fact that more vitamin A and C are needed for growth and development.
Women trying for a baby, or in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, are recommended to take folic acid. This nutrient is important in the development of the brain and spinal cord in Fetuses.
Aside from pregnancy, there is no clinical need or benefit to taking folic acid, so it isn’t recommended for anyone outside this category.
Other nutrients, such as calcium and iron, are also marketed by pharmaceutical companies as being essential to your health and well being.
While this is true – calcium building strong bones, muscles and teeth, and iron essential for carrying oxygen around the body – we should be reaching our daily targets if we eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Good sources of iron include meat, liver, beans, nuts, whole grains and green vegetables.
Women need more iron than men due to having periods and losing blood each month. Signs of iron deficiency anemia include feeling tired, out of breath or weak.
If you believe you may be deficient, go to your family doctor to get your blood levels checked.
Taking iron supplements without medical supervision isn’t advised; iron can cause nasty side effects.
Calcium is also found in similar foods, as well as dairy products (or fortified alternatives). Taking too much calcium, in the form of supplements, can cause stomach pain and diarrhea, so again is not recommended without a physician’s advice.
A few years ago, I challenged myself to eat the “Daily Dozen” – a checklist of 12 types of food that you should incorporate into your diet each day.
I downloaded the app (Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen) and aimed to tick off all the food groups by the end of the day.
This is a great way of making sure you’re getting all the right vitamins and nutrients to stay fit and healthy!
The list is as follows:
- 3 servings of beans
- 3 servings of fruit
- 3 servings of greens
- 1 serving of flaxseed
- 3 servings of grains
- 1 serving of berries
- 1 serving of cruciferous vegetables
- 2 servings of other vegetables
- 1 serving of nuts
- 1 serving of spices
- 5 glasses of water or green tea
- 1 form of exercise
Download the app, or read of Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die. It’s a really informative read about how to use diet and exercise to prevent all the top causes of death.
Get in touch in the comments below, or via email, if you have any questions about supplements or how to reach your daily targets.