It was not so long ago that prominent nutritionists said that we did not need to supplement out diets at all. Then researchers found that certain birth defects such as spina bifida, which is potentially fatal, were directly linked to shortages of food supplements such as folic acid, and governments began to insist that staple foodstuffs were fortified with certain vitamins and minerals to protect the health of their people.
Studies were instigated into the levels of vitamins and minerals in daily diets, and found that in many cases we consume fewer essential nutrients than our ancestors did, partly due to busy lifestyles and dietary choices, and partly due to the amount of process, nutrient-poor food on supermarket shelves.
Why one should take food supplements?
Today, it is believed that our diets are so poor in many of the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, that we are putting our own health at serious risk.
Essential nutrients are those which the body cannot manufacture for itself, and must therefore be gotten from some dietary source.
Many of these essential nutrients can be found in a regular multivitamin pill available over the counter, and some figures indicate that over twenty million serious illnesses worldwide every year, including heart disease, cancer and stroke, could be prevented if everyone took a multivitamin daily.
Other vitamins and minerals that are often found to be lacking in our diets today include:
- Vitamin A. Vitamin A is involved in the creation and maintenance of many tissues in the body, including the skin and bones, and is essential to ensure proper functioning of the eyes and nervous system. Vitamin A is also involved in reproductive processes, and the growth of children.
- Vitamin B is employed in the synthesis of various essential proteins, carbohydrates and fats, as well as in the release of energy, generation of red blood cells and, like Vitamin A, in the function of the nervous system. There are in fact a variety of B complex vitamins with varying roles in the body.
- Vitamin C, perhaps the most well-known vitamin, is needed for the maintenance of healthy skin, teeth and bones, and is heavily involved in the functioning of the immune system, protecting the body from infection and helping to heal damaged tissue.
- Vitamin E is involved in the defense of cells from external agents, and the lesser known vitamin K is necessary to ensure the proper clotting of the blood, and hence the healing of wounds.
Water soluble vitamins, such as the B vitamins, are stored in water in the body and tend to need more regular replacement, since they are more easily lost through sweating and urination.
Fat soluble vitamins are stored in the bloodstream and can therefore be retained longer than the water soluble kind, though this also makes them more prone to dangerous levels of over-saturation.
There are also many minerals that our bodies use to contribute to our cells, construct enzymes, and perform various other functions.
Traditionally, we would have gotten plenty of minerals from fresh vegetables and meat, including animal organs such as the liver and kidneys, but processed food is far less likely to contain these minerals and hence many people suffer various forms of mineral deficiency, even if they do not realize that it is this causing their symptoms.
Different types of food supplements?
Some of the minerals that the human body needs include iron, chromium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, silicon, fluorine, calcium, phosphorus and selenium, but there are many more.
Zinc, for example, is needed to help break down proteins into simpler forms that the body can use, and is also employed in enzyme function. Copper, too, is involved in enzyme function, and Iodine is used by the thyroid gland.
Calcium and phosphorus are two of the most common minerals in the body, as they comprise the majority of our bones and teeth, while iron is crucial to the function of haemoglobin in red blood cells, which carry oxygen to every part of the body.
Potassium assists in maintaining optimal balance of fluids in cells and is needed to ensure proper functioning of the nervous system.
What if you lack vitamins and minerals?
As you can imagine, deficiency in any one of these key vitamins and minerals can cause health problems, often serious ones that can lead to heart disease, or blindness, even death in some cases.
Vitamins and minerals tend to work together in many cases.
For example, some vitamins are involved in the absorption and digestion of other vitamins and minerals, and they rely on each other to carry out many functions in the body.
Calcium cannot make bone without phosphorus.
So when supplementing the diet with vitamins and minerals, multivitamin and mineral formulas are preferred as being optimally effective, rather than single vitamin and mineral supplements.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, other kinds of supplements are becoming widely available.
Omega 3 fish oil, for example, can help to protect the cardiovascular system, as well as healthy bones, and has been shown in studies to improve mental agility, memory and concentration levels.
Omega 3 fatty acids are often included in multivitamin formulas, as are pro-biotic bacteria which assist the digestive system, which in turn boosts immune function.
Inspiring words to new users
If you experience any symptoms of illness for more than a short period of time, you should speak to your doctor.
It may well be that you have a simple vitamin or mineral deficiency that could be easily addressed.
Food supplements which include vitamins and minerals are recommended for the vast majority of people to help safeguard their health and protect them from serious diseases.
Food supplements are not, however, a replacement for a good balanced diet and regular exercise.