When it comes to nutrition, the general view is that “more is better”, but this is not always true. Certainly, consuming too little of any of the chemicals vital to our tissues’ and organs’ proper functioning will lead to bad things. But, beyond a certain minimum point, there are few additional benefits in taking supplements. However, over and above that point can be harmful.
The key to a good diet is not just consumption, but also balance. As one example of how our bodies’ equilibrium can be skewed, plenty of manufactured food is fortified with one or more added nutrients, which looks good on the packaging and may indeed be helpful. However, the problem is that not all the nutrients are equally expensive to incorporate during the manufacturing process. Therefore, most fortified breakfast cereals, flours and other food tends to be supplemented in much the same way.
Not all people require the same amount of iron in their diet. Many people who eat a large amount of red meat require no additional sources of this mineral. They may even be exposed to some health risks if recommended levels are exceeded.
Whole foods, and fruit and vegetables in particular, contain not only a few headline nutrients such lettered vitamins and common minerals, but actually a whole range of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, phytonutrients and more. Even their pigments seem to play a role in maintaining good health.
On the other hand, supplements and non-organic supplements in particular, tend to be loaded with the better-known vitamins and minerals without containing a full spectrum of necessary nutrients. Taking these when this is not really necessary can entail a number of health risks: excessive vitamin E increases the risk of having a stroke, while too much vitamin A can leave bones more brittle and cause liver damage. Other ingredients are listed at a given RDA or milligram value that’s purely theoretical. Not all compounds containing minerals such as zinc can be absorbed by the body, even though they are technically present in the bottle.
A person following a generally healthy diet would be well advised to spend half an hour with a nutritionist before starting to take supplements. A high additional intake of vitamins and minerals may not be beneficial, and can turn out to be quite the opposite.
Many people suffering from chronic or acute symptoms are turning to holistic medicine in addition to conventional service providers. This is certainly a good thing in general. It should be kept in mind, though, that medical care is rarely something where a do-it-yourself approach is a good idea.
Supplements, as well as prescription medication (or even over the counter drugs), can cause changes in a person’s internal biochemistry. These changes can often cancel out or reinforce each other’s effects. Hence, these interactions can be quite severe. Even natural supplements or benign medicines that are harmless by themselves can cause a trip to the emergency room or worse when taken in combination.
Anyone taking medication for cardiovascular conditions, anticoagulants, hypoglycemics and anti-retrovirals should consult a doctor or dietitian before starting a course of supplements, organic or otherwise. This applies even to supplements and medications you would never expect to be capable of causing medical emergencies. For instance, aspirin and ginkgo both affect the circulatory system and shouldn’t be combined.
No dietary supplement on earth, including those manufactured from natural sources with processing kept to a minimum, can compensate for a fundamentally poor diet. The role of supplements remains supplemental — compensating for a particular deficiency or health condition. This means that supplements should not replace ordinary food as our main source of nutrition. Simply swallowing multicolored pills without taking the time to determine whether or not they’re needed, may not only have no health benefits at all, but can even cause totally unnecessary problems. Ironically, people who care enough about their diet to take supplements are less likely to suffer from nutrient deficiencies in the first place. Although, a suspected or actual deficiency is best addressed with the help of a nutritionist rather than relying on guesswork.