Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients for life, and it is often believed that supplements of these substances can actually replace those naturally contained in foods, but this is not the case.
In the sixties, they were called “tonics” and were prescribed by the family doctor to elderly patients or people debilitated by long illnesses.
Today, vitamin and mineral supplements are products widely used at all ages for many prevention and health problems.
The supplements on the market range from the search for physical fitness to psycho-physical well-being, promising to alleviate problems and ailments in various areas (from insomnia to pain, from depression to menopause) and can involve every part of the body (from the joints to the stomach, from hair to bone, and also to increase the body’s defenses).
Sometimes they are still recommended by the attending physician or specialist doctors. However, most of the time, they are self-prescribed, i.e., they are taken without medical indication thinking they are doing themselves good, establishing the right dosage and the duration of the treatment by themselves. But are we doing the right thing?
The scientific evidence in favour of the use of supplements is limited to a few pathologies, states of nutritional deficiency, or increased physiological needs in which the integration of some substances can be useful:
- Vitamin B12 and iron as supplements in vegan diets;
- Folate and iron in pregnancy;
- Vitamins D and B12 in some infants and the elderly;
- Vitamin D in bone diseases such as osteoporosis ;
- The fibres in case of constipation;
- Phytosterols in case of hypercholesterolemia.
Can supplements be dangerous?
Supplements are almost always perceived as substances without side effects because, unlike drugs, they do not need any medical prescription. However, it is not always true that they do not have direct or side effects.
There are other supplements, in addition to the cases mentioned, which can help particular therapies, but only the attending physician, or specialist, can know and prescribe the type of supplementation, methods, and duration.
It is important to understand that supplements, when “self-prescribed” based on hearsay or by looking on the internet, can be consumed in incorrect dosages and methods and may not be without risk.
Furthermore, there is a great deal of difference between taking a substance from food, when it acts in synergy with other macronutrients and/or microelements contained in the food and taking it isolated in a supplement.
Naturally, they cannot replace traditional treatments (e.g., chemotherapy and tumors).