The promise of some health supplements to fight fatigue, restore your figure, improve your memory is at least tempting. So much so that in recent years, consumption of dietary supplements has increased significantly. Up to 60% of Americans regularly take these little miracle pills. Vitamins and other minerals come first, followed by fatty acids and then plant extracts and other special teas.
But are these supplements really useful? Is it safe to take them regularly without medical advice?
Most people who consume health supplements think that this practice is risk-free, is that really true?
Although some food supplements usually have a positive effect on the target groups, such as folic acid for pregnant women, their consumption can be risky. Under certain circumstances, these risks can lead to serious health complications in the kidney, liver or skin. It is therefore important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Another risk factor is that the market for dietary supplements is not regulated and there is often no quality control, especially for products sold over the internet. For example, there have been cases where batches of products have been purposefully spiked with prescription substances, or where a plant in one preparation has been replaced by another without this being mentioned on the packaging, resulting in serious side effects.
In the United States, where supermarket shelves are full of pills of all kinds, food supplements are said to be responsible for tens of thousands of hospital admissions every year.
Take protein supplements and creatine monohydrate, two products sold in the fitness industry and used by athletes who want to build their muscles. In the general population, these supplements rarely have harmful effects. However, they can be dangerous for people with undiagnosed kidney disease. Every year we see cases of patients suffering from kidney failure, which is encouraged by the chronic use of these products. When it comes to creatine, especially if it is impure, it can lead to serious complications such as rhabdomyolysis, a disease that destroys muscle cells.
Should Red yeast rice be a substitute for statins?
The use of statins is so maligned in the media that many people come to see their doctors just to stop taking these drugs. Some patients then switch to red yeast rice, which can lower their cholesterol levels by a small percentage. However, it should be noted that red rice contains monacolin K, the active ingredient found in lovastatin (a statins drug). In most cases, this product is safe but may also cause muscle and liver damage in people who are sensitive to this compound.
Dietary supplements can cause many drug interactions
And these interactions can be extremely problematic when the therapeutic margin for treatment is small. In this case the drug can quickly become ineffective or toxic.
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Some supplements that contain vitamin K can promote blood clotting. This is especially dangerous for patients who have to take anticoagulants like (acenocoumarol). In this case, the effectiveness of these drugs can be reduced, leading to a risk of thrombosis. Another example is grapefruit juice, which can interact with certain treatments and cause side effects. These include certain immunosuppressants, cancer drugs, antibiotics and statins. It is therefore better to avoid grapefruit juice if you are taking any of these drugs.
The usefulness of food supplements has been questioned by various scientific studies. After all, is a balanced diet not enough to cover our micro- and macro-nutrient needs?
Of course, it is. It has also been shown that people who take food supplements often take more active responsibility for their health. They eat better, smoke less and exercise more. So the main question is: do they really need them? I do not think so. However, a specific supplement may be advisable at a certain point in their lives, for example during very intensive sporting activities or as a result of a disease that has left a deficiency of vitamins or trace elements.