Thursday 24 August 2017

The supplement debate

The first vitamin supplement was produced in 1912 and would have been useful in combating beri-beri, a condition that affected the nervous and cardiovascular system and linked to a deficiency of vitamin B1.

By the 1950s vitamin supplements were more widely available and so have become a familiar and accessible source of nutrition.

Taking supplements has become a part of a healthy lifestyle, which is ironic; those people who have a good diet and take regular exercise have less need for them than those who don't. But, the debate about supplements continues with equal conviction on both sides.

Limiting the dose of nutrients available incites the pro-supplement group to accuse drug companies of lobbying and conspiracy, whilst many medics scoff at claims about the benefits of supplements. The short-term result is that we hear conflicting reports about whether taking this or that nutrient is going to be a bonus or contribute to our demise.

Two weeks ago we saw the publication of three studies, each concluding that taking supplements had no benefits in preventing an early death, dementia or repeat heart attacks. I am sure that the studies had their strengths and weaknesses, and no doubt each side of the debate has dissected the methods, interpretation and conclusions of each one.

In my opinion, supplements do have their place but I think that we take too many of them without really understanding what they do, the differences between various compounds, and more importantly, how they interact with one another.

That supplements can replace food as a source of nutrients might seem outrageous, but taking vitamins and minerals in capsules, powders, tablets and drinks has become so much part of mainstream thinking that its not that far-fetched.

If I ask you where one might find zinc and the answer is 'in the bathroom cabinet' then go to the bottom of the class. If your answer included a food - oats, turkey, spinach, sesame seeds or mushrooms - then you get a gold star.

Food first. Always.

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