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What You Need to Know About Dietary Supplements

Supplements are marketed to help prevent or cure a wide range of medical problems, but if you are healthy and eat a varied diet, are they really necessary?

Dietary supplements (like Instant Knockout fat burner) claim to provide a natural means of enhancing health and have become increasingly popular, for example, more than half of Americans use some sort of supplement. The most common types are vitamins and minerals, but herbal/botanical products, protein extracts, enzymes and various other substances are all now widely available in a variety of forms from tablets, capsules and powders to energy bars and drinks.

Supplements can be useful if you take them wisely and carefully follow the manufacturers” guidelines on the labels. For example, taking a multi-vitamin during a hectic period may, in the short term, be beneficial. However most healthy professionals would advocate a healthy, varied diet and ask you to remember that supplements won’t compensate if you eat badly and don’t exercise.

Some supplements can pose unexpected risks in certain circumstances; for example, a few vitamins and minerals are actually toxic at high doses.

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A new European Directive on Food Supplements due shortly is likely to set limits for the maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals in supplements to ensure that the normal use of these products under the instructions provided by the manufacturer will be safe for you to consume.

Many supplements contain other ingredients that can have strong effects on the body and could lead to harm if used with some medication.

You should always check with a health practitioner before taking and supplement, if combining with or substituting for other foods or prescribed medicine.

Supplements can be used to ensure that you meet your daily nutritional requirements. They can have proven health benefits; for example, it is well known that folic acid taken by pregnant women prior to and during the first three months of pregnancy can help to prevent birth defects.

Other supplements can compensate for variations in the amounts of nutrients in foods and their ability to be absorbed and utilized; interactions with other components in food can reduce absorption. Supplements also help with some health problems, such as arthritis and PMS.

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Don’t make the mistake of thinking supplements offer a ‘quick fix’; they can’t replace a healthy diet and lifestyle. They don’t always live up to their marketing claims and aren’t subject to the same rigorous standards as over-the-counter drugs; just because supplements are ‘natural’ doesn’t mean they are always safe. Your body only stores a limited amount of vitamins and some compete with each other in the gut. A high intake of one can lead to a deficiency of another.

Supplements can encourage people to self-diagnose health conditions. You should always check with your GP that any symptoms are not associated with an underlying condition that may other wise go undiagnosed. Finally, supplements are least likely to be taken by the people who need them.

It can be recommended that children take supplement drops containing vitamins A, C and D from six months until at least two years of age. Women planning a baby and pregnant women for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are advised to take a folic acid supplement to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in their babies. Pregnant and breast-feeding women may benefit from extra vitamin D to ensure an adequate intake, while women with high menstrual losses and those with iron deficiency anemia may need iron supplements.

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Supplements are useful for groups of people whose lifestyle or habits lead to nutrient deficiencies. For example, smokers need extra antioxidants, such as vitamin C, E or selenium, because of the damage to body tissues caused by smoking. Other groups of people who may suffer impaired nutrient absorption include those who drink excessive alcohol, those who follow restrictive or faddy diets and people recovering from a recent illness or with suppressed immune systems. The elderly also suffer with impaired absorption. They need vitamins C, B12, folate and zinc.

Athletes often use supplements to improve performance and provide a competitive edge. These include vitamins, mineral supplements, sports drinks, carbohydrate bars and gels, protein powders, drinks, liquid meals and ergogenic acid that aim to boost energy, alertness and body composition.

Protein and amino acid supplements may help to enhance performance by affecting body composition, but generally these are ineffective. Exercise doesn’t dramatically increase requirements and eating a healthy balanced diet should provide all that you need. Often professional body builders and athletes overdose on a cocktail of energy-boosting supplements.