Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Are supplements only for athletes?

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Over the years, our diets have evolved dramatically. As people increasingly understand the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, they are pivoting towards adopting a balanced diet. However, with our busy lifestyles, ensuring adequate nutrient intake from fresh food can be a challenge. Dietary supplements have emerged as a plausible and healthy solution to this predicament. They are gaining popularity globally and offer multiple benefits to those consuming them.

Although these supplements are not meant to substitute food, they can prove essential for those unable to get the requisite amount through daily nutrition or those with special needs. This includes pregnant/lactating women, older adults, those who follow a diet deficient in items like fish or meat due to dietary preferences or allergies, and people with medical conditions impacting the digestive tract, liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.

Additionally, even if you do not have the mentioned conditions, the modern lifestyle and eating habits may deprive you of the nutrients required by the body. For example, estimates suggest that over 73% of the population in India is deficient in protein, i.e., more than 70% of Indians are vulnerable to skin degeneration, liver problems, stunted growth and development, and increased proneness to infections. This survey also defies the myth that only athletes or gym enthusiasts should take protein supplements. It shows that a vast majority need to consume quality protein supplements.

Another consideration while evaluating the benefit of nutritional supplements is the impact that changes in soil quality, and climate change has had on the quality of food products produced. Even naturally produced foods are not as densely packed with nutrients as they might have once been. For example, sources suggest that one would now have to consume around eight oranges to get the same amount of vitamin A that could first be obtained from consuming just one orange. Thus the changes in food structure have warranted the use of healthy nutrients.

Studies suggest that expecting mothers should consume over 400 micrograms of folate every day, three months prior to conception and up to three months after conceiving, in order to protect them from weakness and premature birth. This is also essential to safeguard the foetus from birth defects. For the unversed, folate is a vitamin B derivative facilitating the production of genetic material like DNA. This shields the baby from neural defects like spina bifida. The supplements are, therefore, of vital importance for the health and well-being of pregnant women and their offspring.

A study conducted in 2018 suggests that 40% to 99% of the population in India are deficient in Vitamin D and are thus prone to weak bones, frequent fractures, rickets in children, and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D supplements might help this section of the population to remain healthy and keep diseases at bay. It may also help prevent falls in older people.

Another segment of the population that might benefit from the use of nutritional supplements is vegetarians or vegans. This percentage might be susceptible to omega-3 fatty acids deficiency. Fish oil or flaxseed oil may help these people in overcoming these paucities. Some people also suffer from allergies, like those who are lactose intolerant. For these people, it is extremely important to supplement their diets with calcium additives so that they do not suffer from the consequences of skipping dairy from their regular meals.

Research suggests that nutritional supplements may help enhance immune functioning, especially in the elderly. For example, Zinc intake may help prevent infections, including pneumonia, and vitamin E tablets may avert the chances of upper respiratory tract diseases. Vitamin C can help in the production of collagen, which aids in tissue repair and recovery from an orthopaedic injury. The right combination of these supplements also enhances energy and boosts the metabolic system.

With the world evolving at a breakneck pace, Individuals need to augment their regular diets with nutritional supplements in order to promote better health and well-being. This is in contradiction to the widely propagated myth that supplements are just for athletes. In fact, these supplements might help prevent life-threatening diseases and may be a necessity for some. After all, health is wealth!

(The author Navneet Kaur, is a M.Sc. Nutrition and dietetics and an in-house nutritionist)

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