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Dietary supplements are, in the light of the law, preparations that are food, not medicine. They cannot cure any disease, but they are sometimes very much needed. When is it worth reaching for supplements? How to use supplementation to help yourself, not harm yourself?

Supplementsare designed to supplement our diet with nutrients found in natural food - vitamins, minerals and other substances with a physiological effect. The latter group includes not only chemical compounds, but also plant extracts (e.g. from ginkgo biloba, ginseng, valerian) not found in food. Preparations that contain them are the so-called borderline products, because it is difficult to determine whether they are still dietary supplements or plant medicines.
It is assumed that in 2013 we will spend PLN 2.9 billion on these products, which means that a statistical Pole will spend about PLN 54 on them. It is not much, considering that some of us do not buy them at all, others will spend a lot of money on them. The only question is whether it is necessary? Some argue that dietary supplements are essential for maintaining he alth, others argue that it is enough to eat properly. Who is right?

Supplements will not replace a wise diet, but they can support the body

A well-balanced diet provides all the substances that our body needs. However, not all Poles manage to use it on a daily basis, which is why they may have deficiencies of certain nutrients that should be supplemented with dietary supplements. What may we be missing? Certainly vitamin D. Research has shown that its concentration in the blood of an average Pole is too low for at least half a year due to the climatic zone in which we live. We don't have enough sun, and most of this vitamin is synthesized by the skin under the influence of ultraviolet rays. We also do not have an abundance of folic acid (vitamin B9), because our diet covers the daily requirement for this ingredient only in 50%. On the other hand, we do not lack antioxidant vitamins (A, E and C). Among the minerals, the consumption of calcium (as much as half) and magnesium is certainly too low (however, these are not large deficiencies). Women in the second trimester of pregnancy may not have enough iron, and all those who do not eat omega-3 fatty acids twice a week. Ourthe diet is also too low in fiber - the average Pole eats about 20 g of it a day, but it should be 30 g.

Beware of high doses - supplements can be overdosed

Taking several preparations at the same time, we can overdose some vitamins and minerals, which can be dangerous to he alth. Studies carried out at the beginning of this century have shown that, for example, synthetic antioxidants such as beta-carotene or vitamin A, taken in large doses, increase oxidative stress (i.e. damaging the effect of free radicals), rather than preventing it. It should also be remembered that an excess of one component may lead to a deficiency of another, e.g. if we use beta-carotene in high doses for a long time, the concentration of vitamin E may decrease. And it is easy to overdose, not only because of the use of several products. Many food products are enriched with vitamins and minerals. If we additionally take dietary supplements, we may have too much of a nutrient. The form of a dietary supplement can also contribute to its excess. In some people who used preparations in the form of effervescent tablets, the daily intake of a mineral or vitamin component was exceeded many times. They were treated as a tasty sparkling drink.

Consult your doctor

Before reaching for any dietary supplement, we should consult a doctor. First, we may not need supplementation at all. Secondly, it may turn out that due to our he alth condition, we should not take products with specific ingredients, e.g. calcium and preparations with cranberries (a large amount of oxalates) are not recommended for people with kidney stones, and preparations with beta-carotene for smokers. Besides, dietary supplements can interact with medications, weakening or intensifying their effects, e.g. garlic extract should not be taken in combination with some antibiotics, and ginseng should not be taken with contraceptive pills. Thirdly, the doctor will recommend a dietary supplement, which he is convinced has pro-he alth effects and is needed by the patient.

The introduction of supplements to the market does not require clinical trials

It is estimated that about 3,000 new dietary supplements enter the market every year. Their registration is much simpler and cheaper than in the case of drugs whose effectiveness and safety must be confirmed by clinical trials. It is enough to submit to the office subordinate to the Chief Sanitary Inspector the appropriate documentation, stating, inter alia, information on the composition of the product and its he alth-promoting effect. The Chief Inspector may, but does not have to, conduct the investigationto clarify whether they are consistent with reality. From December 2012, if the manufacturer would like to include additional information on the packaging (so-called he alth claims), he must refer to the list of such claims prepared by the European Commission on the basis of scientific research. They confirm that a specific ingredient in a certain dose has a positive effect on he alth.

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