Should You Be Having Supplements? By Baraa El Sabbagh, Personal Trainer and Registered Dietician
Should You Be Having Supplements?
Let’s talk supplements! If you’ve ever walked into a GNC (which is basically the candy store of supplements) and you’ve felt tempted to buy everything because you believe it’ll turn you into the healthiest version of yourself, you’re going to like this topic.
If you’ve ever bought loads of (expensive) supplements but they stayed in the cupboard gathering dust because you’re not sure if you actually need them, this is definitely the blog post to read.
Find out all the important facts about supplements through my special guest, Dr. Hadia Radwan. She’s the perfect guest for this conversation. She’s an assistant professor at University of Sharjah, in the clinical nutrition and dietetic department. Her main interest is maternal and child nutrition & health.
We talked on podcast episode #85 if you want to listen to us instead. We covered all the common vitamins and minerals that can enhance your wellness journey. Get ready to find out if you should even be having supplements, which ones are right for you, and why you shouldn’t be taking the supplement that your mom or husband is taking.
Magic Pill To Solve All Weight Issues
Before I continue, and I hope I don’t come off as a broken record, but the ONE thing you won’t find here: The magic pill that will solve all your health issues, curb your appetite, or make you lose weight. Because it doesn’t exist!
It’s in the name: supplements are additions, add-ons, extras. They’re not THE answer to losing those 3 kilos or increasing your muscle mass. There’s not one supplement that will immediately make your hair grow and your skin glow. Think of them as accessories on your health journey!
These vitamins, minerals, and protein supplements make you feel and look better when coupled with a healthy lifestyle, but you don’t necessarily *need* them to see improvements, but they sure do help.
Supplement Research in the UAE
This topic has been increasing in relevancy worldwide, which means there’s got to be lots of research dedicated to it, right? Not quite. Dr. Radwan tells us that there’s quite limited research being conducted in the Emirates even though its popularity is increasing, especially with the young adults aged 18 - 24. It’s important this age group is aware of how safe it is to take these pills and what exactly they’re putting in their bodies.
The study came to the conclusion that experts in this field need to be increasing awareness in this target group about supplements and its uses.
Who Uses Supplements More: Males Or Females?
If you guessed males, you’re right. In a study by the University of Sharjah, they determined the users were predominantly male due to their interest in “bulking up” with protein supplements. Women are more commonly after multivitamins or separate mineral supplements for health and medical reasons, while males leaned towards increasing muscle mass.
Interestingly, only 40% knew if the supplements they were taking were safe for consumption and only one third were consulting certified sources for help like the health care providers on campus.
How Accurate Is The Label On A Supplement?
It’s important to read the label of any supplement you take, because not all labels are accurate or true. It’s also very important to buy the brands that are controlled by the FDA. Lots of people consider the labels as factual and either end up taking more or less than what they need per day.
Manufacturers of supplements add a lot more nutrients because they assume this will be targeted towards someone deficient and would need higher numbers to satisfy the requirement.
Another important thing to note is that supplements shouldn’t replace your diet. It should simply act as a supplement to your life. If you are deficient in a vitamin or mineral, by all means, go for it if you’ve consulted your doctor! If you’re taking more than you should, there’s going to be some serious side effects.
How Do I Choose Supplements?
First of all, your doctor should choose them for you. Don’t go shopping before you take the necessary tests that tell you what supplement you need today. Preferably, you’ll get a product that’s targeted towards your sex and age, because each group has different needs. For example, seniors need higher calcium and B12 vitamins, while young women might need extra iron and vitamin D.
What Does A Verified Supplement Mean?
It means it was verified by one these 3 companies: Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab, and NFS International. Look for those seals on the boxes you buy. This way, you’ll know what you’re buying is authentic and safe to ingest.
Dangers To Excess Supplements
We spoke about the side effects of taking more than what’s required with supplements, but what can happen to the body? With Vitamin A, D, and K as well as iron and mineral supplements, only some of them can be absorbed by the body and the rest is stored. So one of the side effects we worry about is for the excess, stored supplements to damage organs like the liver and kidney.
Always always make sure to ask your doctor if the nutrients you’re taking will interact negatively with your existing medication. For example, vitamin E can increase your risk of bleeding if you’re taking blood thinners or thyroid medication.
How Long Should I Take A Supplement To See A Difference?
You should see a difference in yourself by 3 - 6 weeks. Don’t take supplements any longer than you have to. Take them as long as you have a deficiency, but then stop when you meet the requirement and you’re in the clear.
Myths About Supplements
Here are some myths about supplements Dr. Radwan wishes she could debunk:
- There’s a magic pill for weight loss or immediate muscle gain
- There’s a pill to make your hair grow long
- Anything that promises quick fixes or dramatic changes
- Believing everything you read on social media... it can't all be true!
Most Popular Supplements & Their Benefits
Magnesium: This is great for reducing stress and is recommended by Dr. Hadia. It has lots of health benefits, like decreasing high blood pressure, but don’t take it for a long time. Finish your dose and stop. It’s basically a muscle relaxant so take it at night.
Calcium: Take calcium if you’re deficient, because excess amounts are not good for you. The recommended dose is 1000 mg but it depends on your age. Take this in the morning and at night. Our bodies don’t absorb more than 500 mg at a time so divide the dose into twice a day.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Magnesium actually helps your body absorb calcium, so try to take those two together! Avoid having iron at the same time though.
Does this apply to food? Nope. Because you’re not going to overdose from the amount of nutrients you take from food!
Omega 3: An excellent supplement! But if you eat fatty fish 2 times a week, there’s no need to take this one. If you’re not eating enough, omega 3 is great for improving heart function and the elasticity of the arteries. But be careful if you’re taking blood thinning medication as it doesn't interact well with it.
Vitamin D: Fun fact, if you want to improve the absorption of vitamin D, take it with magnesium. You can also help your body absorb this vitamin if you take it with calcium. Again, this is one of those supplements that you only want to take until your deficiency is gone.
Zinc: A great option for people who want to improve immunity and those suffering from acne. Don’t go over 40 mg per day! If you take high doses of zinc for a long time, you might develop a copper deficiency so watch out for that.
Multivitamins: Make sure your doses here aren’t so high. Pick the formula that’s directed to your age, sex, and background. For example, women who are pregnant need a different formula than a senior male.
Probiotics: Dr. Hadia recommends this if you want to enrich your diet but you don’t want to take supplements.
Whey Protein Supplements
This is a very famous supplement among athletes because it’s great to have after intense exercise. The thing Dr. Hadia wants you to know is: you don’t have to have supplements for protein every single time. Get it from your food every once in a while! It works just as good if not better. But if you’re in a rush and need to get your protein quick and easy, there’s no harm in that either.
Make sure to find trustworthy brands that don't add banned ingredients like steroids.
Can Supplements Help With Stress?
If you’re going through a stressful time period, it’s better to deal with that head on than take a supplement. Check in with yourself: what’s going on? Why aren’t you sleeping at night? If you start taking care of yourself mentally and physically, you really won’t need anything else.
It’s important to deal with stress, Dr. Hadia emphasizes, because left untreated it could cause other illnesses and problems. But if you’d like a little help from supplements, try magnesium and B vitamins (in the morning) to give your mood a little boost. Try to keep 2 hours between your vitamin C and B vitamins.
What Can I Eat Instead Of Supplements?
Try to limit how much processed and sugary foods you’re having. Go for colorful fruits and vegetables instead! The more color the better. Don’t just go for an apple and banana every single day cause that could get boring, there’s a whole variety out there you can choose from. Try avocados, dates, nuts, and seeds for healthy snacks and to boost your immunity naturally.
Supplements For Better Sleep
Dr. Hadia suggests melatonin to help you sleep, but only if you’re suffering from serious insomnia. They’re supplements you can get over the counter but do make sure to ask your physician if it works for you because they might interact negatively with other medication you’re taking.
When To Start Supplements
Only if you have a deficiency should you start supplements. There’s no age limit to starting because each case is specialised. Everyone is different, so get your answers from a doctor and not social media.
Supplements For A Healthier Life
- Go for probiotics to boost your energy and overall health. Look for something with bifidobacteria and lactobacillus.
- Take turmeric for immunity.
- Glucosamine to improve collagen and joint strength.