When should we start taking supplements? | Health

Using supplements in today’s hectic lifestyle is on top of most people’s minds and while many start taking supplements after the age of 35 to regain strength, one needs to understand that the amount and type of supplements is directly proportional to the food habits and nutrition levels. According to a study published in Statista in March 2022, 69% of Indian respondents mentioned they take dietary supplements.

Supplements are available without prescriptions and usually come in the form of pills, powders or liquids where common supplements include vitamins, minerals and herbal products. Clinically registered dieticians will avoid recommending nutritional supplements as any nutritional deficiency can be rectified by consuming a variety of healthy foods.

Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions however, supplements can be useful for filling in gaps in your diet when your body undergoes prolonged illnesses, weakness, fatigue or loss of strength to fulfill day to day activities.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Rutu Dhodapkar of Dietetics Team at PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Khar, shared, “Specific food habits like vegetarian, vegan or even non-vegetarian have a direct impact on one’s nutrition and will further will determine the course of supplements and quantity. Also, the profession of the individual is considered while determining the supplements. For example – people in physical sports will need different levels of supplements than a corporate employee or a senior citizen. Hence, there is no ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Approach that can be applied, as each individual has different nutritional requirements depending on their age, physical activity and lifestyle.”

Before starting supplements, one needs to ask: What exactly do I need from supplements? Answering the same, she said, “For vegans and vegetarians, it is suggested to keep a check on their B12 levels and start supplements as per the doses suggested by their doctor. For people living in hilly areas/ with cold weather and snow, monitoring Vitamin D is imperative and adequate doses of Vitamin D needs to be taken after consultation with doctor. For people who are already on medication (Blood Pressure, Anti-Diabetes medicines etc), one needs to consult with the doctor if the supplements work well with the medication. For those women, who are planning for pregnancy, it is advisable to speak to the gynecologist and nutritionist, as there are certain supplements which should be avoided during pregnancy.”

She cautioned to not take all supplements at the same time and suggested:

1. Plan iron supplement with a lemon /citrus juice for better absorption

2. Plan multi-vitamins half an hour after meals

3. Plan calcium supplement along with milk at night or after breakfast

This is only precaution as all tablets does not interact with each other. Bringing her expertise to the same, Pratiksha Kadam, Consultant, Dietetics and Nutrition at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Navi Mumbai, insisted, “Consult your doctor or clinically registered dietitian to confirm if you require protein, vitamin or mineral supplements. Via a thorough assessment they will prescribe supplements if required. There is no scientific evidence to prove that these products extend the lives of the adults who take them; in fact, taking too much of certain fat-soluble vitamins can make you very sick. Most adults do not need to take supplements unless they’re deficient in a particular nutrient, like calcium. In those cases, you should first try to get more of the nutrient from food sources. But if that’s difficult, such as in the case of vitamin D, then taking a supplement may be appropriate.”

She added, “If your doctor/clinical registered dietitian agrees that you would benefit from supplements, then they will guide you on how to proceed with the consumption of vitamin and mineral supplements to avoid dangerous interactions with any prescription medications you take. They will prescribe the amount and duration of the course as well. Excess intake of any supplements create health related illnesses, hence, to avoid such complications you must follow prescriptions given by your doctor or clinically registered dietitian.”

Dietary supplements and their consumption depend on lot of factors like age, physical activity, pre-existing nutritional levels, pre-existing diseases etc. Also, most importantly, as the name suggests, dietary supplements are to supplement the basic main diet and not a replacement to the daily diet.