Dietary supplements have been heard about more and more for some time. They are advertised in the media as a cure for everything, including illness and a "tired" appearance. Dietary supplements for weight loss, natural dietary supplements or dietary supplements for men, every advertisement is another idea. So more and more people are reaching for miracle pills, expecting immediate and, of course, spectacular results. However, what are supplements in reality and is it really possible to take them without consulting a doctor? Above all, is it really worth using them?
What is a food supplement?
The law makes a very clear and explicit distinction between medicines and supplements. The latter, according to the Food and Nutrition Safety Act of 25 August 2006, are a product that consists of nutrients. They are treated as a supplement to normal food. A dietary supplement is thus considered to be a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and other substances. The law also regulates the way it is marketed, namely the form that allows dosage (tablets, capsules, powder and also liquid). A dietary supplement is thus a huge source of nutrients necessary for the body to function properly.
Dietary supplements can contain vitamins, minerals, macro- and microelements, as well as fats, enzymes or plant extracts. In general, they can contain anything that supplements the diet with substances that the body lacks to function properly. EU law defines not only the set of ingredients and doses that can be used in OTC dietary supplements, but also indicates what form and form they can take. For this reason, some preparations, although they have a similar composition, are treated as supplements, while others are regarded as medicines.
Tasks of dietary supplements
Dietary supplements are taken for a reason. Everyone who uses them expects specific effects that the manufacturers promise. Generally speaking, the tasks that a dietary supplement is supposed to fulfill can be divided into the following:
- cosmetic - improving the external appearance. It usually concerns improving the appearance of hair, skin and nails. It provides vitamins and minerals which rejuvenate and affect the general radiance of the complexion, and also prevents hair loss or nail breakage;
- prophylactic - concerns supplements used especially during autumn and winter when natural immunity is weakened. They are primarily intended to prevent the effects of possible deficiencies. It also concerns supplements used prior to possible drug therapy, which may impair absorption of specific vitamins or minerals as a prophylaxis against their deficiency;
- therapeutic - treating the effects of already existing deficiencies. Very often used as an auxiliary in therapy with other drugs as a dietary supplement and general strengthening of the organism. Supplements for this purpose often serve e.g. to rebuild the bacterial flora or to regenerate the liver or other organs. Their main task is to support the proper treatment.
It should be remembered, however, that whatever task a dietary supplement is supposed to perform, it is only an additional measure. You should not base the entire treatment on it or expect immediate, spectacular cosmetic effects. A healthy diet and physical activity are equally important in maintaining the body's good condition.
Dietary supplements when to use?
The purpose of dietary supplements is to provide our bodies with concentrated doses of nutrients and other substances with physiological effects, i.e. vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes, fibre etc. Therefore, they should be used especially by people who are not able to ensure an adequate supply of these components in their daily diet. Those who are overworked, weakened, overtired and stressed are most often interested in dietary supplements. Deficiencies in the daily diet, however, do not have to be only the result of lack of time or increased demand for specific components (for example during pregnancy or breastfeeding). Supplements are needed for gastrointestinal disorders that are associated with poor absorption of nutrients, as well as for appetite disorders. Such preparations can also strengthen the body during increased physical and mental exertion and help to fight illness or improve natural immunity. In addition, supplements are recommended for people who follow elimination diets, do not like or consume fish, do not avoid stimulants such as alcohol or cigarettes, replace home-cooked meals with fast food, and may notice a distinct lack of certain ingredients based on the appearance of their hair and nails. It is also assumed that such preparations are helpful for people struggling with overweight, women before menopause and all those who easily catch infections.
Natural food supplements versus their synthetic counterparts
Despite appearances, natural dietary supplements are not so easy to come by. It is only since relatively recently that natural supplements seem to be slowly replacing their synthetic counterparts. However, in health food shops or pharmacies, and more often, you can find powdered plants in their natural form, which contain large amounts of nutrients, but in a much better absorbable form than in the case of synthetic supplements. Dietary supplements used in this way can be a good addition to a daily diet that lacks certain nutrients.
Natural supplements can also be overdosed, but the risk is lower than in the case of ready-made preparations. Although in the latter the composition is adjusted to take into account the daily requirements, it does not take into account the diet, which may be completely different for each person. In the case of natural supplements, on the other hand, the dosage also depends on the indications on the packaging, but the amounts of vitamins and minerals contained in them correspond better to what is provided in the diet. As such, they are a better supplement to the diet.
Taking dietary supplements may be the only way to quickly make up for the lack of specific vitamins or minerals in the diet, but the risk that they may pose to chronically ill persons should be taken into account. Above all, the recommended daily doses should not be exceeded, which would result in a risk to health.