Approximately 70% of Australians regularly take supplements for anything ranging from a daily multivitamin to curcumin for mild osteoarthritis and fish oil for heart health. There’s a lot of misinformation and confusion circulating about supplement use. Here we bust some of the most common myths about taking supplements.
Myth 1: Supplements lack evidence
Many supplement formulations are based on high quality scientific evidence, whilst others come from traditional use over thousands of years. Research into complementary medicine has increased over the past 10 years and will continue to produce quality data to validate the traditional use of nutrients and herbal medicines.
Myth 2: If you have a healthy diet you don’t need supplements
In a perfect world we would receive all the necessary nutrients from our diet; unfortunately this just isn’t the case. Firstly, who has a good diet 100% of the time and what constitutes a good diet where you can obtain all the nutrients? Secondly, a plant is only as nutritious as the soil it is grown in and in Australia our soil lacks many essential nutrients such as iodine and selenium.
Certain cooking techniques can deplete food of nutrients, whilst other nutrients are far more available after cooking. Lifestyle habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol increase your need for certain nutrients and certain medication use can deplete the body of different nutrients.
Additionally, we often use supplements as therapeutic agents, therefore the body will require higher dosing than what is found in food. There are also certain constituents in food that are not bioavailable in the way we consume them, for example turmeric needs to be attached to a phospholipid (fat) to make it bioavailable so you can reap the benefits. Lastly, some people have malabsorption issues and will not absorb the nutrients properly into the body through food.
Myth 3: Taking supplements is risky
For the most part taking supplements is not risky if you follow the recommended dosing guidelines. It is also not necessary to take certain supplements without proven need, for example iron. In Australia, complementary medicines have strict regulations, some of the strictest in the world, that govern what ingredients are used, the strength of the ingredient used and what testing the product needs to undergo just to name a few. So you can be assured and trust that the active ingredients written on the label is exactly what’s in the product! Products from overseas have different regulatory bodies and may contain ingredients that are not listed on the product label. Always ensure the supplement you are taking is from Australia.
It is always important to check medication interactions before starting on a new supplement, so speak to your health professional about any health conditions you have that may impact supplement use. You can check the bottle for an AUST L number which is given to products listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
Myth 4: Supplements can replace a healthy diet
Just as a healthy diet doesn’t mean you don’t need supplements, a bad diet cannot be fixed by taking supplements. If you think you can eat junk food all day every day and taking a multivitamin will make up for it you are wrong. Supplements cannot replace a healthy diet. A well-rounded whole foods diet will give you a variety of macro and micronutrients; wholefoods contain phytochemicals that can act as antioxidants in the body, and a healthy wholefoods diet can help keep you fighting fit and healthy. Supplements can help support you during times where your nutritional needs are increased; they can help ‘fill in the gaps’ in your diet and may help support the treatment of certain health concerns.
Myth 5: More is better
There is such a notion as too much of a good thing. All supplements give a dosing guide and if you are unsure a qualified health professional can offer more guidance. Taking more than the recommended dose can not only be pointless but may also be harmful to the body. More is not necessarily better.
Myth 6: In terms of quality, all supplements are created equal
In Australia we have the best standards for the manufacture of supplements than anywhere else in the world. There are strict guidelines to adhere to which ensures the product you receive is what it claims to be, this cannot be said of some supplements sold overseas. Even within Australia there are still differences in the quality of nutrients and herbs used in products. Always check with the company you are buying from regarding the quality of the ingredients they use.
Myth 7: Everyone needs the same supplements
Everybody has a unique make-up and therefore different needs. If looking at nutritional supplements your needs will depend on your diet, age, gender, occupation, location, lifestyle, medical history and any current health conditions you have. What might be good for your friend or neighbour may not be suitable for you.
Myth 8: Supplements enhance each other
Whilst this can be true for some vitamins for example, vitamin C can enhance absorption of iron, it certainly is not universal across all supplements. Some supplements should not be taken together as they compete for absorption. For example, iron and zinc will compete for absorption. If you are unsure how to best take your supplements, speak to a qualified health professional with training in nutrition such as a naturopath, nutritionist or integrative medicine / holistic doctor.