Last week I talked about the cautions around supplements, so this blog is about redressing the balance. When is it useful to take them?
In the first place, they are a quick way to put right things like vitamin deficiencies. The kind of things we don’t see much of in the developed world – though rickets, for example, has increased recently – like scurvy, pellagra, beri-beri and kwashiorkor. Mineral deficiencies, too, like hypothyroid in areas where there is no iodine in the soil. What is still common is anaemia, or iron deficiency, due to blood loss (heavy periods can cause this in women) or, less often, due to an inability to absorb iron or store it in the body.
Even then, foods rich in iron are better absorbed, but there is a case for supplementation when levels are seriously depleted
However, most people taking supplements don’t have an outright deficiency, and here the benefits are much less clear. A course of B vitamins might be useful if you’re feeling tired or ‘low’, and vitamin C can help if you keep getting colds, but it’s worth looking at how you can boost their levels in the food you eat, and what else might be contributing to the problem.
Another class of supplements includes enzymes, co-factors and ‘friendly bacteria’ that may help you to absorb, break down and digest your food
Again, there’s a big gap between people who can’t make the necessary enzymes, as in celiac disease or lactose intolerance, and those who have trouble digesting certain foods. Certainly, eating live yoghurt, kefir or other fermented foods can help to replenish your bioflora if you’ve had dysentery, say, or had to take antibiotics, and sometimes taking supplements can do the job faster.
But you shouldn’t need them for more than a few weeks at most. If you’re still having digestive trouble after that, you need to think again
Nutrition is a minefield, and no-one has all the answers, but for most of us, supplements can be a temporary aid to restoring health. If you’ve been taking various things for a long time, it’s a good idea to re-assess.