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Supplements - A Guide for Consumers
Health food supplements are
one of the hottest selling products on the market these days. These
supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, proteins,
amino acids, essential fatty acids, enzymes, probiotics etc. Their
total consumption values billions of dollars in the U.S. alone.
Recent surveys show that more than half of the adults in the U.S. consume
health food supplements in different forms, such as tablets, capsules,
powders, soft gels, gel caps and liquids.
The increased consumption
of health food supplements can be attributed to public awareness of health
issues and improved standard of living in our society. Many studies
have shown that there is a close correlation between health and nutrition.
Insufficient supply of nutrients can weaken our body defense mechanism,
causing medical problems from common ailments to more severe illnesses in
the long term.
Different types of health
food supplements have unique functions in our body. Vitamins and
minerals are essential to life and good health. Although they are
only required in relatively small amounts, different vitamins and minerals
work synergistically to maintain and regulate metabolism. Some
vitamins are also strong antioxidants that can prevent oxidative damage of
free radicals. Minerals such as selenium and zinc are components of
many enzymes and are essential for normal functioning of our body.
Enzymes are one type of proteins (catalyst) that is essential in
regulating all biochemical reactions. Probiotics are friendly or
beneficial bacteria normally present in the digestive tract. They
are vital for digestion, help to synthesize vitamin K and fend off the
overgrowth of yeast and bad bacteria (pathogens).
Herbal supplements have
diverse functions. Some herbal supplements contain phytochemicals
that are strong antioxidants (many times stronger than vitamin A, C, E).
Some herbal compounds can stimulate or modulate our immune system, some
help with liver detoxification, digestion, mental clarity, etc. and some
have antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial and antitumor properties.
Many people argue that
there is no need to consume health food supplements as long as you have a
healthy lifestyle and eat a balanced diet. While this may be true,
the fact is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and proper diet is difficult
to achieve by many people.
Over the past few decades,
the green revolution has changed the farming practices over the world.
We use more chemical fertilizers, more pesticides to grow the food produce
in order to increase harvest and shorten the growth period. As a
result, soil nutrients and the population of beneficial soil bacteria are
depleted rapidly, and the produce we grow today contain less
micronutrients than before.
A stressful lifestyle,
improper eating habits, imbalanced diet and increased exposure to
chemicals such as environmental pollutants (air, water) and pesticides,
drugs, hormones, heavy metals in foods also weaken our body gradually.
Having said that, consumers
should be aware that there is little regulation on the quality of health
food supplements currently. Composition of the health food products
may not match the label claims and the quality of raw materials is not
guaranteed. Therefore, consumers should only buy from reputable
health food manufacturers, read the labels carefully and
educate themselves by reading more related literatures.
Here are some general rules
for buying health food supplements:
1) Supplements made from
whole foods, natural sources are better than the synthetic
ones. Natural food supplements may contain micronutrients that can aid the
absorption and assimilation of the main ingredients or improve the
efficacy of the main ingredients synergistically. They are less
likely to be contaminated by chemicals such as coal tars used in chemical
2) Protein-bonded vitamins
and minerals (vitamins and minerals in organic form, binding to amino
acids) are more bioactive than the inorganic forms.
3) Buy supplements using
safe extraction methods, such as cold pressed extraction or supercritical
extraction. This can avoid the harmful residue from chemical
4) Herbal concentrate and
extract are usually more effective than the raw herbs.
5) Organically grown or
wild crafted herbs are less likely to be contaminated by heavy metals,
pesticides and other chemicals.
6) Read the labels, do not
consume more than the recommended dose.
7) Be careful when
consuming certain herbal supplements, such as Ma Huang / ephedra, Kava
Kava, comfrey, etc. Some studies have shown that these herbs may
cause severe side effects to some people. Stop use if unusual signs
appear after consumption.
8) Some health food
supplements may interact with drugs, either by decreasing or increasing
their effects. Consult your doctor if you are currently taking
9) Pregnant and nursing
women, people who are expecting surgical procedures or with specific
medical conditions should consult the
doctors when consuming health food supplements. Certain vitamins and
herbal supplements can affect blood coagulation.
10) If in doubt, contact
the supplement manufacturers or distributors for more information of their
11) Health food supplements
are available in many places, such as grocery stores, health food stores,
drug stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, department stores, online stores,
etc. Be a smart consumer, compare the price and service before