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Home > Health Food Supplements

Health Food 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 synthesis. 

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 extraction.

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 medications.

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 products.

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 purchase.

 

 

 

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