Supplements may be answer to lack of nutritious diet

SINGAPORE - It is a common misconception that supplements can replace a good nutritious diet. That being said, how many of us are able to get three well-balanced meals in a day?

You can get all the right nutrients from food if you eat the right amounts of the correct types of food, but the sad truth is, the majority of us don't. Whether due to a hectic work schedule or desire to lose weight, we end up losing out of plenty of essential nutrients.

For a stressed-out worker in a fast-paced corporate world, it is especially important to keep up our immunity.

According to Christina Lim, a trained pharmacist and CEO of Ocean Health, prolonged stress affects the health of our adrenal glands, which in turn causes us to feel more fatigued and less able to fight infections.

This decline of immunity can cause weight gain, allergic flare-ups, confusion, headache, insomnia, irritability, and many more health challenges.

This is where supplements come in - to boost our body's natural ability to fight off infections.

Are supplements safe?

The common concern out there is that taking supplements may lead to detrimental side-effects or health problems.

According to Ms Lim, the answer is yes, supplements are generally safe.

A 2003 study on health supplements published by the UK's Food Standards Agency found that consumers risk suffering from dangerous side-effects only if supplements are taken above the suggested safe upper limits (SULs).

Take note here, SULs are not the same as Recommended Daily Allowance (RDAs). Rather, SULs are talking about extremes, which is the largest possible dose one can safely take of something, Ms Lim said.

And this finding runs true for almost every substance, she added. Even water and oxygen taken in ridiculously high amounts can be dangerous.

Vitamin and mineral supplements sold off-the-shelves here contain only a fraction of the SUL figure, she said. They are usually manufactured based on the RDA and often contain less than the full RDA.

"They are 'supplements' meant to supplement your daily diet, not replace it," Ms Lim said.

She further clarified that there should be no side effects from stopping a supplement. If there are certain noticeable effects, they are usually the symptoms of nutritional deficiency returning.

Taking supplements is generally a safe choice, however, she acknowledged that dangers might arise if there are prescription drugs involved and overdosing is possible.

As such, Ms Lim stressed that labels should always be read for further information and recommendations. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist or doctor.

Which supplements should I buy?

Which supplements? What dosage?

Ms Lim advised that if you are unsure as to which supplement to buy, it is best to buy a multivitamin and mineral supplement.

For a person in his or her 30s, the ideal supplement dosage required would be about 1,000mg of vitamin C, 1,000mg of omega 3 fish oil, and 50 to 150mg of CoQ10 to keep energy levels up and cardiovascular health strong.

In addition, depending on other lifestyle demands, a vitamin B complex to regulate stress levels might do well as a fifth supplement, she said.

However, supplement choices and dosage levels differ with age, and for a person in his or her 60s, a glucosamine sulphate of about 1,000mg per day is recommended in addition to the other multivitamin and mineral supplements.

If they suffer from tinnitus or dementia, ginko biloba extract would be another good choice, Ms Lim added.

When to take them?

Oil based supplements like Vitamins A, D, E and K, fish oils and evening primrose oil are best for patients to take them after meals for better absorption.

For water soluble supplements like vitamin C and Vitamin Bs, Ms Lim recommended breaking up the dose to twice a day as excess vitamins not utilised by the body are excreted via the urine.

She also advised against taking Vitamin Bs after 3pm in case the patient remains active and has difficulty sleeping at night, she added.

A quick guide to supplements

A guide to supplements

Multivitamins complex

If your body is lacking in vitamin B-complex, you may experience numbness in your fingers and toes, anaemia, nausea, vomiting and diarrohoea.

A multivitamin-mineral supplement, especially in the B group, can help by reducing the effects of stress by improving mood, concentration and well-being, while reducing anxiety and fatigue.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is well documented for its immunity-boosting properties, believed to be due to its ability to reduce blood levels of stress-related hormones.

While a 1,000 to 1,500mg dosage a day is sufficient for an average healthy individual, the recommended dosage varies depending on the individual need, intensity of stress and other lifestyle factors, Ms Lim said.

Calcium and vitamin D

Many Singaporeans do not have the habit of regularly consuming foods rich in calcium, such as milk and yogurt.

This may lead to weak bones from low bone mineral density, which may in turn result in osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, which makes your bones weak and more likely to break, is more likely to develop if you did not reach optimal peak bone mass during your bone-building years.

As many as half of all women and a quarter of men older than 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. To keep bones strong, it is best to eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise and avoid smoking.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids may contribute to behaviors such as aggression during stressful periods, warned Ms Lim.

A three-month daily supplementation of 1,500 to 1,800mg of docosahexaenoic acid or DHA may prevent an increase in aggression during stressful situations, Ms Lim said.

In addition, omega 3 fatty acids extracted from cold water fish such as salmon provides nutrients beneficial for heart health by reducing bad cholesterol levels in the artery wall.

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