Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements and Today’s Lifestyle

Many articles by nutritionists and physicians blithely assume that we all eat five fruits and vegetables per day that we never skip breakfast, and religiously consume whole grains rather than processed grains. They seem to ignore the fact that the average person does eat fast food and that salt, carbohydrates, and sugar are a regular part of millions of people’s diets. These are the people who say that dietary supplements are not necessary, because a balanced diet takes care of all that for you.

The Reality of Today’s Lifestyle

Reality dictates otherwise. Our schedules are packed, and many of us are worried about finances, making ends meet, and the general stresses of raising a family where everyone seems to have a different schedule. Even for those who make nutrition a priority, perfect eating habits sometimes go by the wayside. As a result, it’s hard to be sure whether we are consuming enough fiber, minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids, and amino acids to ensure optimum health.

The Role of Dietary Supplements

Keeping our bodies properly nourished even when we can’t take the time or effort to ensure we eat properly is what dietary supplements are all about. Most people take them in the form of tablets or capsules, but they also can be had in the form of extracts, liquids, and powders. They are generally shelf-stable, relatively inexpensive, and serve as a good backstop to the typical diet and lifestyle of today.The most popular supplements are multi-vitamin and mineral supplements because they ensure we meet our baseline needs and are relatively inexpensive. Calcium supplements are also important for women, and for men who may not get enough calcium, because osteoporosis affects both sexes. Fish oil supplements are becoming widely used because of their benefits on cardiac health. Glucosamine is another supplement that is becoming popular for the health of the body’s joints.

Dietary Herbal Supplements

Other dietary supplements provide herbs, which can have distinctive effects on various illnesses and bodily systems. Echinacea, garlic, ginseng, and ginkgo biloba are herbs that are considered safe when used as directed. Even mainstream medicine is taking an interest in herbal remedies, many of which have been used for centuries. In an ideal world, we would all eat balanced diets every day, but the fact is, though most of us make some effort to eat well, we do fall short. Supplementation can help ensure that we at least get recommended levels of nutrients even when we don’t eat right.

Natural and Synthetic Dietary Supplements

When it comes to the word “natural” being used to describe dietary supplements, there is no standard meaning. In most cases, it won’t matter if you choose natural or synthetic vitamins, but in a few cases it will. For example, natural vitamin E is more potent than synthetic vitamin E. 
Vitamin E is labeled for potency based on its content of alpha-tocopherol. If you choose a natural vitamin E dietary supplement with a mixture of tocopherols, it will be more potent than a supplement that only contains alpha-tocopherol, even if both advertise the same number of International Units (IU) of alpha-tocopherol.

‘Natural’ isn’t Always Practical

But with most vitamin supplements, synthetic vitamins are equally as potent as natural ones. In some cases, it is not possible to put natural vitamins into supplement form. That’s because the natural sources are not nearly concentrated enough for a natural dietary supplement the size of a capsule to hold enough of it. With the exception of vitamin E, beta carotene, and vitamin B12, the vitamins used in dietary supplements are synthetic. Furthermore, synthetic vitamins are chemically identical to the natural versions. High-potency vitamins in particular are made from synthetic vitamins. Isolating the pure, natural vitamin from a food source is very expensive and impractical, and you would end up with a pure vitamin that was exactly like the synthetic version anyway. That’s why synthetic vitamins are most commonly used in vitamin-based health supplements.

Side Benefits of Natural Dietary Supplements

On the other hand, taking a supplement that comes from only natural products gives you other food components that are healthy and beneficial, such as natural flavinoids. While this gives you substances you might not consume otherwise, the presence of these natural substances doesn’t change the character of the isolated vitamin substance itself. So beware of natural supplements that make outrageous claims about vitamin potency.

What about Herbs?

Of course, when it comes to herbal supplements, “natural” is the key term, since these products come from actual plants. Potency varies across manufacturers of herbal products, so with herbs, it is wise to read labels thoroughly in order to make a fair assessment. The source of some minerals, like calcium, can likewise make a difference in how well it is absorbed and utilized.For the average consumer looking to improve his or her health and nutritional profile, most of the time (with the exceptions noted above) synthetic vitamins work fine. Unless scientists find ways to synthesize active ingredients in herbal health supplements, however, natural versus synthetic doesn’t enter in to your decision.