As people look for ways to take control of their health and wellness, dietary supplements are growing in popularity. From eye health to gut health, supplements can serve as a valuable aid to help you achieve and maintain optimal health throughout your entire body.
Usually in the form of tablets or capsules, dietary supplements are nutritional substances that support proper functioning of all your body's systems and organs. They may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids (the building blocks of protein) or herbal extracts.
Interested in taking supplements to support and improve your own health? Here's what you need to know to take them safely and get the most out of them.
Allow enough time for the supplements to take effect.
If you have a headache and you take Tylenol or some other pain reliever, you can expect your headache to go away almost immediately. Supplements don't work that way! While some people notice changes and improvements shortly after starting a supplement regimen, this isn't always the case. It may take weeks or months before you see or feel a difference. Before concluding that the supplements you're taking aren't having an impact, allow enough time for them to take effect.
More is not always better! Take the right dosage.
When it comes to supplements, there's a misconception that if a small amount is good, a larger amount must be better. This is not the case!
Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients work synergistically within the body to support bodily functions. A proper balance needs to be maintained for each nutrient to do its job effectively, as some nutrients compete with each other.
For example, large amounts of calcium can reduce absorption of zinc; while an excess of zinc can reduce absorption of iron and copper. Unless your health care provider has advised otherwise, stick with the recommended dosage to avoid nutrient imbalances.
Remember that "natural" does not mean risk-free.
When taken correctly, supplements are generally safe for the vast majority of people. After all, you're ingesting compounds that occur naturally in the foods we eat. But "natural" does not mean risk-free, especially when it's being delivered to your body in a processed and concentrated form. Even in the case of supplements that come highly recommended, your response may be different to someone else's. That's why you need to be mindful of potential adverse effects.
For example, vitamin E is an essential vitamin for health, a potent antioxidant, and one of the most common supplements taken; but there are also concerns it may raise blood pressure. Therefore, large doses of vitamin E should be avoided by anyone who suffers from chronic high blood pressure.
If you have an existing health condition or you take medication, check for any contraindications that may apply to you before taking a new supplement.
Be realistic with your expectations.
As supplements grow in popularity, you're likely to come across brands and providers making some very bold claims. Be realistic with your expectations. If the claims sound too good to be true, they likely are.
For instance, "helps maintain healthy skin" is a reasonable claim associated with standard zinc supplements. On the other hand, claims to "take years off your face" and make you "instantly more beautiful" should be viewed with caution, noting that results may vary from person to person. And keep in mind that taking a supplement that provides "immune support" won't guarantee you never become sick, especially if you're rundown and neglecting your well-being in other areas.
While supplements have their place, they are not a replacement for a healthy diet and lifestyle. Wherever possible, strive to get your nutrients directly from the source as nature intended, through a diet that includes a variety of healthy, whole foods with minimal processing. And take steps to adopt lifestyle habits — getting fresh air, moving and stretching your body, getting quality sleep, and managing stress levels — that will promote a healthy body, mind, and soul.
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