Food or nutritional and herbal supplements have been quite popular in the country for some years. They are often packaged in tablets, pills, capsules or liquid forms, and they can be vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanical plants.
While these supplements have become an integral part of many seeking good health and wellbeing, experts have expressed caution on their use especially in excess dosage or without prescription from a medical doctor. Some, they believe, might be unsafe especially for people with certain medical conditions or taking some medications.
A nutritionist and lifestyle expert, James Ighene stated: “Food supplements are used for several reasons- to maintain one’s health, prevent ailments or even treat certain health conditions. As the name suggests, “supplements” mean to add something to make up for a deficiency. So, basically, there is nothing wrong in supplements when properly used under supervision by a medical personnel. A problem arises, however, when supplements are used indiscriminately, excessively, in toxic dosages or combined with other medications that can cause health problems or serious side effects.”
He added that supplements intake is being abused as many people take them when it’s not even needed, stating that they end up taking different supplements that contain the same things.
He opined that food supplements only become necessary when the diet is not balanced. “It is a matter of healthy nutrition, a matter of eating and not eating a balanced diet. If you are taking a balanced diet, supplements more or less won’t be necessary. A balanced diet is the key to good health. So, you don’t need food supplements if you are healthy and eating a balanced diet. That means a diet which contains a variety of foods, including starchy foods, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, lean meat and fish.
“I believe that people are taking supplements these days because of the economic situation in the country. I do not think that many people are taking balanced diet presently in the country, therefore, the need for these supplements. In a normal situation, people really do not need these supplements and that is why you do not see doctors prescribing them that often. Too much of certain supplements can be harmful and cause unwanted side effects. So, people should be careful what they buy and take without a doctor’s prescription,” he said.
He added: “Most of the time these supplements are not prescribed by doctors, they are usually suggestions from family and friends. So people end up taking this and that supplement which sometimes are bought from people who hawk drugs. So most of the time, a lot of people are abusing the use of supplements. That is what happens when you take different supplements and all of them contain the same thing.”
Indeed, some food supplements have been linked to serious health conditions such as kidney failure, painful and swollen joints, cancer, heart and respiratory problems, liver damage and others. Due to the largely unregulated nature of the supplements industry, makers of these supplements make all kinds of spurious claims about the efficacy of their products without proper research being carried out on how well they work. This is a major cause of concern among health practitioners.
“Some supplements are given for specific reasons,” said Ighene. “ For instance, pregnant women are usually given folic acid especially in the early stages of the pregnancy, the first trimester. Supplements containing calcium can also be recommended for elderly women, especially post-menopausal women, to prevent bone-loss or osteoporosis. As the body ages, the bones become fragile and can break easily. People should only take supplements recommended by medical personnel, as indiscriminate and unsupervised use can be dangerous. Our people love self-medication too much and it’s not good. They buy all kinds of pills and drugs and take without knowing how harmful they can be to the body.”
He further warned against the indiscriminate use of herbal supplements noting: “The same should go for these herbal supplements that are everywhere now. I do not trust all these new things that are coming up claiming all sorts of cure when they have not been researched or documented.”
“Those on certain medications because of health problems should take supplements such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng, stinging nettle among others with caution to avoid adverse side effects.
“Ginseng is taken by some people because they hope it will slow aging. Others take it for diabetes, to boost immunity, or to help with sexual performance. But it may lead to a drop in blood sugar, so it can cause issues for people with diabetes. You also shouldn’t take it if you have high blood pressure or take blood thinners,” he added.