Someone asked me this question recently: “Do I need to take any supplements to stay healthy?” This is a difficult question to answer; mostly because of the word need. What are supplements, you ask? Supplements are really anything consumed that is intended to complement nutrients in your diet. People may take supplements because they want certain nutrients that they may not be receiving in enough quantity from food alone. Your need for supplements depends on what your exercise and health goals are, your gender, and your genes. If you are body building, you would need different supplements that someone who is losing weight. If you’re a woman, your needs vary from that of a man.
Supplements for females: Because females lose a lot of blood at that time of the month, additional iron is very important to replenish the body of what it has lost. If you have ever gotten dizzy right after your period, that’s because your body has lost a lot of iron from your blood loss. However, don’t take iron constantly or in doses only for people with anemia. Women just usually need multivitamins that include iron. Talk to your doctor if small doses don’t help. Also, because women are at higher risk for osteoporosis, supplements like calcium and vitamin D are very important to support bone health. However, caffeine limits your absorption of calcium so if you drink a lot of coffee or soda every day, your body may be absorbing much less than it usually would with the same amount of calcium intake.
Supplements for males: Zinc is a good supplement for men because it promotes prostate health and helps with testosterone and sperm production (I hear the pitter-patter of feet as the men run to the pharmacy). Studies show that men are at a higher risk for heart attacks, and so Omega-3 is also a good supplement to promote heart health.
Weight loss supplements: When referring to weight loss supplements, I am not talking about diet pills. There are certain nutrients or foods that help with appetite control and metabolism. One of such nutrients is Carnitine. Carnitine helps promote a healthy metabolism, especially as we age and our metabolism slows down. Carnitine should be paired with Omega-3 to be effective. One food type that helps to prevent obesity is green tea (not green tea extract, but green tea straight up). Green tea is known to contain EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate) which causes a response in the body that boosts the metabolic system. Again I stress, don’t mistake green tea for diet pills that manufacturers claim contain green tea extract. Diet pills have been known to cause adverse effects in our bodies. Protein is also important for weight loss, but the amount of protein needed to reduce body fat can usually be obtained from food alone.
Muscle building supplements: Protein, protein, protein. To increase lean muscle mass, you are usually advised to take 1 to 1.5 g of protein for each pound of body weight. It’s pretty difficult to get such a large quantity of protein from food alone. That’s where protein shakes come in. Protein shakes can range from complete protein to a mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Obviously, if your main focus is on building muscle, choose drinks with higher protein content to repair your muscles after workouts.
Although there are many individual vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed by different kinds of people, studies show that it seems more effective to take multivitamins that include the necessary nutrients you need, rather than take each nutrient separately. This is because in food, the nutrients come in combination and not alone, and so even though we are complementing our food, trying to replicate their natural state makes them more effective in our bodies. Your pharmacist can help you decide which multivitamins contain the nutrients listed above.