Most dietary supplements are unnecessary

Calcium, omega-3 or calcium: who needs supplements

Dietary Supplements Make Sense for Competitive Athletes, But Not Everyone

What can be useful for competitive athletes can even be harmful for the average consumer: food supplements (symbol image)

© Christoph Hardt/Geisler-Photopress/Picture Alliance

Pills and powders from the drugstore or pharmacy are incredibly popular. Every third person in Germany takes food supplements once a week. But how useful are the preparations anyway? And what about the quality?

Consumers in Germany spend more than two billion euros on dietary supplements every year. Magnesium is the best seller. But calcium, omega-3 fatty acid, and vitamin D products, especially in the fall and winter, are also popular. Expectations for pills, tablets, and powders are usually high. They should protect you against disease and make you fitter and more efficient.

But can the preparations do that at all? For a long time, nutritionists have advised against taking such drugs. Many consider them a complete waste of money. Because most of them are useless because a normally fed person does not need any additional nutrients. In addition, many of the funds are overdosed and in the worst case can even harm your health. The unanimous opinion of the experts: Food supplements only make sense for certain risk groups and in situations of particular stress.

Anyone taking the funds on their own is at risk of harm

In principle, the preparations should not be taken without the prior advice of a doctor. In truth, only a blood test can reliably show whether there really is a deficiency that needs to be compensated for. However, if you take them on your own because you feel your body is missing something, you risk overdosing. This can sometimes have serious side effects. Some minerals or vitamins can also enhance or weaken the effects of medications.

Dietary supplements are not subject to approval in Germany. That is why they are not examined by any supervisory authority to determine their effectiveness. Mixed preparations containing several substances are particularly treacherous. They supply the body with these micronutrients using the watering can principle. But in most cases there is no need to substitute various substances.

In any case, individual vitamins or minerals make sense. Especially after winter, many look for vitamin D. Normally, most of it is produced by the body with the help of sunlight. We get small amounts of food. Studies have shown that the vitamin keeps bones stable and contributes to the preservation of teeth. For all other claims (protection against infection, lower risk of cancer, or protection against depression) there is no reliable evidence. According to the Robert Koch Institute, about 60 percent of Germans fall below the recommended value of 50 nanomoles per liter of blood. In these cases, an intake may be correct. But: Not without a prior blood test. Because if you take too much vitamin D, you risk kidney calcification and kidney stones.

The body only needs a small amount of calcium.

Calcium is also popular. The mineral is just as important for bones as it is for muscles, nerves, and blood clotting. But we get it without problems from all kinds of foods, especially dairy. Therefore, the additional income is generally not necessary. Many calcium supplements are also overdosed, which can lead to kidney stones. The following applies to vegetarians and vegans: Calcium is also found in non-animal foods. Especially green vegetables like broccoli or nuts contain a lot.

Magnesium is the best seller among dietary supplements. The substance is important for energy metabolism, as well as muscle and nerve function. Many seek it out when suffering from muscle cramps. The body usually receives it in sufficient form from the consumption of vegetables and whole grain products. In this case, it is also known that drugs from the drugstore or pharmacy are often overdosed, which can lead to diarrhea and a drop in blood pressure. A daily intake of 250 mg is recommended.

Also popular are products with omega-3 fatty acids, which have a reputation for being particularly good for your health. However, there are considerable doubts about the effectiveness of the funds. Since the preparations are not state-tested, nothing can be said about the actual dosage and thus the ingredients. What is certain, however, is that too many omega-3 fatty acids are unhealthy. Side effects can be: nausea, vomiting, increased risk of infection and risk of bleeding. However, omega-3 fatty acids can also be prescribed by a doctor; in this case, they are medicines whose dosage and ingredients are subject to official controls. And the following also applies here: In almost all cases, a healthy diet is sufficient for a good supply. Fatty acids are found in fatty fish (herring or salmon), green leafy vegetables, nuts, and various oils such as rapeseed oil or flaxseed oil.

The promises are great, but the impact is not

And last but not least, there is zinc. Many hope they can escape without catching a cold. It’s not well documented if extra zinc really helps. The body only needs a small amount of the trace mineral to do its job, and it can meet its needs from food. The risk of overdose with dietary supplements is high. And that holds dangers: zinc is a heavy metal and can cause poisoning. And it also changes the red and white blood cells. Meat, fish, cheese, and eggs contain zinc. An additional dose may only be worthwhile for vegetarians and vegans, but not before the doctor has examined the blood.

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