There is a very simple answer to the question do supplements work….yes!
But, nutrition is a highly complex area and one whose scientific knowledge base has grown enormously over the last 15 years or so. But then, why do we hear so many conflicting stories and reports, especially in the press? It just creates confusion for the consumer and also erodes credibility for the nutritionists and the various scientists involved in research within this area.
Let me try and simplify this by going back to basics…..first of all, there have been various scientific studies looking at people’s diet habits, in order to work out what nutrients they may be missing in terms of meeting the recommended intakes. This is where we should start.
My subject area is in the over 50s and that is where we can end up with significant nutrient deficiencies even with a reasonable diet. Let me explain.
Many people are deficient in Vitamin D
Over 90% of over 50s are simply not getting enough Vitamin D, mostly due to lack of sunshine and as you may know, Vitamin D is essential for ensuring our bones are healthy and strong. This is even more important for women, especially if post-menopausal. Vitamin D is also a very, very important nutrient for ensuring that our muscle health and our strength and our balance is at its best. What we need is to avoid trips and falls, especially as we age, as this is when we are prone to fractures, including our hips and this is the last thing we want to do as we get older!
As we get older our bodies are less able to absorb nutrients
Take Vitamin B12, involved in energy metabolism and helping to protect our brains and our cardiovascular system against degradation from homocysteine, a toxin that unfortunately builds up in our blood as we age. Many over 50s simply cannot absorb B12 from their food, due to lack of stomach acid and crystalline B12 (in tablets) is the only simple way of getting the B12 that they need. If they fail to get the proper dose, then they will also notice symptoms of tiredness and fatigue coupled with lowered cognitive ability.
Just looking briefly at mineral deficiencies, the diet studies I mentioned above also have discovered that over half the over 50s population will not be getting the recommended intakes of calcium (bone and muscle health), potassium (needed for maintenance of a healthy blood pressure), magnesium(bone health, muscle strength and energy) and also copper which is needed for the health of our ligaments and tendons plus energy production too…..the list goes on! This is just a small selection.
Leaving micro nutrients aside for a second, the latest research also tells us that our intake of protein should be at least 50% higher than the rather outdated RDA for protein, set many years ago. Proper, high level scientific research, across the world, has concluded that the average over 50s person should be consuming a minimum of at least 90g of protein each day instead of the old 60grams intake. This is not always that simple so supplementation may be needed to get that intake. This is to avoid sarcopenia or muscle loss with age, a condition associated with normal ageing, but also associated with many chronic disease states too.
Do nutritional supplements work?
In a nutshell, many, many over 50s are simply not getting enough nutrients from their food alone and supplementation seems to be the only simple and convenient option open to them.
So yes, supplements do and can work and I would encourage such supplementation, especially as we age, in order to ensure we do not fall into the deficiency trap, which can negatively affect various aspects of our long term health and wellbeing.