The supplement industry is booming, with 52% of the general public popping vitamins to support a healthful diet. The sector draws an impressive annual revenue of $36 billion in the U.S. alone. Natural supplements have grown in diversity, with herbal accompaniments frequently added to nutritional products to bolster their effectiveness. Many users still believe that natural means safe. This is far from the case. Herbs often carry as many risks as pharmaceuticals, and even vitamin pills have the capacity to harm. Whether you buy CBD or merely omega 3 oils, it’s important to research the potential side effects in consultation with your GP.
Vitamins with Proven Effectiveness
Many vitamin supplements have shown stellar results in clinical trials. Folic acid has been proven to prevent neural tube defects in unborn babies, and Vitamin D supplementation is important to prevent deficiencies in breastfeeding babies. Vitamin K can prevent bleeding in newborns, and iron supplements are critical for certain forms of anemia.
The latter have side effects, though, so they’re best reserved for fulfilling specific needs. Those with hyponatremia require a strictly-measured mineral supplement, and if you’re prone to dehydration, you may need potassium, calcium, and magnesium to prevent cramps. Multivitamins are often taken to improve cardiovascular disease and prevent cancer, but four trials and a cohort study recently proved them ineffective for this form of prevention. Folic acid supplements seem to have marginal effects on stroke risk. That said, most people don’t need routine supplementation.
A balanced diet remains the finest way to keep your health on track, but vitamin supplements are best taken when clinically indicated. In short, if you have a deficiency or disease, the right vitamins will probably support your recovery. However, if you eat three balanced meals a day and have no health conditions to speak of, your precious funds are better spent on exercise and healthy foods.
Can Vitamins Harm?
Taking vitamin A, C, or D in normal dosages is unlikely to harm your health, but not all vitamin supplements are quite so benign. Beta carotene has been proven to raise cancer risk in smokers, while calcium supplementation may cause deficiencies in other minerals. Raised folic acid levels have been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, and magnesium supplements can reduce the absorption of some prescription medications.
If you’re taking anticonvulsants, those calcium and magnesium pills should never be taken at the same time. High doses of vitamin A may cause toxicity, while mega-dosing on vitamin C interferes with the effects of chemotherapy. In short, it’s best to take vitamins under the guidance of a doctor, particularly if you’re on chronic medications.
How Effective are Herbal Products?
Herbs often contain active compounds that can help and harm, with CBD being the star of the moment. The oil has pharmacological effects and can thus interfere with a number of prescription medications. It has, however, shown impressive results in trials testing its effects on certain kinds of epilepsy. Its effects on insomnia and anxiety are promising, but not conclusive. THC, which is generally absent in CBD oils, has become an accepted form of pain management, but it’s not without side effects. It may cause anxiety, memory loss, and tachycardia.
Can Herbs Harm?
Contrary to the claims of many alternative medicine practitioners, no herb is a cure-all, and few are without risks. Just like any pharmaceutical, an effective herbal product is a potentially harmful one. Stimulants such as ma huang are potentially deadly in those with heart disease and epilepsy. Intravenous turmeric produces side effects that can be fatal, while coconut oil can increase your risk of heart disease.
Herbal remedies are marketed to make profits, and marketing has never been an honest field, even in the hands of alternative health practitioners. It’s important to use them in consultation with a qualified medical doctor who can monitor your side effects and advise you about risks. The supplement industry loves the idea of a panacea: a single herb or vitamin that can cure everything from cancer to heartburn. No chemical, natural or otherwise, can make that claim, but some supplements may bring improvements in certain medical conditions.
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