Since corona hit the world many people have added supplements to their day to make sure they stay healthy. In order to be up to date with the local covid-19 situation we follow the news, hence we also hear many commercials that talk about immune health and certain nutrients that are important for health. Besides multivitamins a range of herbal supplements has made it into pharmacies and drug stores, all of them are also easily available in online stores. Although people think these supplements are safe because they are natural, we have to be careful with their use. In general, we’ve to be careful with any supplement we take.

“Water soluble vitamins are excreted with the urine if there is an excess intake. So it doesn’t matter if I take a supplement despite consuming enough with the diet.”

Every nutrient that’s too much means the body has to make effort to excrete the excess amount again. Overflowing your organism with nutrients won’t bring any further benefit, it may actually reduce the availability of other nutrients we needs as well (see article listed at the end).

Herbal supplements are natural supplements, they can’t cause any harm to the body.”

Just because it’s “all natural” doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful for us. Not only does the quality of herbal supplements vary widely, many claims made are not true and lack scientific evidence. Several studies have demonstrated that, often, the nutrient concentration found in the product doesn’t correspond to what’s stated on the label.

“I think I don’t get enough vitamins with my diet, so I take several supplements.”

Self-diagnosis is always dangerous. Many supplements contain high doses of nutrients, especially singe-nutrient supplements often don’t meet the  recommended daily intake for single nutrients. Excess intake of single nutrients is impossible with food only, but people underestimate the risk of excess intake that comes with taking high-dose-supplements.

Before you take a supplement, you should know what your actual nutrient intake is. This first, very important step is often forgotten or ignored. A dietary analysis with an adjustment of the diet – if needed – is the first step. Imagine you’re having fresh fruit (e.g. orange, kiwi) or a bowl of fruit salad every day, and maybe some fresh orange juice with your breakfast, and some salad with your lunch – and you add a vitamin C supplement to that.  Any idea how much vitamin C that makes at the end of the day? Are you sure you’re not getting enough with your diet?

Only if it’s impossible to cover the needs through food alone, the use of dietary supplements is recommended. This, however, should be planned and monitored by a medical doctor or dietician.

Further reading:

Maughan et al (2018) IOC Consensus Statement Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099027

A-Z Nutritional supplements. British Journal of Sports Medicine (Collection of articles)

Wang (2019) Pre-workout supplement induces cardiac ischeamia in young female. doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2019.1689598

Gurley et al (2018) Clinically Relevant Herb-Micronutrient Interactions. When Botanicals, Minerals and Vitamins collide. doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy029

Covid19 and nutrients: statement from EUFIC