A dietary supplement according to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) is either a pill, capsule, tablet or even liquid, that is properly labelled and supplements the food intake of humans. It can contain single or multiple vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts and amino acids, depending on its purpose.
There are several nutritional supplements available in the market today. These supplements are mostly derived from common food sources which are the plants and animals. The following are some of the popular dietary nutritional supplements and their characteristics.
Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin since it has the mineral cobalt. It is needed by the body to manufacture red blood cells, maintains nerve cells and to synthesize DNA. It is one of the top supplements even though it is found in meat, eggs, milk and other animal products. It cannot be derived from plant sources thus, vegetarians should include Vitamin B12 enriched food or nutritional supplements in their diet. After Vitamin B12 is separated from the food by gastric acid found in the stomach, it is absorbed by the body with the help of an intrinsic factor. When a person cannot produce the intrinsic factor, it would lead to vitamin B-12 deficiency, which is characterized by depression, fatigue and pernicious anemia. The reference daily intake of vitamin B-12 is just 2-3 µg daily.
Omega 3 is an unsaturated fatty acid which is a common health supplement. There are three omega 3 fatty acids that are important to nutrition. These are: alpha linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is mainly found in plant oils, whereas EPA and DHA are found in marine microalgae, which are then consumed by fishes, accumulating it in their bodies. The health benefits of omega 3 have been determined from studies of the Inuit Tribe in Greenland. Omega 3 reduces the occurrence of atherosclerosis, heart attack, and hypertension because it lowers the triglyceride level and the blood pressure of those taking it. US FDA has already given DHA and EPA the qualified health claim that it may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Aside from this, omega 3 is seen to be important in brain development and maintenance. US FDA recommends consumption of not more than 3 grams per day to prevent cholesterol level increase and hemorrhage because it inhibits blood clotting especially when taken with aspirin.
Folic acid is water soluble vitamin which is part of the B-vitamin family. It is the synthetic form of folate, which is a nutrient that prevent anemia during pregnancy. Though most commonly given to expectant mothers, folate is also important to children and adults because it is needed to manufacture healthy red blood cells. Folate is also needed in the production and maintenance of other body cells, most especially in the synthesis of DNA and RNA. Folic acid is often derived from dark green leafy vegetables, hence the name (in Latin folium means leaf). But folic acid can also be obtained from fruits, dried beans and peas. The reference daily intake of folic acid range from 150 µg for children under 3 years old to 400 µg for adults, while for pregnant and lactating mothers it is 600 µg and 500 µg, respectively. An overdose of folic acid from food is unlikely because it is water soluble, so the excess would just be disposed in the urine. However, the Insitute of Medicine has established a tolerable upper intake level for folic acid acquired through fortified food and nutritional supplements because an overdose could trigger a vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms.
Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is a fat-soluble substance found in most animal and plant cells, hence its alternate name ubiquinone, which is after ubiquitous which means existing everywhere. It is a primary component in the generation of energy in the cellular level. Humans produce CoQ10 but unfortunately wanes with age and it is particularly low among people who have coronary diseases, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, AIDS and diabetes. Despite such studies, more research has yet to be done on the effect of CoQ10 to these ailments. CoQ10 has a typical dosage of 90 mg but despite this it has no RDI yet, thus it is best to consult a doctor when taken as a health supplement for the illnesses mentioned earlier.
Zinc is a metallic chemical element that is also a nutrient that strengthens the immune system. It is also needed in the synthesis of DNA and in the healing of wounds. Aside from this, zinc is an essential nutrient from pregnancy up to the growing up years. Zinc is found in sea food, meat, poultry, whole grain and beans. A deficiency in zinc will lead to hair loss, slow wound healing, loss of appetite, and slow reaction times. Zinc deficiency among children and adolescents is exhibited in slow growth and delayed sexual maturity. The RDI of zinc ranges from 2 mg to 11 mg, for newborn babies and male adults respectively, while pregnant and lactating mothers would need as much as 13 mg. Zinc intake must be within the RDI because an overdose of zinc will cause nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea and to some extent copper deficiency. Also, zinc may interfere with other prescribed medicines, so extra care and honesty must be practiced when including zinc in one’s dietary nutritional supplements.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient known prominently as the vitamin for good eyesight. It is also important in growth of bones, cell reproduction and regulates the immune system. Vitamin A is absorbed by the body in the form of retinol which is found in liver and whole milk. On the other hand, vitamin A found in fruits and vegetables is in the form of provitamin A carotenoid. Regardless of the form of vitamin A, its RDI ranges from 400 µg to 900 µg for newborns and male adults respectively. Night blindness is a manifestation of vitamin A deficiency. Other manifestations are weakened immune system. On the other hand, an overdose in vitamin A will lead to liver abnormalities, reduced bone density, and birth defects in the case of expectant mothers.
Calcium is a mineral that is almost synonymous with strong bones and teeth. Aside from these, calcium is also needed for muscle movement, nerve impulse transmission, blood circulation, and hormones distribution. Calcium needs vary as the age varies -babies will need only 200 mg while adults would need 1000 mg, but growing children and teens, as well as lactating and pregnant mothers will need as much as 1,300 mg. Also, for adults in their 50s or more, especially women, would need 1,200 mg. Calcium is easily acquired from milk and milk products. It can also be obtained from broccoli, Chinese cabbage and whole grains. A calcium deficiency rarely occurs but the most susceptible are teenage girls, post menopausal women and men who are more than 70 years old. It is manifested as osteopenia which is low bone mass density, making the affected person more susceptible to osteoporosis and bone fractures. On the other hand, calcium overdose is also not good. It initially causes constipation but prolonged overdose in calcium may lead to kidney stones.
Vitamin C is a dietary supplement that functions as an anti-oxidant which combats free-radicals coming from the energy conversion in the human body and from external factors like pollution, cigarette smoke and UV radiation. Known as ascorbic acid, it also helps in the absorption of iron and in the production of collagen necessary for skin regeneration. The amount of vitamin C needed on a daily basis ranges from 40 mg to 90 mg, for babies and adults respectively. Pregnant and lactating women need as much as 120 mg, at the same time smokers should add at least 35 mg more to their RDI. The amount needed is greater compared to the other supplements because it has a lot of uses but the body cannot store since it is water soluble, not fat soluble. Hence any excess amount will just go out as urine. But caution must be practiced when taking large doses of vitamin C because it can cause indigestion, diarrhea and to some extent haemochromatosis or iron overload. On the flip side, a person who has little or no vitamin C in his or her diet, can get scurvy, an illness characterized by fatigue, joint pain, inflammation of the gums, teeth loss and anemia.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizome native to South Asia, noted for its distinct yellow color, and mild bitter taste. When turmeric is used as a dietary supplement it is usually dried and processed to form capsules to be taken orally. It is recommended as an aid in digestion and as a pain reliever for arthritis. Studies are being undertaken to investigate its effect on cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The suggested dosage of turmeric powder is 50-100 mg. There is no established upper tolerance level for turmeric yet so it is important not to take large doses because this might lead to an upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea. It is also important to be transparent about consuming turmeric because this might have negative reactions to other prescriptions for a disease.
Iron is another metal that is an integral part of human nutrition. It is primarily found in the body as hemoglobin, the oxygen carrier protein in the red blood cells and also as myoglobin, the oxygen carrier in muscle cells. As dietary supplement it has two forms, heme iron (easily absorbed form) and nonheme iron (vitamin C assisted absorption), the former comes from meat, fish and poultry whle the latter comes from lentils, beans, spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables. The RDI of iron depends on the age - babies would need 11 mg, toddlers would need 7 mg but then increases to 10 mg during school years. In the teenage years, males and females vary in RDI because of the onset of menstruation. This is the same case during adulthood especially during pregnancy and lactation. A deficiency in iron oftentimes results to anemia where observable symptoms include poor cognitive performance, weak immune system, fatigue and difficulty in maintaining body temperature. An excess in iron intake on the other hand is dangerous because little iron is being excreted in fact most are stored in the organs. Thus an excess would lead to haemochromatosis increasing the risk to the formation of free radicals which would damage cells starting in the heart and the liver.
Regardless of the dietary nutritional supplements you are planning to include in your health regimen, it is important to know its RDI and its possible effects when taken with other prescribed medications. It is wise to consult your doctor about your plans so that you will also be guided because after all it will always be about keeping your health in prime condition.