Supplements… Do We Really Need Them?

Supplements... Do We Really Need Them?

From calcium to Vitamin D and then some, these days there is a lot of hoopla surrounding what supplements we should be taking and why. HEALTH separates the facts from the fiction when it comes to supplementation.


Step into any pharmacy or health food store and you will most likely be amazed to see the hundreds of different bottles of supplements out there. For women, for men, for senior citizens and children…The question that remains is why do we really need them to begin with? According to Dr. Negin Afshar, a Family Medicine Specialist at the Wellbeing Medical Centre in Dubai, over the years, lives have become busier in general and finding the time to prepare well balanced and nutritious meals is becoming more challenging for families. “Also the products we are cooking with are not grown locally and are often genetically modified using hormones or other dangerous chemicals,” she says as well as the glaring fact that a number of us are turning to ready meals or fast foods. “We like to buy whatever we want anytime, no matter where it is grown, or whether it is in season,” she explains and this can involve freezing, canning and transporting, all of which can affect the nutritional value, as can different types of cooking and storing of food. Further elaborating, Guillaume Safah, a Nutritionist and Integrative Medicine Specialist at The Antiaging Compounding Pharmacy in Dubai Healthcare City explains that the soil in most parts of the world is also depleted of vital elements. These are essential to produce a healthy plant and can ultimately deplete our diet of essential nutrients and hence the need to supplementation.

Cooking Considerations

When adhering to the regimen of balanced and healthy eating, Dr. Afshar explains that we must consider certain aspects of our food, such as how it is processed, how it is prepared, and how it is cooked. “In fact, all of the ways that food is handled affect its nutritional value,” she says and the ubiquitous convenience foods are not surprisingly vitamin and nutrient deficient as well as are chock full of unhealthy additives and processing agents. “For example, we all think boiled vegetables are a healthy option, and compared to fried chips they are,” she says however boiling also causes the greatest loss of vitamins and nutrients which are lost during the boiling process.

Supplements For Women

Dr. Afshar advises top key supplements for women who are in reasonably good health under age 40 include the following:

A high-quality multi-vitamin

This is essential because a multi-vitamin fills in the spaces in your diet, so you’re not running dangerously low on the essential nutrients your body needs for optimal functioning, says Dr. Afshar. And when choosing the right one, she advises to scan the label to ensure that the multivitamin contains one hundred percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of the 21 essential nutrients: Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B (including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate, and choline) and minerals calcium, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, zinc, potassium, sodium, and chloride.

A high quality omega-3 supplement

Fish oil is today’s bestselling supplement, tells Dr. Afshar and with good reason. “The EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA in omega-3 fish oil have profoundly positive effects on human health,” she explains as DHA slows your liver’s production of undesirable triglycerides, making it extremely protective against heart disease and diabetes. “In addition, fish oil is incredibly effective at reducing inflammation and in fact, the benefits of omega-3 are endless,” she states. “Other highlights include healing blood vessel walls, keeping the blood thin, thus minimizing clotting, lowering blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar as well as brightening your mood.”

Co-enzyme Q-10

CoQ-10 is another power packed nutrient produced by the “energy factories” in your cells called mitochondria, tells Dr. Afshar. “Taking a CoQ-10 supplement boosts the way your cells produce and use energy,” she says and it also helps your body burn fat, improves cholesterol ratios, boosts your physical energy levels as well as improves thyroid and pancreas functions.

Magnesium citrate

Essentially magnesium and calcium are like conjoined twins and according to Dr. Afshar, calcium can’t even be absorbed unless magnesium is present. “Without it, calcium is much less effective in maintaining your bones and regulating your nerves and muscle tone,” she says. “It activates enzymes, powers your energy, and helps your body absorb vitamin D, potassium, and zinc.” In addition, magnesium’s ability to relax muscles and nerves makes it one of your best allies in the battle against anxiety, hypertension, restless leg syndrome, sleep disorders, and abnormal heart rhythm.

Vitamin D

Most UAE residents are badly deficient in vitamin D as many of us consider the sun our enemy and excessive sun exposure does indeed have some dangerous side effects. “Numerous studies show that this amazing vitamin is protective against all cancers, strengthens bones, prevents and even heals diabetes, protects against heart disease, lowers blood pressure and can even reverse depression as well as elevate our mood,” she says.


Found naturally in green, leafy vegetables, like spinach as well as in nuts, beans, peas, soybeans and whole-grain cereals. According to Safah, magnesium is a pivotal nutrient in over 325 enzyme reactions in the body ranging from energy production to cholesterol control. Adults who consume less than the recommended amount of magnesium are more likely to have elevated inflammation markers which have been associated with major health conditions.


These are naturally found in yogurt and fermented foods and these bacteria are similar to the friendly bacteria normally found in your digestive system. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements and can help in cases of diarrhea as well as individuals suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, indicates Safah, plays an important role of the health and function of immune cells, production of collagen, among many other properties. This antioxidant is believed to boost your immune system and helps boost your body’s collagen production to help reduce wrinkles and can also firm up and moisturize your skin.

What about Men

In an ideal world, everyone would get all the nutrition they need from the food they eat, tells Dr. Afshar. “But this is wishful thinking, especially for men as according to the USDA, men aged 31 to 50 need to eat 350 percent more dark green vegetables and 150 percent more fruit per day in order to meet federal dietary guidelines,” she says and it’s no surprise that men actually have deficits in nearly every nutritional category. “For this reason men should follow the same advice above,” she says. “In addition, men can consume Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes that may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, according to a recent study review.”

Older Age Group


The bones are at greatest risk in older age-groups, especially in post-menopausal women, tells Dr. Afshar. And while calcium is paramount for building and maintaining strong bones, unfortunately, surveys show that as we age, we consume less calcium in our diets. Inadequate calcium intake has been shown to increase the risk of brittle bones and fractures, she says and basically, the body needs calcium, protein and vitamin D for optimal bone health.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, maintain bone density, and prevent osteoporosis and Dr. Afshar adds that recent findings suggest that vitamin D may also protect against some chronic diseases, including cancer, type 1 diabetes, to autoimmune diseases. “In older people, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased risk of falling,” she says.

Dietary Fiber

Fiber is often overlooked but is very important, suggests Dr. Afshar as it helps promote healthy digestion by moving foods through the digestive tract. “Foods rich in fiber, including whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, have many other health benefits, including protecting against heart disease,” she says and as we grow older and less active, our digestive systems slow down, therefore it is more important to intake enough fiber.

Supplements... Do We Really Need Them?

Over Supplementation

Over consumption of supplements, particularly of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins, can build up in the body and in fact, can be dangerous, according to Dr. Afshar. “For example, vitamin A supplementation can be very useful where deficiencies exist, but excessive consumption can lead to nausea, irritability, anorexia via a reduced appetite, vomiting, blurry vision, headaches, hair loss, muscle and abdominal pain and weakness, drowsiness, and altered mental status,” she says. “Provided that supplements are taken in the amounts recommended on the pack by the manufacturer or retailer, and the recommended doses are not exceeded by combining too many different supplements, then it is highly unlikely that supplements will cause toxicity.” Therefore stick to a high quality liquid multivitamin and/ or mineral product for best all-round supplementation because it delivers nutrients in the right balance.

Children and Supplements

: Do we need to be giving supplements to our children? Yes, tells Safah, as kids need nutrients to grow bones, build muscles and for general development. “As mentioned, our food is depleted of nutrients which are needed to build healthy cells in healthy humans,” he says and suggests the following for kids: food based multivitamin/multi minerals, magnesium in the form of Epsom Salt put in bath, or magnesium oil sprayed on the skin as well, vitamin C, vitamin D by sun exposure 10 to 15 minutes daily is ideal for kids, probiotics especially if they have been on antibiotics and last, but not least, fish oil.

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