Food supplements are one of the businesses of the 21st century. However, in healthy people, supplements are useless and even dangerous
Every day, whether on television or social networks, we are bombarded with messages that we "need" various food supplements to feel better, or simply for X function of our body to run its course normally. The reality is that some supplements of this type may have some function, but only in individuals with specific diseases, and of course they will not be the ones advertised on television but rather a prescription from a doctor will be necessary for their consumption.
Today we will review some of these cases, some of them well known and consumed, and maybe even controversial when you read them, but I hope that the accompanying explanation will help you to know why food supplements are useless in healthy people. Again, I repeat, if you suffer from any type of illness, some of these food supplements or nutritional supplements may be necessary.
Protein food supplements
We will start with the king of nutritional supplements, especially in the sports field: protein supplements.
On average, according to the School of Public Health at Harvard, the needs of an individual to their daily lives are about 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of weight. Thus, a 70 kg person would need just 56 g of protein for their day to day. Some exceptions to this range are people who suffer from malnutrition, or in the sport of weightlifting, where nutritional needs are raised, at least temporarily.
However, when it comes to sports, more is not always better, and even if we take triple the recommendation, we will not gain more muscle for it. According to Harvard, our body only processes up to 2 g of protein per kilogram of weight, ignoring the rest. Likewise, studies such as the one published in the Journal of Sports Sciences in 2011 recommend a consumption range of between 1.7 g and 2 g in athletes, but not more, since exceeding this level does not entail benefits.
And no, although it has been suggested for many years that excess protein in the diet can damage the kidney, studies claim this to be false. What is certain is that in cases of kidney failure (due to other causes), in many cases part of the treatment involves ingesting a lower amount of protein to protect the kidney, but in healthy people there is no problem.
Why is taking protein supplements useless? Because with a normal and balanced diet, the average individual tends to even double the recommendations of 0.8 g / kg / day recommended by both Harvard and the WHO. Therefore, trying to take more with supplements is futile, and expensive.
Multivitamin food supplements
Although there are certain cases where vitamin dietary supplements are necessary, these cases are not only sporadic, but tend to focus either on elderly individuals (due to their poor diet in many cases) or on young individuals who have excessively restricted foods in their diet daily. In a totally healthy person, multivitamin supplements have proven not only useless, but also very expensive (about $ 28 billion annually in the United States alone).
Already in 2013, an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine made it clear: " Stop spending money on dietary supplements of vitamins and minerals, they are useless." Likewise, the authors of this editorial, in conclusion, made it clear that multivitamin supplements do not serve to prevent chronic diseases or absolutely for anyone, but can even be harmful if you eat an adequate diet. Remember that "more is not better".
On the other hand, last year 2016, another study published in the journal JAMA assured that even with these notices the message has penetrated: in a follow-up of 10 years, the consumption of multivitamin supplements has not changed, although some studies showed that its time that they can even be harmful to health, like another JAMA study from last year 2011 which concluded that taking these types of supplements can increase the risk of death in the long term.
Tryptophan Nutritional Supplements
Although tryptophan is advertised left and right on television as the panacea for enhancing our cognitive potential, the reality is that the evidence on it leaves much to be desired.
According to MedLine Plus, information page of the US National Library of Medicine, tryptophan has been shown to have "possible" efficacy in improving symptoms of menstrual dysphoric disorder and in smoking cessation.
However, tryptophan does not have sufficient evidence to be used with the aim of improving various symptoms (most of which are used as a publicity claim) such as anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, ADHD or sleep disorders.
Finally, tryptophan supplementation has been shown to be ineffective in treating ailments such as bruxism, facial pain or to obtain improvements at a sports level.
Calcium nutritional supplements
Calcium in the form of nutritional supplements is commonly prescribed by primary care medicine or specialized care clinics. However, not a few healthy individuals take this type of nutritional supplements "just in case”, without suffering a specific need.
Hypocalcemia, or lack of calcium, can occur for various reasons such as poor kidney function, chronic alcoholism or a lack of vitamin D (a common vitamin deficiency in countries where there is little sun exposure; very rare in Spain). If none of these situations are suffered, and a prescription has not been received, taking calcium in the form of supplements is not only useless but can be dangerous without control.
In fact, recent reviews have even affirmed that calcium supplements taken with the aim of preventing bone fractures (in post-menopausal or elderly women) are useless, since they do not participate in such prevention; although more research is required on this. On the other hand, a study published in 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that taking calcium supplements could increase the risk of brain injury.
Magnesium food supplements
Finally, we have magnesium dietary supplements, another big niche in the business.
As a gold mine for its sale, the risk of mineral losses with the sweating of athletes is usually named. However, with a proper diet, magnesium needs are more than served unless severe dietary restriction is carried out. Magnesium can be easily found in foods such as nuts, wheat, legumes, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, or cocoa powder.
There is no specific recommendation for magnesium in athletes, but in the general population the requirements range between 350-400 mg (men) and 300-330 mg (women).
Although it is true that excessive sweating is one of the risk factors for hypomagnesemia or magnesium deficiency, it is very unlikely that sweating from sports is a cause of hypomagnesemia. There are other more common causes such as alcoholism, hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood, due to some underlying disease or due to excessive intake of supplements of this mineral), chronic diarrhea, excessive urination, malnutrition or taking certain medications to long term.
In addition, taking magnesium supplements can carry the risk of hypermagnesemia, an excess of this mineral that can cause from abdominal discomfort to drug interactions, leading in extreme cases to death due to alteration of the metabolism of other minerals such as phosphorus, calcium or potassium.
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