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As the world is currently in turmoil, everyone is panicking and looking for a way to protect themselves against the Coronavirus (COVID-19). People want to boost their immune system. People are now turning to supplements more so than before. Even before this outbreak, over 114 million Americans were using at least one supplement. That is over half of their adult population. This collective generates billions of dollars each year.
Lots of people use supplements through anecdotal evidence. They just heard from a friend or relative that one particular supplement is excellent and they take it as fact. Not taking into account that several factors may influence the health and recovery of a person — for example, the placebo effect. Also, not everyone has the same immune system. Some are stronger, and others are weaker.
It is 2020, and there is lots of information out there about supplements that are not regulated. In this guide, we are going to bring everything to light. Before that, let’s first establish what a supplement is.
What is a supplement?
A supplement is anything added to something to complete or enhance it. In case of a dietary supplement, they are designed to complete or improve the diet. Now, you need to understand that supplements, unlike medications, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA was restricted from regulating supplements by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act that was passed in 1994. Well, if you don’t know what that means, let us explain.
Before a drug (for example, Aspirin) can be sold or prescribed to the general population, the manufacturer has to submit actual data about its effectiveness and safety. The FDA analyses the data and decides to approve it or not. Even after it has been approved, the FDA continues to monitor the drug. If something unexpected should occur, like a severe adverse effect is brought to light, the FDA can withdraw the drug from the market. Or they can instruct that the medication should carry strong warning labels. Unfortunately, they are unable to do that when it comes to supplements. The law does not regulate the labels that are placed on supplements, regardless of whether they are accurate or not. Some manufacturers are using this opportunity to market supplements that have no evidence of efficacy, potency, or safety. The FDA can only weigh in when the supplement has already been marketed. That is when they have a little bit of power to take action against manufacturers that are misleading the population.
How do we know which supplements work and which don’t?
We are sure most of you are asking this question. Since you can’t trust the labels or ads on the products, how can you get reliable information about the supplements and their effects on our health?
Well, the answer is simple — scientific research without any bias. In some cases, the research is funded by the manufacturer of the supplement, and there is a tendency to publish biased results. Reliable scientific studies on supplements often start with a simple observation. Here, the health of two groups of people is compared — those who take the supplement and those who do not. After this, a randomised clinical trial is performed in which volunteers are chosen. Some of them are given the actual supplement, while others are given a placebo pill. It is interesting because neither the researchers nor the volunteers know those getting which pill until the trial is ended. Once the trial is concluded, the results are compiled and analysed. Then, statements can be put forth whether the supplement is effective, and for which conditions.
Do supplements boost our immunity?
This is one of the biggest questions that even professionals have trouble answering. Well, the issue is that immunity can not be checked. So, it may be challenging to find out if a supplement helps with immunity or not.
What is the immune system? This is the system that helps the body fight against incoming infections. Yes, your body is built to be able to protect itself. It is made up of specific cells and organs in your body. For example, the skin is part of the immune system. The skin is one of the first lines of defence against pathogens. Any crack or wound on your skin is a gateway for infections into the body that may potentially cause disease.
Our immune system can learn and adapt as it encounters different pathogens. It also grows with us and changes over time. When a baby is born, the first immune boost they get is from the mother’s breast milk. This milk is called colostrum and contains lots of proteins and immunoglobulins that are vital molecules for immunity. Also, the baby is placed on the mother’s chest. This action is for the baby to encounter with its first pathogens and start building immunity against them. As the baby grows up, its immune system encounters different pathogens and kills them. Luckily, the immune system has a database where it stores memories of these encounters and how it dealt with them. This ensures that it kills the pathogen faster the next time they encounter.
So, one of the best ways to prevent diseases is to keep your immune system healthy. Most pathogens will cause disease only when your immune system is weakened or damaged.
To keep your immune system healthy, you need to eat a healthy diet and stop activities like smoking and excess alcohol intake. The problem is that sometimes we can’t get enough nutrients from the diet. It could be as a result of some issues with your gut, or there are not enough nutrients in the food. So, we can use supplements to enhance the diet and get the required amount of nutrients. Some supplements have been shown to shorten the course of some diseases, and also decrease the symptoms.
Can supplements protect you from the coronavirus?
As we’ve mentioned before, the coronavirus and other viruses have severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, smokers, those with chronic diseases, and alcoholics. So, people are trying now to boost their immune systems with the most common things around, such as supplements. Supplements may boost the immune system and protect against viruses for some people and may not work for others. But it has been proven to be helpful in the long-run. Other things that will help everyone boost their immune system and protect against the corona and other viruses are a healthy diet, exercise, quality sleep, and avoiding stress.
Note that supplements help to augment the things mentioned above that boost the immune system. For example, vitamins will help provide a healthy diet; proteins, fish oils, and vitamins will help in exercise; cannabidiol (CBD) will help with sleep and stress. But their direct effect on immunity has not yet been fully understood.
What do we know?
Everyone wants some comfort. If we just say supplements are great for your health, there is going to be a sigh of relief and a decrease in tension. Unfortunately, that is not the case. With the thousands of supplements out there, saying that they work great is not accurate. Research that has been carried out shows that some supplements are not efficient.
The majority of people take supplements with the belief that it will protect them from ailments or preserve health; others take these supplements intending to treat specific medical conditions. Now, let us see what research has to say about supplements.
Vitamin D is needed by the body to regulate calcium, minerals, and phosphorus in the body. It also helps the body to maintain bone structure.
Humans can get vitamin D from sun exposure. Our skin can synthesise it from sunlight. Unfortunately, our way of life has significantly changed. We mostly work indoors and under shelters. Also, the use of sunscreen has become prevalent, and lots of people use it to protect against the harmful effects of sunlight. With all this, the body does not receive enough sunlight to produce sufficient vitamin D. People with darker skin and the elderly are more at risk to develop vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D can also be found in foods such as salmon, beef liver, and egg yolk.
Vitamin D and calcium work together to produce positive effects. For calcium to be absorbed in the intestines, vitamin D must also be present. That is the reason why vitamin D is so essential for the development and maintenance of healthy bones. It also helps to modulate cell growth, immune and neuromuscular functions, and inflammation.
It has become increasingly difficult to get sufficient vItamin D from diet. So, it makes sense to supplement it. It is a good idea to add it to your diet so that you may get the required amount. Guidelines recommend 600IU below age 71 and 800IU for those above 71. Lots of experts have suggested a dose of 800 to 1000IU per day. And the maximum dose of 4000IU per day. Anything more than this can be toxic and produce adverse effects.
Research has proven that it is best for treating osteoporosis, hypoparathyroidism, rickets, and vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D supplements are also widely used for bone loss and psoriasis. It is also widely used to prevent tooth loss, infections of the airways, and heart failure in women. Sufficient evidence for the other reasons why people take vitamin D has not yet been brought forth.
Vitamin A is a family of fat-soluble vitamins that can be referred to as retinoids. This class includes retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid. You may have also heard of Isotretinoin (Accutane), and beta carotenes or carotenoids which are precursors of vitamin A synthesis. We can obtain vitamin A from food sources such as vegetables, whole milk, fruits, eggs, meat, butter, and oily saltwater fish.
Vitamin A is an essential component for properly functioning vision and prevents dry eyes and facilitates phototransduction. It is also crucial to cellular differentiation and integrity of the eye. Thus, it is an essential component of the visual cycle.
Vitamin A deficiency is widespread. Manifestations of deficiency include vision loss, poor bone growth, nonspecific skin problems, and impaired immune system function.
Research has proven that vitamin A reduces the severity of symptoms in measles. Topical vitamin A is used to treat a variety of skin disorders such as psoriasis and acne. Also, multiple studies have observed no benefits in cardiovascular disease. There is insufficient evidence to prove its usefulness in lung and colon cancer.
The recommended daily allowance for males is 3000IU per day, and for females, it is 2300IU per day.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that prevents the production of harmful substances when fat is broken down in our body. We can obtain it from food sources such as wheat germ oil, eggs, meat, vegetables, and fruits.
Most vitamin E supplements provide only alpha-tocopherol. Vitamin E is widely used for treating its deficiency in the body. Even though vitamin E deficiency is rare to occur, it can be found in individuals with genetic disorders and low-weight premature infants.
Several pieces of research prove that vitamin E can be used to prevent or delay coronary heart disease. It can also help to prevent blood clot formation in the vessels. Another recent research showed that vitamin E did not have any effect on men’s cardiovascular health.
Also, vitamin E has been shown not to have any effect on cancer by research. Instead, there was an increased risk of prostate cancer in men who had quit smoking. Vitamin E can also be used in slowing the rate of cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
High doses of vitamin E supplements can cause adverse effects such as bleeding. The daily recommended dose for adults is 1000mg.
Vitamin C is also known as Ascorbic acid. It is a water-soluble and least toxic vitamin in overdose. Its daily recommended dose is between 70mg to 90mg for adults. For pregnant women, the dose may increase 120mg.
It is an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also increases the absorption of iron from plant-based sources. All citrus fruits are good sources, broccoli, green pepper, cabbage, tomatoes, and potatoes.
Individuals who lack vitamin C can develop a disease called Scurvy. It is unlikely to occur nowadays. But it can develop in institutionalised patients, chronic alcohol abuse, and chronic illness. This disease is treated with vitamin C supplementation.
The B vitamins
The most important B vitamins are B6 (pyridoxine), Folate (folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin). These vitamins can be gotten from food sources such as salmon, liver, eggs, milk, oysters, clams, legumes, pork, and many other foods.
These vitamins help to decrease the level of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that can cause several health problems such as heart disease when in high amounts. Studies have shown that these vitamins can decrease the levels of homocysteine.
For many years now, and based on some research, it was thought that the B vitamins even in amounts present in Multivitamins could decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. Unfortunately, these hopes have been shattered. Recent studies and a series of randomised clinical trials show that it is false. It is only valid in individuals with a very high level of homocysteine due to genetic issues. Notwithstanding, they still have other uses that are worth mentioning.
B12 can be obtained only from animal sources. So, people who are strict vegans should consider supplementing. The elderly should also take supplements because they don’t have enough stomach acid, which is necessary for the absorption of B12. Nevertheless, B12 is also added to fortified foods that do not need any stomach acid to be absorbed. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B12 is 2.4mcg per day. Supplements can be used if your diet can meet up with that amount.
Folate is a more complex B vitamin. It is used for the production of our red blood cells, and also helps in the production of DNA and repairing genetic code. The recommended dietary allowance for folate is 400mcg. Deficiencies in pregnant women can cause congenital disabilities. So, obstetricians recommend that pregnant women should use folate supplements. While some studies have shown that a normal amount of folic acid may protect the cells from malignant transformation, high amounts may produce the opposite effect. Other studies also suggest that a high amount of folic acid together with fortified foods may increase the risk of colon, prostate, and breast cancer.
CBD is Cannabidiol which is derived from cannabis. Cannabis is the only plant genus that contains a unique class of molecular compound called phytocannabinoids. There are more than 80 phytocannabinoids that have been identified, but the two most prevalent are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD.
THC is the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis — meaning that it is the component that gets you “high” while CBD does not. There are two types of cannabis plants — marijuana which is rich in THC that has been cultivated for recreational purposes, and hemp, which is low in THC but rich in CBD.
Cannabis is believed to have been used for medicinal, recreational, and for spiritual reasons throughout much of humankind’s history. However, it is only in recent times that we have come to understand how and why cannabis affects humans. This plant was primarily excluded from scientific studies due to its widespread illegality until the 1960s.
In 1992, the discovery of the existence of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body was groundbreaking. The ECS is the body’s largest system of receptors, and it is found in the nervous system and organs. It has been described as the molecular bridge between the body and the mind. It regulates both mood and homeostasis.
CBD is a way to get all the health benefits of cannabis without getting to sacrifice your cognitive state. CBD has come from nowhere to everywhere in these last few years. It has increasingly gained popularity because of the benefits it provides to people. Its applications are seemingly endless. Because of its wide range of uses, CBD infused products are one of the fastest-growing segments of the health industry. Even some pets are getting in on the action. For example, CBD is used to calm dogs. Even some products like burgers, coffee, tea, body and hair lotions are infused with CBD. Medical practitioners around the world have started recommending CBD to some patients.
CBD use is growing by leaps and bounds with a projected 22 billion dollar market by the year 2022.
CBD has shown to generally serve as a boon for brain health serving as both a neuroprotectant and enhancing neuroplasticity. Some studies have shown that CBD reduces pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, migraines, seizures, inflammatory bowels disease, psychosis, nausea, and improves your immune system.
CBD can be taken sublingually, topically in a cream or patch form, ingested with various edibles, vaped, and taken as pills. The benefits of CBD come with little to no side effects, according to the World Health Organisation.
For years now, it has been known that eating fish regularly can help in the protection against stroke and heart issues. Fish oils have also been proven to work by a randomised European clinical trial. The daily recommended dose for fish oils is 1000mg per day for people with heart diseases. Fish oils should also be recommended in people with cardiac risk factors such as high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Some researches also claim that it has health benefits in depression, arthritis, and bowel inflammation. Note that these claims have not been validated.
Calcium is an essential mineral needed by our body to strengthen bones and teeth. It also helps in the normal functioning of the nerves, heart, and blood. Calcium can be found in foods such as milk, mineral water, dairy products, broccoli, and kale.
As we have mentioned before, calcium and vitamin D work together. So, taking vitamin D without calcium will not protect you unless it is used with calcium. The recommended daily allowance is 1000mg before 71 and 1200mg after that. Supplements of calcium are great if your diet does not contain enough of it. Calcium citrate and calcium carbonate are the best to look for when supplementing. Calcium carbonate contains 40% of calcium by weight, while calcium citrate contains 21%.
Calcium carbonate is more available, convenient, and inexpensive. It is absorbed more efficiently with food because of its dependence on stomach acid. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food.
Research has proven that it is useful for indigestion, hyperkalemia, hypocalcemia, and kidney failure. It is also commonly used for bone loss in people using corticosteroids, for preventing osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome, and cancer.
A lot of people associate the intake of fibre supplements with the treatment of constipation. However, high fibre intake also has potential benefits in conditions such as heart disease, hernias, obesity, diverticulitis, and varicose veins. The recommended daily allowance is 35g a day. Fibre can be gotten from foods such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grain.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Research has shown that niacin is beneficial in lowering bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol in the body. It is prescribed as a treatment for obesity and hypercholesterolemia that can lead to cardiac diseases. A high dose of niacin is needed to achieve its therapeutic effect. About 100 times more than the recommended daily allowance (18mg). These high doses may cause adverse effects such as flushing, itching, erectile dysfunction, and headaches. It is advisable to take niacin under the supervision of a doctor.
In our gut, and specifically in our colon, we have millions of bacteria that are necessary for a healthy lifestyle. These bacteria are essential in breaking down undigested food products that make it through the small intestines, hence releasing specific vitamins and fatty acids that are very important to the body. In the intestines, you have a variety of bacteria that normally coexist with each other. Good bacteria can suppress the overproduction of toxic bacteria.
There’s a classic antibiotic-associated bacteria that people are aware of. One of the reasons doctors are very hesitant just to arbitrarily prescribe antibiotics is that we know that we’re going to get rid of the beneficial bacteria at the consequence of other bacteria. Recently, we’ve learned that you can counteract some of these antibiotic problems by giving probiotics.
Probiotics are a group of microorganisms that are beneficial to the host. Some prebiotics are food substances that these more beneficial bacteria tend to rely on for healthy growth. So by having a diet that is stimulatory to the benefit of these more friendly bacteria, you tend to have less gastrointestinal issues. There is a whole variety of probiotics. We’re just in the infancy of trying to understand all the benefits of probiotics in any given disease or symptomatic condition.
For the general population and who do not have any ongoing gastrointestinal symptoms, the use of a probiotic as a health supplement is not necessary. If an individual is going to take antibiotics, getting on a probiotic is very important to re-establish a normal healthy gut flora. Some individuals do have chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. In that subpopulation, the routine use of a probiotic can be very beneficial. It’s been shown to reduce symptoms significantly.
Proteins are the fuel that our muscles need to grow. It is an essential macromolecule that also helps in the repair of tissues, and also act as hormones and enzymes. It can be gotten from meat, fish, and some plants like soybeans. Eating foods that are rich in protein and taking protein supplements can give you lots of energy. Protein powders are a very popular supplement nowadays, especially in the fitness industry.
Protein supplements can be used to maintain your weight, muscle growth, and quick recovery after exercise. There are different types of protein powders, such as whey, casein, soy, pea, and hemp.
Supplements are not substitutes
Note that the best way to get all the nutrients you need is through naturally occurring foods. Supplements are advisable only when you can’t obtain enough of the nutrients through natural means. Supplements should not replace your food. It is impossible to live on supplements alone. That is why they are called supplements.
Healthy diets are absolutely needed in our society today. We are now in the age of fast and processed foods, and people do not get enough nutrients. Even with the deficit of nutrients in foods, lots of people are too busy to cook, or just don’t know how to cook. That may be the reason for the development of several chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems. The progression of some of these diseases may be slow, and the symptoms may sometimes not manifest. However, it has a general effect on the way we think, feel, and perform physical activities. Furthermore, it also weakens the immune system, making us prone to other diseases.
Supplements are a way to augment the diet and provide people with the necessary nutrients that they may be missing. Also, providing the public with accurate information about supplements is very important. People need to know what these supplements contain, their benefits, and adverse effects. That is why rigorous research needs to be done on supplements. The results need to be translated into comprehensive and useful information for consumers’ knowledge. Before taking a supplement, make sure you know of its efficacy, benefits, and adverse effects, not only from anecdotal evidence but also from research.
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