Health food supplements are one of the hottest selling products in the market these days. Their total consumption values billions of dollars in the U.S. alone. Recent surveys show that more than half of the adults in the U.S. consume health food supplements in different forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, soft gels, gel caps and liquids.
The increased consumption of health food supplements can be attributed to public awareness of health issues and improved standard of living in our society. Many studies have shown that there is a close correlation between health and nutrition. Insufficient supply of nutrients can weaken our body defense mechanism, causing medical problems from common ailments to more severe illnesses in the long term.
There are different types of health food supplements, including macronutrients (amino acids, proteins, essential fatty acids), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), enzymes (digestive enzymes and antioxidant enzymes), probiotics (beneficial bacteria in the gut), and herbal supplements. These supplements have unique functions in our body. They are either essential for life and good health, modulate our immune system or help with liver detoxification, digestion, mental clarity, etc.
Many people argue that there is no need to consume health food supplements as long as you have a healthy lifestyle and eat a balanced diet. While this may be true, the fact is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and proper diet is difficult to achieve by many people.
Over the past few decades, the green revolution has changed the farming practices over the world. We use more chemical fertilizers, more pesticides to grow the food produce in order to increase harvest and shorten the growth period. As a result, soil nutrients and the population of beneficial soil bacteria are depleted rapidly, and the produce we grow today contain less micronutrient than before.
A stressful lifestyle, improper eating habits, imbalanced diet and increased exposure to chemicals such as environmental pollutants (air, water) and pesticides, drugs, hormones, heavy metals in foods also weaken our body gradually.
Although health food supplements can be beneficial to our health, consumers should still choose the products carefully. Currently, there is little regulation on the quality of health food supplements. Composition of some health food products may not match the label claims and the quality of raw materials and finished products is not guaranteed. Therefore, consumers should only buy from reputable health food manufacturers, read the labels carefully and read more related literatures.
Here are some general rules for buying health food supplements:
1) Supplements made from whole foods, natural sources are better than the synthetic ones. They are more bioactive, can be absorbed readily, and less likely to be contaminated by chemicals such as coal tars used in chemical synthesis.
2) Protein-bonded vitamins and minerals (vitamins and minerals in organic form, binding to amino acids) are more bioactive than the inorganic forms.
3) Buy supplements using safe extraction methods, such as cold pressed extraction or supercritical extraction. This can avoid the harmful residue from chemical extraction.
4) Herbal concentrate and extract are usually more effective than the raw herbs.
5) Organically grown or wild crafted herbs are less likely to be contaminated by heavy metals, pesticides and other chemicals.
6) Read the labels, do not consume more than the recommended dose.
7) Be careful when consuming certain herbal supplements, such as Ma Huang / ephedra, Kava Kava, comfrey, etc. Some studies have shown that these herbs may cause severe side effects to some people. Stop use if unusual signs appear after consumption.
8) Some health food supplements may interact with drugs, either by decreasing or increasing their effects. Consult your doctor if you are currently taking medications.
9) Pregnant and nursing women, people with specific medical conditions such consult the doctors when consuming health food supplements.
10) If in doubt, contact the supplement manufacturers or distributors for more information of their products.
11) Health food supplements are available in many places, such as grocery stores, health food stores, drug stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, department stores, online stores, etc. Be a smart consumer, compare the price and service before purchase.