In one glass, there is milk. The other glass contains alcohol. Because glasses look similar, does it mean the contents are similar? Will you compare milk with alcohol just because of the same glass?
Then why do we compare supplements with medicines? Just because, both of them come in similar-looking tablets/capsules? Both are as different as chalk and cheese or milk and alcohol.
What are food or dietary supplements? They can be vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc. Delivered in the form of pills, tablets, capsules, liquid, etc. They look similar to medicines but they are not. The purpose of supplements is to provide the body with the right nutrition which may not be consumed in sufficient quantities through food. 
Like most Indians, I have always been wary of supplements!
For a larger part of my life, I have also seen supplements as medicines and tried to stay away from them. But as I studied more about it, my third eye opened (even though I am not Vishnu, not Shiva). As a critic, I have become a big fan of supplements.
Top 5 Reasons Why Almost Everyone Needs Supplements!
1. Food is Not the Same as It Used To Be
I am a big believer in “Food is the best medicine”. And I will swear by the healing power of food. But at the same time, I do realize that the foods that we consume in today’s time are not the same. Heavy use of pesticides, fertilizers and every possible means to increase yield has degraded the quality of foods. So to make up for it, we need food supplements. For me, food supplements are just an extension of food.
2. Minerals and Vitamins are Depleted with Storage and Cooking
Foods tend to start losing their nutrition as soon as they are plucked. Grapes lose 30% of their vitamin B by the time they reach the market. Tangerines lose half of Vitamin C in 8 weeks. Whereas asparagus loses 90% of its Vitamin C in 1 week. If all of us had a personal farm, we would probably not need supplements.
Cooking also reduces the nutritional value of foods. It is advisable to steam food or cook them as light as possible. But for most of us, it’s impractical. Also, processing food reduces nutrition. For E.g. milling grains removes 26 essential nutrients and vitamins and most of the fibre.
3. Bioavailability is an Issue
Did you know that 40% of vitamin C in orange juice is not bioavailable i.e. your body cannot absorb 40% of vitamin C. So, even if food is nutritious, not everything gets absorbed? Though, I am not too concerned about this point.
4. If You Are Deficient in Some Nutrients, it’s Impractical to Get Them From Only Food
Over 90% of Indians in urban India are deficient in Vitamin D. To cover up for this deficiency, one has to sit in the sun for an hour every day, almost semi-naked, not practical. Vitamin D supplements come to the rescue.
Also, if you are deficient in any other nutrients, e.g. iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, you will need to consume kgs of foods to get the right amount of nutrients. Again, supplements are the only practical solution.
5. If You Can Fight Disease with Safe Supplements, Then Why Rely Only on Medicines?
Our body is an amazing machine. It’s a million times more powerful than any man-made machine. It has amazing healing powers and is capable of fighting almost any disease. But it needs its weapons. And its weapons are nutrients i.e. minerals and vitamins. Do you expect Thor to fight with a hammer? Or Captain America without his shield? Even SuperHeroes would lose without their weapons. But we expect our body to remain healthy by robbing it of its weapons. Almost all diseases happen because of nutritional deficiency. E.g. hypothyroidism happens because of a deficiency of selenium, iodine, and vitamin D, amongst others. Similarly, zinc, vitamin D, chromium, and magnesium deficiency lead to diabetes.
None of the medicines for these diseases takes care of the root cause. They only manage the symptoms. Hence, you have to be on medications all your life for chronic diseases. Never ever make the mistake of ignoring nutrients and relying only on medications. Never. Ever.
Top Concerns That You May Have Around Supplements
Are they safe? Are there any side effects?
As long as you are taking the right brand and under the right guidance, they are 100% safe. Like medicines, there are no side effects of supplements. They are the next best thing to food.
How long can you take it?
As long as we are alive. One can take a multivitamin for as long as one wants. It covers a spectrum of minerals and vitamins. But in 1 tablet, one can only have limited nutrients. If you suffer from any particular deficiency, then you need additional supplements for that. It’s always good to talk to an expert to figure out which one you need.
How to figure out which supplements to take?
The first step is to look at your symptoms/disease. And then take a comprehensive blood test which has a detailed mineral, and vitamin profile. And then talk to an expert to figure out which one to buy.
As supplements are safe, with some research, you can figure out which ones you need. E.g. If you have a fatty liver, you can safely take milk thistle.
We will soon have a feature in our app to help you better. You can update the values of your lab reports and symptoms/disease, and we will recommend supplements.
Are they effective? Or do they just create expensive urine?
There are good companies in this space. And not so good ones. It’s very important to ensure that you buy the right products. If you do so, supplements are definitely very effective. Otherwise, it will lead to expensive urine. But that’s true with almost all things in life. If you buy anything fake, you don’t expect the same performance. But that does not make the original product bad.
Suggested Read: Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss
Which Supplements Do I Take?
My list is not always the same. It keeps on changing. Here is the list of 10 supplements that I have taken in the last 1 year (some for 1-2 months, some for more).
- Multivitamins: This is a no-brainer. Everyone should be eating one multivitamin every day. It has over 30 minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
- Vitamin D: This is my favourite, I was shocked to see my Vitamin D levels were just 3 (min is 30, optimal is 70) when I started researching nutrition. It’s one of the most powerful nutrients (it’s actually not a vitamin, but a hormone) and is key to good health. And there is a 90% chance that you are deficient in it. Get yourself checked for it if you have not got it.
- Omega 3: Omega 3 fats are again super critical for good health. As per WebMD, “They’re key to the structure of every cell wall you have. They’re also an energy source and help keep your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system working the way they should.” And people who don’t have a lot of fish would mostly be not consuming the right quantities of omega-3 fatty acids. Hence supplements become essential.
- Vitamin B12: I am largely vegetarian. And it’s kind of impossible to get enough Vitamin B12 in a veg diet.
- Milk thistle: These natural food supplements are great for the liver.
- Zinc: My blood test showed that I was not having an optimal range of Zinc.
- Thyroid supplement: Though my TSH levels are normal, my T4 levels are a bit low. Hence, taking a supplement which has a range of nutrients and ayurvedic herbs.
- Antioxidant tablets: Antioxidants are one of the most underrated nutrients. They are key to staying youthful, avoiding ageing, and warding off most diseases including cancer. I have taken different types like Resveratrol, ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid) and Glutathione. And I take green supplements.
We hardly deal in the supplements business. We have few but we have always been a food company. Hence, this article is not written to promote our business. Though, I understand that our offering is incomplete without having the right supplements. And it’s important to have the right supplements to ensure they are effective. Hence, now we are working on developing a supplement range.
- E.G.Campbell, “Doctors and Drug Companies- Scrutinizing Influential Relationships,” New England journal of medicine 357 (2007): 1796-97; M.M.Chren,‘ Interactions between Physicians and Drug company Representatives’, American Journal of Medicine 107, no 2 (1999); 182-183.
- Bowden, Jonny, and Sinatra. “The Great Cholesterol Myth.” Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease–And the Statin-Free Plan That Will, 2020.