Vitamins, mineral supplements can boost immune system, but there’s a downside one should consider

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Available over-the-counter in pharmacies in the forms of tablets, capsules, gels, powders, or liquids, dietary supplements are perhaps the easiest way to make up for any nutrient deficiencies you might have.

Whether you have a common cold, COVID-19, or any type of disease, a healthy immune system is your best defence. And what your immune system needs to stay in perfect working order is a combination of nutrients, exercise, sleep and rest. It’s also well-known that most of our diets do not fulfil our body’s requirement for these nutrients, leading to a weakened immune system and diseases due to nutrient deficiencies. And that’s where the need for dietary supplements arises from.

Available over-the-counter in pharmacies in the forms of tablets, capsules, gels, powders, or liquids, dietary supplements are perhaps the easiest way to make up for any nutrient deficiencies you might have. But supplements have some drawbacks as well and you should be aware of what they are before you reach for them.

The innumerable benefits of taking supplements

A new study in the journal Nutrients indicates that older adults (between the ages of 55 and 75 years) who took multivitamin and mineral supplements consisting of zinc and vitamin C experienced shorter periods of sickness. What’s more, the same group of participants in this study also showed less severe symptoms of illness while they were sick.

The study, while underlining that micronutrients like vitamins and minerals play a huge role in the functioning of the immune system, also indicates that age-related nutritional deficiencies lead to increased inflammation and low T-cell function. Taking multivitamin and mineral supplements can reduce these deficiencies and boost the immune system of older adults. But it’s not just older adults who benefit from taking supplements.

Supplementation of nutrients like iron, calcium, and folate for women is recommended not only to maintain health but also to reduce the risks of deficiencies that may occur during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Vitamin D deficiency — which is predominant in India, and has been linked to increased COVID-19 to depression risks — is something that can start in early life and affect your health status throughout. Another recent study in the journal Gut Microbes indicates that vitamin D supplementation in maternal as well as infant diet can change a baby’s gut microbiome as early as three months of age, and might reduce the risk of many digestive health disorders like diarrhoea.

Risks of dietary supplementation

So, recent research supports the intake of dietary supplements through different mechanisms from early life and well into advanced years to bolster the immune system against a plethora of diseases. But this in no way means you can just head to a medical store and get any type of multivitamin and mineral supplement you need. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that the bulk of your micronutrients come from your healthy and nutritionally balanced diet, and not from supplements – and nutritionists agree.

“Try to add all the micronutrients through your daily diet, especially by increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and other nutrient-dense foods,” says Akanksha Mishra, a Nutrition and Wellness Expert associated with myUpchar. “Before taking any supplement regularly, consult your doctor and try to check for their deficiency in your body through a blood or urine test.”

Mishra underlines that consulting an expert is necessary because over-supplementation can be just as bad as a nutritional deficiency. “All nutrients have a correlation with each other, so don’t overdose yourself,” she says. “An overdose of any nutrient can create toxicity in your body and can affect how other nutrients are synthesised as well.” The FDA also indicates that dietary supplements often contain active ingredients that can cause strong biological reactions. The FDA lists the following as dangerous use of dietary supplements, and you should refrain from engaging in them for your benefit:

  • Combining two or more supplements or taking them at the same time.
  • Using supplements with prescribed or over-the-counter medications.
  • Using supplements instead of prescribed medications.
  • Taking too much of some supplements, like vitamin A, D, iron, or calcium, without the prescription or knowledge of a healthcare professional or doctor.

For more information, read our article on Nutritional deficiency.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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