Dietary Supplements - Do You Really Need Them?

Posted by Dr. Eugene He on 31st Aug 2023

Dietary Supplements - Do You Really Need Them?

We know a balanced diet is key to providing us with essential nutrients to maintain energy and good health. So is there really a need for dietary supplements? With global sales of USD140.36 billion in 2020, many of us do seem to think that there is a place for health supplements. Approximately 40-50% of men and women in the United States take supplements daily, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, proteins and botanicals.

Bridging The Gap With Supplements

A well-balanced, nutrient rich diet, healthy lifestyle, and regular exercise are pillars of good health. Unfortunately, with easily accessible convenience foods, changes in climate and soil quality, and our busy lives, the food we eat may not provide all, or enough of the nutrients our body needs. In addition, personal dietary preferences or restrictions, health conditions that may compromise the absorption of certain nutrients, poor dietary habits also impact your nutritional status.

For example, those who choose a plant-based diet are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which is almost exclusively found in animal food sources. Insufficient B12 may lead to anemia, which is potentially a factor in fatigue or weakness.

Not only do we gain nutrients from our diet. Our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun. This is why vitamin D deficiency is commonly observed in areas further from the equator. Interestingly, vitamin D deficiency is also prevalent in South East Asia, where there is abundant sun year round. The reason is thought to be a stronger avoidance of the sun, as a fair complexion is highly desired in these regions.

Who Could Be at Risk Of Nutrient Deficiency?

Pregnancy and lactation

So, during pregnancy, the following nutrients may be recommended to support increased demand

  • Folic acid or folate - proven to prevent neural tube defects in unborns.
  • Vitamin D and calcium - Evidence suggests a high prevalence of calcium and vitamin D deficiencies exists in both pregnant women and babies. Moreover, Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and calcium regulation in pregnancy is slightly different as total serum calcium decreases gradually throughout pregnancy. During pregnancy, you give your baby all the calcium they need, so when you consume the recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D every day you are taking care of your baby and yourself.
  • Iron - Pregnancy increases your blood supply by up to 50 percent, that’s where iron comes in. An increase in blood supply means that you’ll need more red blood cells and more iron to make those blood cells. When you don’t have enough iron in your body, you can develop anemia and is the most common blood condition for pregnant women to develop. Severe anemia during pregnancy increases your risk of premature birth, having a low birth weight baby and postpartum depression.


Ageing is associated with a lot of conditions such as forgetfulness, joint pain and discomfort, vision problems, cardiovascular diseases and other health problems.

The following vitamins may help in such cases:

  • Memory enhancers - Vitamin B12, B6, omega-3 fatty acid and extracts from medicinal plants such as Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba have been scientifically studied to improve mental performance.
  • Joint health- Clinical trials have shown Curcumin to be useful for decreasing inflammation (contributes to premature aging) and joint pain, as well as for pre-diabetic individuals.
  • Metabolic health- Vitamin B, Nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), Vitamin D, calcium, iron and magnesium help with metabolism and maintaining healthy body weight.
  • Healthy Heart & Brain - supplementing with Omega-3 may improve cardiovascular health, healthy cholesterol levels, and brain function.
  • Good Vision - lutein and astaxanthin are rich in carotenoids, which may help to slow vision loss from age-related macular degeneration.


Vegan diet lacks calcium, zinc, iron and vitamin B12. So vegans should incorporate these supplements into their day to day life.

Immunity boosters

Research has shown that supplementing with certain vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other substances can help improve immune response and protects you from toxins and infections. Here are a few immunity boosting supplements- Vitamin C and D, Black elderberry, selenium, astragalus, curcumin, echinacea, zinc.

Energy boosters

Eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are the best ways to maintain your natural energy levels. But these things are not always possible, especially when balancing the demands of life. Moreover, sportspeople and athletes need to take daily dietary supplements to enhance their endurance and performance. Here are a few supplements that can help you increase your energy levels, decrease mental as well as physical fatigue, and enhance stamina - Vitamin B12, Nicotinamide mononucleotide(NMN), Citrulline, tyrosine, L theanine, beet powder, medicinal herbs such as Ashwagandha and Rhodiola.

Supplement Safety

Supplement according to your individual needs and health status. Speak with your health professional if you are pregnant, taking medication, planning to have surgery, or if in doubt. Always read the label for contraindications, and follow the recommended dosage, unless otherwise advised by your physician. Certain nutrients may cause some unwanted effects:

  • Iron - may cause constipation. Taken in excess, iron can accumulate within the tissues, and increase oxidation, or free radical damage. Supplement with iron only if deficiency is confirmed with a blood test.
  • Calcium - excessive intake, ie. over 2,500mg/day, increases risk of kidney stones, cardiovascular disease and constipation. Combining with vitamin K2 helps prevent calcium accumulation in organs and vessels, and into bone, where it is needed.

When selecting your supplement, make sure to read the ingredient label, as capsules used for certain supplements may be from animal sources, so if you are vegetarian or vegan you need to look out for this. Vitamin K - avoid while taking blood thinning medication as it interferes with your blood thinning medications and consult with your doctor before taking it. 

Supplements may enhance your health if you understand what you need and why. Remember, they do not replace a healthy diet. Choose established, reputable brands, preferably with third party certification. Consulting a nutritionist or the dietician will help you understand your unique nutritional requirements, and ensure that you are taking what you need.

About the Author

Dr. Eugene He

Eugene is the founder of Invity, a clinical naturopath and a nutraceutical formulator. He has spent the past twenty years educating and writing about nutrition, phytotherapy and general wellness. His work has been featured in Forbes, Yahoo, Tatler, CEW, Allure and many other publications around the world.

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