There is a lot of different kind of supplements on the market. This blog post will specifically discuss the types of supplements that can be used to correct and/or prevent nutrition deficiencies.
Other blog posts in this series are:
- Should I take supplements or not? How do I know if they’re safe?
- Use of supplements for practical reasons
- Use of supplements to achieve direct performance benefits
- Use of supplements to achieve indirect performance benefits
Do you have a deficiency?
When we speak about nutritional deficiencies we mainly speak about a shortage of one or more minerals and vitamins (micronutrients). A simple blood test can usually tell you whether or not you are missing out on something. A regular blood test analyzes only the most common micronutrient deficiencies and only when there is a suspected shortage of something else a specific test is done.
Other ways to evaluate if you’re at risk for any deficiencies are:
- Medical history – Do you have any symptoms that might indicate a deficiency?
- Nutrition history – Are you getting enough vitamins and minerals from your diet on a daily basis?
- Body composition analysis – A low bone mineral density can indicate a calcium deficiency.
What to do if you do have a deficiency?
One solution, if you have a deficiency, is to take a supplement specifically targeting what you lack and hope for better results in the next blood test.
A better approach is to figure out what the real problem is you’re having this deficiency. A lot of the time you can solve it and avoid future problems by making an adjustment in your nutritional habit. For example, if you’re suffering from an iron deficiency, eat more products high in iron, like red meat and green leafy vegetables. Also, make sure your vitamin C uptake is optimal because vitamin C helps absorbing iron. Depending on the severity of the deficiency you can opt for temporary support by supplementing the mineral or vitamin you’re lacking. However, it’s not always possible to adjust the diet to correct a deficiency. It would be very hard to convince vegans and vegetarians to start eating more meat to cure their vitamin B12 deficiency.
When deciding on taking a supplement always check with your doctor that it doesn’t interact with any medicine you are currently taking.
Should I take supplements to prevent deficiencies?
Vitamins and minerals shouldn’t be taken as an insurance policy. Just as not having enough, having too much can cause health problems as well. For the same reason, you shouldn’t apply a “more is better” strategy when it comes to supplements. While it’s not that easy to overdose by eating regular food, it’s very easy to ingest too many micronutrients by taking a few extra pills.
That being said in some cases there is a reason to believe a person is at high risk for a deficiency and prevention might be a good idea. People living in northern countries are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency, especially in the winter. It might be a good idea to discuss this with your doctor.
All this information is based on a consensus statement of the IOC