Determine your need for supplements before taking them

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lisa Baker
  • 71st Medical Group
Vitamin and mineral supplements are sometimes an issue for Airmen and their families.
Many people ask if they should take a supplement. Some of their concerns are addressed in the following three questions.
Are there any vitamins or minerals that will boost my energy level?
Vitamins and minerals do not provide energy. Only calories from food can provide energy.
Imagine your body is a car. When your car runs out of gas, you refuel it.
In this situation, the gas you put in your car is similar to the food you eat to keep your body going. It provides your body with the energy to work.
Now imagine the parts of the "car's" engine. The spark plugs, the carburetor and the fan belt are similar to vitamins and minerals. They allow your car to use gas as energy, but they themselves do not provide you with energy. Iron is an example of a mineral helping your body use energy. The iron helps your blood carry more oxygen, thus facilitating more energy. If your blood is low in iron, a condition called anemia, build it back up with an iron supplement or foods rich in iron.
To increase the amount of energy you have, examine the "fuels" you put into your body. Putting high-octane gas in your car may help it run better, the engine parts may last longer and provide you with more efficient driving for years to come. The high-octane lifestyle is characterized by choosing a wide variety of nourishing foods eaten every three to five hours. Also essential to high-octane lifestyles are regular physical activity, stress reduction, adequate sleep and meditation.
If a little supplementation is good, then is more better?
What if you placed an extra spark plug in your car? If your car was designed for eight spark plugs and you put in a ninth one, it would probably flip around in your engine and get caught in the fan belt. Not only would that extra spark plug not help, it could also keep other parts of your car from working properly. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements above the recommended daily allowance is the same as that extra spark plug. It gets in the way. For example, extra phosphorus will decrease the absorption of calcium and possibly cause osteoporosis, or brittle bones.
Do vitamin and mineral supplements prevent disease?
Supplements may assist in preventing disease; however, they are not a total prevention method. Some research shows that antioxidants -- vitamin A, C, E, B6 and folacin, plus the minerals iron, zinc, and selenium -- can help prevent some cancers, but current studies show this is more related to eating fruits and vegetables rather than taking an antioxidant supplement.
Calcium intake is linked to preventing osteoporosis. However, you need the right ratio of phosphorus and vitamin D with the calcium for best absorption -- exactly what a cup of milk contains.
Dietary supplements may be appropriate for some people who can't eat certain foods for medical reasons. Perhaps you cannot drink milk because you are lactose intolerant. Consult a physician or dietitian to see if you may need a supplement. Nutritional supplements may assist in preventing disease, but they are not a substitute for healthy living and eating real food!