If you follow a well-balanced, healthy diet, you should be getting in all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs. If you aren’t though, you may need to start taking dietary supplements. A supplement is a substance that you might need if you aren’t getting enough nutrients in your diet. It can also be used to give your body an extra boost that will help lower your risk for health problems.

Dietary supplements come in the form of capsules, powders, gels, tablets, liquids and even extracts. These supplements may contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, fibre or enzymes. Sometimes, supplements are even added to foods and drinks.

Should you take supplements?

It may seem harmless to take some extra vitamins or minerals to ‘boost your health’. However, if you take too many supplements for too long, it can actually be harmful. You may not need a doctor’s prescription for supplements, but it’s important to talk to your doctor and get clued up before taking them.

Some supplements are needed for specific reasons or conditions:

– Vitamin D supplements

Some people are at risk of not having enough Vitamin D. For example, babies who are fed with less than 500ml of formula should be given a Vitamin D supplement. People who aren’t often exposed to the sun should also be taking Vitamin D especially those who live in institutions like care homes or people with disabilities who don’t necessarily go outside often.

– Folic acid supplements

All women thinking of having a baby should have a folic acid supplement. Pregnant women up to week 12 of their pregnancy should also be taking it. Folic acid can help prevent defects during pregnancy. Your gynaecologist is the best person to advise you on taking folic acid, have a chat before you take it.

– Iron supplements

Besides Vitamin D, an iron deficiency is common. An iron deficiency can lead to a medical condition called iron deficiency anaemia. Other supplements like vitamins A and C may be given to children aged six months to five years if they’re fussy eaters who may not be getting enough nutrition.

Before taking a supplement:

– Talk to your doctor

Specific supplements could affect how medications work. For instance, some supplements could increase the risk of bleeding. If you take certain supplements before or after surgery, it could affect your response to anaesthesia.

Learn, learn, learn

If you’re thinking of taking a supplement, read up as much as you can about it. Be aware of the sources where you get your information. Talk to a pharmacist or a registered dietician. If your doctor or pharmacist suggests a specific supplement, don’t choose a different brand or dose. Their recommendation is the safest bet.