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Supplements: Essential to Health, or a Waste of Money?


Supplements are a billion dollar industry in Australia. And they make promises just as big! But do they live up to these promises?

should i use supplementsExpensive marketing campaigns using Hollywood stars and famous athletes have been key strategies for these companies to convince us, the general public, that supplementation is essential if we want to look and feel our best.

But is this true? Are these expensive supplements worth it, are they necessary? Do they make us healthier, happier and improve our lives? Or do they just harm the health of our bank balance?    

Regulation of supplements

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is the Australian Government body responsible for regulating prescription medicines, vaccines, vitamins, surgical implants, sunscreens and more. However, it is surprising to most people that the regulation of the majority of supplements sold in Australia is much less thorough than they would expect.

The TGA is a government funded body that has limited resources. With 600 staff and over 65,000 products to review and monitor, the TGA simply does not have the capability to evaluate all products in detail. So a risk-based approach is taken, where the TGA focuses its efforts on evaluating higher risk goods.

In practice, this means that lower risk goods are able to self-certify. Yes, manufacturers certify these products themselves. The TGA states that they do no testing for effectiveness of these self-certified products. We must trust the manufacturer themselves that the claims they make are true [TIP: you can identify a self-certified product by the AUST L reference on the label).

Pros of Supplementing

• Its often said that supplementation is necessary to maintain good health because of depleted nutrition in modern-day foods. The argument is that soils have been depleted by industrial farming methods, resulting in lower quality and less nutritious food. There is some evidence supporting this.  So, if you are someone that does not have a good diet, supplementation may be beneficial.

• Another reason to supplement is if you have a diagnosed deficiency in a certain vitamin or nutrient. It might be zinc, iron, vitamin D. In this case a medical professional will diagnose a deficiency and prescribe a supplement for you to take in order to get the balance right.

Cons of Supplementing

• Supplements can be expensive and there's often little evidence that they work. Many studies supporting the health claims can be very weak and may not stand up to accepted standards of clinical trials.

• As most supplements are self-regulated, we need to take any health claims on trust, that the company manufacturing the product resists the temptation to over-state these claims for their own financial benefit.

• Supplements can interact with other medications, and most people take them without any diagnosis.

• Large dosages of isolated vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients can be toxic. There have been reported cases of this in recent years, one in particular where a concentrated green tea extract was the suspected cause of liver failure.

supplements v foodWhat should you do?

Whether you think that supplements are necessary or not, we highly recommend you follow these basic steps before starting a supplementation program:

1) Review your lifestyle first. Can you improve your diet, get more sleep, can you get more exercise?

2) Consult with a doctor or health professional. They can offer the best advice and arrange tests to get real scientific data about any deficiencies that you might have.

3) Finally, we would urge you to think deeply before you pop that next supplement. Don’t just accept the amazing claims that are often made. Dig a bit deeper and do some research for yourself. Remember the old saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

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