The increase in consumption of nutritional supplements (and their efficacy) in the Covid-19 pandemic

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been an increased shift towards health and nutrition, and rightfully so. With stronger immunity and greater health, it becomes easier to ward off a host of illnesses and recover faster. While consuming healthy vegetables and fruits is essential, many also turned attention to nutritional supplements to meet their body’s nutrition requirements.

“In the grips of a devastating global pandemic, consumers sought additional protections from viral infection and disease based on the assumption that supplement products may offer health benefits or ‘immune boosting‘ effects if consumed,” noted a study, Dietary supplements and nutraceuticals market growth during the coronavirus pandemic – Implications for consumers and regulatory oversight.

A recent survey by consultancy firm EY India also highlighted that Indian consumers are now willing to spend more on fitness, health, and nutrition with the Covid-19 creating “the biggest seismic shift” taking health and immunity to the center stage.

Rise of nutritional supplements market in India

As a result of the growing demand, several ‘made in India’ nutritional supplements ranging from tasty gummies and strips to powders, blends, and teas became popular in the country.

“The pandemic surely increased the consumption of supplements globally as people started to be more self-aware about keeping themselves and their families healthy and safe from various foods and lifestyle diseases,” said Rakshit Mehta, CEO, NanoVeda – a brand combining nanotechnology and Ayurveda to create dissolvable strips of nutritional supplements. He shared that NanoVeda Immune Strips, Iron Strips, Sleep Strips, Ashwagandha and Curcumin Strips were some of the favorites during the pandemic.

A similar upward trend was observed by CosMix – which makes supplements using superfood blends and adaptogens, both of which target particular problems. “People became more aware of what’s good for them and their overall well-being. Health took priority like never before, especially when it came to the gut. Luckily, we were already talking about its importance and had the solution ready,” said Vibha Harish, founder, CosMix.

What are nutritional supplements?

Before we delve deeper, let’s understand more about what nutritional supplements exactly are. According to Vidhi Dhingra, senior clinical dietician, vHealth by Aetna, nutritional supplements are products “added to the diet when one is unable to meet the requirements of the body. It usually contains one or more dietary ingredients which help in meeting the daily recommended dietary requirements needed. Essential nutritional supplements include vitamins, mineralsproteins, fat, water and carbohydrates.”

Agreed Anagha PA, clinical dietitian, Manipal Hospital, “Some nutritional supplements can be taken generally for overall well-being. Some are exclusively used in therapeutic conditions where the supplements include whey protein, hydrolyzed forms of protein, rich in immuno nutrients etc.”

How effective are nutritional supplements?

Experts believe when consumed at the right time and in the right quantity, supplements can help increase overall health and performance.

“They also help in managing and preventing certain health conditions. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are effective for strengthening bones, folic acid supplements have successfully been used to reduce the risk of certain birth defects, fish oil is good for heart and brain health, protein supplements are known to build muscles and expedite recovery. Vitamin C supplements boost immunity and have been widely prescribed by doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic as well,” explained Aman Puri, founder, Steadfast Nutrition.

It is, however, important to note that supplements are no substitute for a well-balanced nutritious meal. Only when the requirements are not fulfilled by our daily diet, supplements should be used to fulfill the deficiency. “It is important to include a variety of foods in the whole day meal plan in a balanced manner,” Dhingra said.

Who really needs them?

From age and weight to exercise levels and other bodily requirements — the required dosage of supplements vary from person to person, experts note. “Taking supplements has become a necessity for most people in this day and age of stress, paucity of freshly produced foods, poor diet, unhealthy lifestyles, calorie-restrictive diets, and resulting nutritional deficiencies,” Puri said.

Emphasizing the need for supplements in women, he added, “Women in particular need supplements due to nutritional deficiencies caused as they pass through different stages of their life like menstruation, pregnancybreastfeeding, and menopause.”

Additionally, elderly people and those in the post-operative stage need such supplements to support their health and recovery. However, it is essential to consult an expert before starting any supplements to ensure the right dosage.

Seasonal herbal supplements

Anagha listed a few herbal supplements that are best consumed in the summer, winter and rainy seasons.

Summer – Oregano, parsley, chamomilebasil
Winter – Thyme, oregano, chives, mints and chamomile
Monsoon- Tulsiginger, garlic, coriander and mulethi

“Thyme, parsley, basil, oregano if taken in the limited amount can be consumed throughout the year,” Dhingra added.

With summer season steadily setting in, Puri shared simple and delicious ways to consume the goodness of some summer-friendly herbs. “One can enjoy mint in summers in form of lemon- mint mojito, or mint raita to get the natural cooling effect of this herb. You can also make mint-infused water, refrigerate it, and consume it for refreshing yourself during summertime dehydration. Another very popularly used herb is lemongrass consumed during summers in form of lemongrass iced tea which helps in better digestion and has a soothing effect on the stomach.”

Consume with caution

While nutritional supplements are known to have many benefits for health, as discussed, they must be consumed with caution. “Overdose can have side effects and can be counter-productive to one’s health. For example, if there is a deficiency of vitamin B-6 and the patient consumes the supplement above recommended dosage, it can lead to nerve damage. Similarly, vitamin D supplements should not be consumed with caffeinated beverages and iron-rich supplements as it can interfere with its absorption,” Dhingra explained.

Additionally, “Avoid Vitamin A supplements in pregnancy (to avoid birth defects) and if you smoke (to avoid chances of cancer). Excess of vitamin C and E may trigger the growth of tumors,” Puri said.

Anagha added that renal supplements should be consumed by renal patients only.

Keep these essential points in mind

If you are planning to include some nutritional supplements in your daily diet, don’t miss these important pointers, as suggested by nutrition experts.

  1. Not everyone needs supplements. Seek medical guidance before starting a diet to understand whether one really needs extra nutrition. Even over-the-counter supplements should not be consumed without expert consultation
  2. Ensure you fully understand foods and medications that may interfere with the supplements you intend to take. Complete knowledge of the supplement composition & counteracting foods or medications is vital.
  3. Supplements don’t make a person superhuman. One should be aware of the body’s limitations and not go overboard with rigorous exercise regimes.
  4. Using cheap quality supplements can damage your organs in the long run. Use only high-quality supplements for a better quality of life.

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