“You need a liver transplant. This has to happen fast, as
you only have less than a week to live.” Jim received this shocking news from
his doctor three weeks after he and his wife noticed a slight change in his
health. Jim McCants’ story ran on BBC news in October 2018.
Jim started taking green tea supplements to improve his
health and weight, but barely three months into this journey, the thing that
promised him better health almost killed him and left him sickly and with a
Like Jim, many Kenyans have realised the value of good
health and are increasingly looking for remedies to help them stay healthier.
In doing so, many people rely on alternative channels of self-diagnosis and
identification of health needs, eventually going for quick fixes that promise fast
results with little or no effort.
Nutritional supplements and other complementary nutritional
products have gained popularity with their promise of quick, miraculous
results. Since dietary and herbal supplements aren’t regulated like drugs, they
can be easily procured, even from hawkers in public transport, without a
prescription that promotes their use.
There is a lot of publicity on the potential benefits of
supplements, usually targeting vulnerable individuals. Unlike medicine,
supplements rarely indicate prospective side effects, and advertising doesn’t
include possible harmful effects.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in
2015 showed that adverse effects of supplements were responsible for
approximately 23,000 emergency department visits every year. The majority of
those visiting were mostly women on weight loss supplements and men on sexual
enhancement and bodybuilding products.
Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology
titled ‘Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: updated results of the
selenium and vitamin E cancer prevention trial,’ found that dietary
supplementation with vitamin E significantly increases the risk of prostate
cancer among healthy men. Over-consumption of vitamin E is also associated with
an increased risk of heart failure.
Supplements have their place, and some do enhance health in
different situations that are well researched on. For example, calcium supports
bone health, and vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium. Folic acid can
help prevent severe congenital disabilities of the spinal cord and brain. Such
prescriptions come with correct dosage depending on the severity of the
deficiency, age, and physiological status.
Even though many people take supplements to improve or
maintain health, not everyone needs them. It is possible to get all your
nutrients by eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods from all food