“You need a liver transplant. This has to happen fast as you only have less than a week to live.” Jim received 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 on 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 chronic disease.
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Just 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 are relying 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. Due to the fact that dietary and herbal supplements aren’t regulated like drugs, they can be easily procured, even from hawkers in public transport, without a prescription which promotes their use.
There is a lot of publicity on potential benefits of supplements usually targeting vulnerable individuals. Unlike medicine, supplements rarely indicate potential side effects and publicity 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. Majority of those visiting were mostly women on weight loss supplements and men on sexual enhancement and body building 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 increase the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men. Over-consumption of vitamin E is also associated with 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 absorption of calcium. Folic acid can help prevent serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. Such prescriptions come with correct dosage depending on severity of the deficiency, age and physiological status of a person.
Even though many people take supplements to improve or maintain health, not everyone needs them. It is actually possible to get all your nutrients by eating well balanced diet with a variety of foods from all food groups.