Whether via pills, powders, or other potions, people funnel lots of money every year into nutrient supplements. This article will continue the discussion on supplements started in the previous article. Many of the nutrients people spend money on can be adequately supplied through a balanced and varied diet, and some of these nutrients are over-valued – and can be dangerous to overdo — as will be discussed here.
Protein is an important nutrient, but the volume that is needed is generally overestimated in the standard western diet, and many people are getting far more protein than they actually need. While a dangerous surfeit of protein is difficult to achieve, the fact that most people get more than their bodies can use does not seem to hamper the sales of protein pills and powders.
Extreme athletes or those attempting to gain large amounts of muscle have protein needs that are somewhat higher than the protein needs of the average person, and may want to explore protein supplements if they do not get a large amount of meat in their diet, but increasing their dietary protein sources to meet their elevated requirements should not be too hard. While increasing red meat consumption is the most common way to do this, this method brings the threat of drastically increasing saturated fat consumption as well. This form of animal fat can be accumulated in the blood stream if eaten in too large a quantity or too often, potentially leading to heart attack or stroke.
It is important to mention as well that less protein can go further by eating it at the right times of the day. Having protein to start a day that you want to work out is important, as it can help the body use that protein to build muscle. Having some protein after working out can help to ensure that the body has enough protein to rebuild wear and tear to the muscle that is natural during exercise.
Vegetarians wishing to gain weight from muscle or enter certain sports may have trouble getting enough protein from plant and dairy sources and may want to turn to protein powders and similar supplements. Vegans beware, however, as most commercially available protein powders are made from whey, which is a dairy product. Finding a vegan protein powder may be difficult.
Iron is an important part of blood, and an important part of muscle. This is because iron is required to make heme – as in “hemoglobin” – the chemical that helps the blood carry oxygen from place to place. Oxygen bonds to the hemoglobin in red blood cells near the lungs and gradually leaches off as blood flows, allowing the oxygen to serve the other cells in the body.
Because iron is found in muscle – meat – people who regularly eat meat should have no problem maintaining adequate iron levels. While elevated levels of iron can help in muscle building, provided the iron is actually being used, it should not be difficult to get enough iron from increasing meat consumption. Red meat comes with unhealthy saturated fats, however, so a diverse meat menu is important. Those looking for non-meat sources of iron should look toward dark green and leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and swiss chard, as well as mushrooms.
It might be good to talk to a doctor before taking an iron supplement. While an excess of iron from the diet is rare in most people, some people have high iron levels naturally due to genetic influences, or imbalances in filtering organs like the liver and kidneys. While these conditions are normally harmless, the levels of iron that can result from people with these conditions taking iron supplements can be harmful.
Dangerously high levels of iron can lead to the mineral being stored in organs including the liver, heart, and pancreas. Too much iron in these organs can prevent them from doing their jobs, sometimes leading to liver disease, heart failure, and diabetes. The good news is that high levels of iron can be reversed by donating blood regularly.
It should also be noted that as people grow older, most tend to get less exercise and muscle accumulation slows, making iron less necessary, though it is always important for healthy blood and body.
Calcium is usually associated with strong bones, and indeed it is important for healthy bones, but it is also important for muscle contraction. While it may be a topic for its own article in the future, muscle contraction is too complicated to be discussed in detail here the short of it is that calcium helps to deliver the nerve impulses that trigger muscle movements, meaning that people who are very active can have difficulty maintaining adequate calcium intake.
Fortunately, calcium is fairly easy to find. Dairy products are particularly well known for being high in calcium – as well as being fairly high in protein – including milk, yogurt, and cheese. Calcium can also be found in many of the same places where iron can be found.
Just as calcium is important in the muscles and bones, it is also important for the nervous system, central and peripheral. This under-valuing of calcium means that, while most people get enough, few people get too much, though again, this is possible, especially when taking a supplement. When the body has too much calcium, it often gets rid of them by forming calcium deposits, which can sometimes contribute to kidney stones. These hard deposits made of excess minerals and salts form in the kidneys and pass through the urinary system. Smaller stones can pass harmlessly, while larger deposits can be much harder and more painful to pass, sometimes requiring medical intervention. This usually takes the form of using soundwaves to break the stones apart into smaller pieces, which can be passed more easily.
Over a certain age, bones can begin losing mass, leading to dangers of breaking. For this reason, it is not uncommon for doctors to recommend that older people take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, which will usually contain calcium as well as other vitamins and minerals that older people can have trouble coming across.