The pandemic has ushered in a wave of transformation, and one noticeable aspect of this shift is the heightened health consciousness among Singaporeans. A recent study by research firm Blackbox found that an astounding 83% of individuals have embraced the use of health and dietary supplements, and a significant portion of them have ramped up their intake since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Faced with unprecedented uncertainty and fear that gripped people during the pandemic, it is only natural that many individuals have turned to supplements as a means to fortify their immune systems. 78% of respondents who consumed them did so to improve their immune system and protect their loved ones from the clutches of the virus.
However, as with any health trend, dissenting voices have emerged, casting doubt on the necessity of these supplements. Prominent sources like Health have been quick to denounce their efficacy, arguing that immunity-boosting supplements did not help to boost overall health, even in times of flu season or during the pandemic. According to the article, the surge in supplement consumption may be driven more by trends and marketing hype than genuine health benefits.
Which now begets the question: Are Singaporeans just consuming supplements for the sake of it, or are there actual health benefits to this?
There is much debate over how relevant and necessary supplements are. In Singapore alone, studies have shown that at least 60% of Singaporeans aged 25 and above, and almost half of respondents between ages 16 to 24, take supplements on a daily basis.
Critics may retort that such nutrients are readily available through food sources, and hence consuming supplements that replace minerals, Vitamin C, fish oil and alike are unnecessary. However, we tend to overlook the fact that despite the abundance of food available, it can be challenging to obtain all the nutrients needed for optimal health purely through a lifestyle involving a clean diet and healthy exercise alone.
Vitamin D, for example, is crucial for our energy, bones, and immune system, but difficult to get enough of from food alone. The best food sources are cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, egg yolks and sardines, yet one would need to eat these nearly on a daily basis just to get a sufficient amount of Vitamin D.
The best recommended source of Vitamin D is through regular exposure to sunlight, yet most often than not, most of us are indoors due to the office work environment. In fact, many Singaporeans are Vitamin D deficient without even realising it. Furthermore, in a tropical climate like Singapore, excessive sunlight can cause other health risks, such as skin cancer or accelerated skin ageing.
Balancing sufficient Vitamin D and regulating its potential side effects can be an uncharted territory, which can be easily solved by oral intakes of Vitamin D supplements. This “win-win” approach ensures that the body can obtain the ideal amount of nutrients without risking developing any harmful skin conditions.
I believe one can still consider incorporating supplements into a daily diet. Some people may think that they are unnecessary because most required nutrients can be consumed through eating healthily and exercising. But the reality is that a large majority of people have dietary restrictions, and certain nutrients are available in too minute concentration in regular food sources for it to make a difference within a short period of time.
In addition, more complicated supplements also include a “golden ratio”, such as how the absorption of calcium can be more efficient with an optimal amount of magnesium. We can get magnesium from foods such as leafy greens, beans, whole grains, as well as nuts and seeds. However, how much of these food products should an individual consume to get the required amount?
With current trends favouring healthier lifestyles through more exercise and better nutrition, the market needs to focus its attention on delivering wellness needs effectively, even for people with a hectic schedule that limits them from exercising, or better meal options.
Supplements can hardly be considered as a fad diet, since it has been scientifically proven that regularly consuming antioxidant supplements can help to improve people’s immunity and overall health and wellbeing. That being said, consuming supplements alone should not be used as a complete replacement for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If anything, supplements should be used in tandem with a balanced diet to ensure that individuals meet their nutritional requirements and maintain optimal health.
Contributed by Cynthia Poa, who is the CEO of LAC Global, one of Asia’s leading specialty retailers of nutritional supplements, vitamins, minerals, herbal and other specialty supplements in anti-ageing and beauty, immunity, management, sports nutrition and energy.