In the early days of the lockdown, 29-year-old marketing professional Neha Shinde decided to up her intake of nutritional supplements, hoping to boost her immunity. “I chose a multivitamin capsule designed for women aged 30 and above, and a fish oil-based supplement. In May, barely a month later, my skin became excessively oily and prone to pimples. I also noticed some dark patches,” she says. Alarmed, Shinde contacted a dermatologist who chided her about the indiscriminate use of supplements and asked her to stop immediately. Shinde took up the doctor’s advice to focus more on eating a balanced diet and only taking a daily vitamin C tablet and a weekly vitamin D12 supplement. “It took a month for my skin problems to subside and I had to spend a considerable amount on the dermatologist’s appointments,” she notes.
Shinde is among the countless concerned individuals around the world who, in the absence of any concrete cure for Covid-19, are turning their gaze inwards to their immune systems — the body’s first line of defence against infections. In fact, as the pandemic continued to spread, several online forums were flooded with queries about vitamin D and zinc supplements, given their role in fortifying immunity. According to a Nielsen report, dietary supplement sales were 16.7 per cent higher than a year ago in June, having risen to as much as 51.2 per cent in March. However, experts warn that over-consumption of supplements can, in fact, do your body much more harm than good. “Overdosing on vitamins and other supplements can give rise to toxicity — while water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C and B, aren’t stored in the body, they too can contribute harmful side-effects — taking too much vitamin C can cause kidney stones, excess iron absorption, erosion of dental enamel, and vitamin B12 deficiencies, whereas overconsumption of vitamin B6 can lead to potentially irreversible nerve damage,” says nutritionist and lifestyle educator, Karishma Chawla.
Striking the right balance
Vitamin D3 facilitates calcium absorption and is hence important for your bone and immune health. However, it is necessary to take this supplement as directed by a doctor, says Dr Siddhant Bhargava, a nutritional scientist at Food Darzee. “Your dosage will be based on your medical condition, weight, diet, and age. Purchase supplements from a known manufacturer or pharmacist to lessen the possibility of an accidental overdose due to incorrect labelling,” he warns.
Consuming up to 4,000 IU or less per day of vitamin D3 is considered safe. Dr Bhargava cautions that taking high doses of this supplement for long periods may lead to elevated calcium levels in the body, nausea and poor appetite, abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhoea, bone loss, and kidney issues. Honey Thaker, a nutritionist at Purenutrition.in adds that not receiving enough sunlight during the lockdown led to an increased interest in vitamin D supplements. “However, now that restrictions have been lifted and people are able to step out in the sun, get yourself tested or consult your healthcare provider for continuing your supplement regimen,” she explains.
Dietary sources: Exposure to sunlight, salmon, herring, sardines, cod liver oil, canned tuna, egg yolks, soy milk, and mushrooms.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid cannot be produced in the body; therefore, it is essential to maintain a diet rich in the nutrient, which has immunity-boosting properties. However, overdosing can lead to diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, abdominal cramps, headache, and insomnia, says Thaker. She adds that the recommended dose for healthy adults is 65 to 90 mg per day. Consume these supplements either with or after a meal.
Dietary sources: Oranges, strawberries, red pepper, broccoli, guavas, blackcurrants, and kale.
Zinc is used for the activity of over 300 enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function, and many other physical processes. It is also critical for the development and functioning of immune cells, and accelerates wound healing. The recommended daily intake for zinc is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women. Most people can consume enough zinc from their diet alone, says Thaker. However, if you are concerned about a deficiency, make sure to consult a doctor before taking a supplement.
The most common cause of zinc toxicity is too much supplemental zinc, which can cause nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and headaches. Overconsumption of zinc can also hamper the functioning of your immune system, cause deficiencies of other nutrients, and reduce good cholesterol levels.
Dietary sources: Meat such as shellfish, chicken, fish, and legumes like chickpeas and beans, nuts and seeds, and eggs.
Honey Thaker, Neha Shinde and Siddhant Bhargava
Magnesium is important for boosting your muscle and nerve function, and immune system, and regulating your blood pressure. It also improves bone health and has been linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. The recommended daily dosage of magnesium is 400 mg for adult men and 310 mg for adult women. Over-consuming magnesium from supplements can lead to gastrointestinal and kidney problems, low blood pressure, urine retention, nausea and vomiting, depression, lethargy, a loss of central nervous system, and cardiac arrest, says Thaker.
Dietary sources: Dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, fatty fish, bananas, and leafy greens.
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