A survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) shows that in Manila, 37.5 per cent of the respondents are aware of the benefits of food supplements like Liveraide and My-Marvel Taheebo, and 74.4 per cent of the respondents claimed they achieved good health with them.

According to Dr. Imelda Dakis, a professor of the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Nutrition of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, people today are resorting to food supplements because they feel they lack one or more essential nutrients in their diet. Advances in technology have enabled scientists and biologists to find new ways of providing such nutrients.

Food supplements are nutrients or substances that are used to add on our diet, Dakis said.

“For example, you have three square meals a day, you eat a good breakfast, lunch, and supper; (the food supplements) are the things you add (to them),” Dakis said. “It may be from fruits, in capsule form through pharmaceutical preparations, or some other herbal or plant products.”

Fighting malnutrition

In the Philippines, malnutrition is a critical issue. Three in every 10 Filipino children are malnourished, according to the National Nutrition Council. Even adults are becoming malnourished. Although there is a growing portion in our population that is increasingly becoming health-conscious, still, a greater segment is not aware of the importance of proper nutrition.

FNRI-DOST says awareness on the use of food supplements should be promoted. In spite of the wide availability of these products in the market, knowledge on food supplements is relatively low compared with those of people living in the USA where more than 50 per cent of the population take supplements. These dietary supplements, led by the herbal-based products, have an estimated P700-million sales in the Philippines in 2003, independent surveys showed.

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“Food supplements will assure you that you get the right amount of everything you need, like vitamins and minerals. (But) it is not a guarantee that you will not get sick,” Dakis said (see sidebar).

Dakis added that there are other factors, such as hereditary illness and differing environment and lifestyle issues affecting the resistance and immunity of a person. Even if one belongs to the same household or family, if one is exposed to a different social lifestyle, he may still get sick even if he gets complete nutrition, Dakis said.

Philippine requirement

The most common components of food supplements in the country are micronutrients: vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, C, and E, and selenium. They add a lot to one’s nutrition, other than the benefits of macronutrients.

“Supplement (intake) should emphasize on the macronutrients which are carbohydrates, proteins and fats,” Dakis told the Varsitarian.

Carbohydrates are the essential structural component of living cells and the source of energy. Proteins, on the other hand, are essential in growth and repair of tissues, while fats are regulators of body heat.

Vitamin A is important for vision and bone growth while vitamin C is used by the human body for many purposes. It is used to aid in the consumption of a great number of amino acids in the body. It also helps in providing the body with firm but flexible cells for body structures like the skin and the muscles.

Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, a chemical that prevents aging of the body cells. Vitamin E is often used in skin creams and lotions to aid in skin healing and scar reduction after injuries such as burns.

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Tea, an antioxidant, is also very popular, green tea being the latest in the line of popular market beverages.

There are almost 100 herbal products in the Philippine market, ranging from single herbs to combination herbs, to herbs with extracts. Even apples have antioxidant properties too, Dakis said.

Meanwhile, selenium is required for enzymes to protect cells from damage, similar to the health benefits of vitamin E.

“People resort to food supplements because of occupation, stress, and fatigue for additional resistance and immunity from infection, illness, even cancer,” Dakis said.

However, supplements are not expected to treat ailments, for they are only additives to our nutrition. Consult doctors, and not food supplements, for illnesses, Dakis said. Laurence John R. Morales

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