More people are taking supplements to ‘boost’ health after Covid-19

KUALA LUMPUR: Aisha Amaya Ihsan is a self-confessed health supplement devotee.

The 42-year-old private sector employee, who is still single, has been trying and taking multiple multivitamins and other supplements since a decade ago to boost her health and energy and improve her complexion.

His latest “acquisition” is a health product in the form of tablets, priced at RM70 a bottle, which is said to treat acne more effectively. He bought it after watching an advertisement for the product on the social media platform TikTok.

“I am a fan of supplements but I am not the type who consumes supplements recklessly. All the products I take are registered with the MOH (Ministry of Health) and FDA (US Food and Drug Administration),” he said, adding that his supplement bill comes to about RM700 a year.

Aisha Amaya says she was 30 when she started taking supplements, starting with vitamin C and eventually adding other products to her daily intake.

Confessing to her growing dependency on the supplements, she says she feels dizzy and can’t focus well or sleep well if she doesn’t take them.

He said he does not consult a doctor before taking a supplement, adding that his decision to buy any health product is based on customer testimonials and the advice given by doctors online.

“For me, this is enough and I don’t need to see a doctor because it’s just a food supplement,” she added.

May damage the kidney

Like Aisha Amaya, there are many others who are willing to “invest” hundreds, if not thousands, of ringgit a year for health or beauty supplements without a doctor’s prescription.

In fact, Malaysia has a thriving health supplements market. According to an article on Vodus.com, a Malaysian online market research and analytics company, 71 percent of Malaysians are supplement consumers in 2021.

The country’s health supplements market grew to RM3.1 billion in 2019 from RM2.07 billion in 2014 and is expected to grow at a faster rate in the near future.

Health supplements are readily available in the market including social media. Furthermore, online merchants even offer ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes which have succeeded in attracting more customers to their sites.

Most consumers feel that they do not need to see a doctor before taking health supplements because they believe that the products are safe for consumption because they are registered and approved by the relevant authorities,

But are they right about the safety of health supplements? Experts interviewed by Bernama think otherwise.

According to consultant nephrologist Dr Nor Fadhlina Zakaria, excessive consumption of supplements can expose a person to the risk of developing kidney problems.

“This can happen if a person whose body already has enough vitamins and minerals consumes supplements that provide the same vitamins and minerals… this will put a strain on the kidneys and potentially damage the organ in the long term,” said Dr Nor Fadhlina, who is the clinical deputy director at Hospital Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah of Universiti Putra Malaysia.

He says that any decline in kidney function will limit the body’s ability to remove excess vitamins and minerals.

“Excess vitamins and minerals accumulated in the body will become toxic and mix with the drugs taken for other diseases. It is not necessary for healthy people to take supplements simply because there is no evidence of their benefits. In fact, it puts them at risk of developing kidney disease,” he added.

Stressing that supplements should only be given to a patient on the instructions of a doctor, Dr Nor Fadhlina, who is also a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UPM, said it is alarming that many consumers are consuming health products without first consulting a doctor.

Vitamins and minerals are essential substances that the body needs in small amounts for various processes such as maintaining immune functions, helping repair tissues or helping the body use energy from food.

“These nutrients can be obtained from the food we eat and by leading a healthy lifestyle without taking supplements, except in the case of people who need to take them (vitamins and minerals) on the advice of their doctor. The need for these nutrients varies among individuals,” he added.

Supplement dependency

Meanwhile, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Health Program senior lecturer Dr Shazli Ezzat Ghazali expressed his concern over the increasing consumption of supplements among Malaysians.

“People are becoming too dependent on supplements and creating a situation of supplement dependency,” he said, adding that they believe it is important for them to take a lot of vitamins and other products to strengthen their immune system and general health.

According to his observations, supplement consumption became more widespread after the COVID-19 pandemic as people became more serious about taking care of their health and that of their families.

“It all comes down to the level of self-confidence. No matter how well a product is advertised and whether it is registered or not, we can stop ourselves from buying it if we have enough self-confidence.

“Also, the (advertised) products are not necessarily effective. The testimonials are there but the health levels of those people may be different from ours. We don’t even know if the content of the (advertised) product is suitable for us even though it is registered… maybe its content is dangerous for those with other diseases. This is why it is important to consult a doctor,” he added.

Shazli Ezzat said not everyone needs to take supplements, adding that it depends on a person’s body requirements.

“But because of people’s weakness (the desire to stay healthy and look good), many (businesses) take advantage of them and manipulate the situation by introducing different health products.

“People are also easily deceived when sellers use all kinds of tactics including working with celebrities such as celebrities or motivational experts to convince the public that their products are safe and effective,” he said.

Jazeera Julaili, a dietician at a government clinic in Putatan, Sabah, said supplements are usually recommended for senior citizens and pregnant women as well as children who lack certain nutrients.

“People without health problems don’t need to take them,” he said, adding that healthy people can get all the nutrients they need from their daily diet of vegetables and fruits.-Bernama

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