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The purpose of supplements is pretty self-explanatory. They’re supplemental. They’re not a replacement for a healthy, balanced diet with protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals, but they may make a useful addition if you need topping up.

There are a lot of reasons someone may need to take a supplement. Perhaps they have a medical condition that makes it difficult to get all the nutrients they need from their diet, or maybe they live somewhere remote where obtaining a balanced range of foods is almost impossible. Perhaps they’re pregnant, or a professional athlete training for an event, and therefore require a boost that the average person might not need.

For pregnant women, folic acid supplements may be recommended to help avoid potential health problems for the baby. Athletes tend to need higher levels of protein to build muscle and carbohydrates for energy. Some people may need to take vitamin D supplements during the darker winter months, as vitamin D is normally obtained from sunlight.

If you’re not deficient in an essential nutrient, taking supplements might not do any good. It might not cause harm, depending on the ingredients and your own health, but it’s always best to view claims of magical benefits from a supplement with a certain degree of skepticism. Do your research, be sure that you’re buying from a trustworthy source, and, if in any doubt, talk to your doctor.

Supplements can be bought from a range of places, including health stores and online, and they may come in a variety of forms, with capsules, powders and gels being among the most common. Online purchases can be particularly tricky as there’s less regulation. That’s why it’s best to look at official scientific and medical advice when making your choice.

The other important thing when taking supplements is not to overdo it. Most people aren’t going to experience much in the way of negative effects just because they take a few multivitamins, but there are nutrients that can cause health problems if we take them to excess, just like they cause problems if we are deficient. Again, do you research and follow instructions.

As tempting as it can be to think that a supplement can magically solve all your problems, it is important to be careful when choosing, purchasing and using them. If you have any doubt, always talk to your doctor first.

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