isha Amaya Ihsan is a self-confessed health supplement devotee. The 42-year-old private-sector employee, who is still single, has been trying out and consuming a host of multivitamins and other supplements since a decade ago to boost her health and energy and improve her complexion.
Her most recent “acquisition” is a health product in the form of tablets, costing RM70 a bottle, which purportedly treats acne more effectively. She 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 MOH (Ministry of Health) and FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration),” she said, adding that her supplement bill comes to about RM700 a year.
Aisha Amaya said she was 30 when she first started taking supplements, beginning with vitamin C and later adding other products to her daily intake.
Admitting her growing dependency on supplements, she said she feels listless and is unable to focus well or sleep properly if she doesn’t take them.
She said she does not consult a doctor before taking a supplement, adding that her decision to buy any health product is based on customer testimonies and the advice given by doctors online.
“For me, this is adequate and I don’t need to see a doctor because it’s only a food supplement,” she added.
CAN HARM KIDNEYS
Like Aisha Amaya, there are many others who are willing to “invest” hundreds, if not thousands, of ringgit a year on 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 were consumers of supplements in 2021.
Photo for illustrative. Photo credit -- https://www.freepik.com
The nation’s health supplements market swelled to RM3.1 billion in 2019 from RM2.07 billion in 2014 and is projected to grow at a faster rate in the near future.
Health supplements are easily available in the market including on social media. What is more, online merchants are even offering ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes which have succeeded in drawing more customers to their sites.
Most consumers feel they don’t need to see a doctor before taking health supplements as they believe the products are safe for consumption as they are registered and have been approved by the relevant authorities,
But is their assumption about the safety of health supplements correct? 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 adequate vitamins and minerals consumes supplements that provide the same vitamins and minerals… this will burden the kidneys and potentially damage the organ in the long term,” said Dr Nor Fadhlina, who is clinical deputy director at Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Hospital Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah.
She said any decline in kidney functions will limit the body’s ability to eliminate the excess vitamins and minerals.
“The excess vitamins and minerals accumulated in the body will turn into poison and interact with the medicines taken for other diseases. It’s not necessary for healthy people to take supplements simply because there’s no evidence of their benefits. In fact, it puts them at risk of developing kidney disease,” she added.
Stressing that supplements must only be given to a patient on the instruction 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 taking health products without consulting a doctor first.
Photo for illustrative. -- Photo credit https://www.freepik.com/
Vitamins and minerals are essential substances needed by the body in small quantities for various processes such as maintaining immune functions, helping to repair tissues or helping the body to utilise energy from food.
“These nutrients can be obtained from the food we eat and by practising a healthy lifestyle without taking supplements, except in the case of people who have to take them (vitamins and minerals) on the advice of their doctor. The need for these nutrients varies among individuals,” she added.
Meanwhile, senior lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Clinical Psychology and Behavioural Health Programme Dr Shazli Ezzat Ghazali expressed his concern over the rise in the consumption of supplements among Malaysians.
“People are becoming overly dependent on supplements and creating a supplement dependency situation,” he said, adding that they believed it is important for them to take a host of vitamins and other products to boost their immune system and overall health.
According to his observations, supplement consumption became more widespread after the COVID-19 pandemic as people grew more serious about taking care of their health and that of their families.
“It all comes down to one’s level of self-confidence. No matter how well a product is advertised and whether it is registered or not, we can restrain ourselves from buying it if we have enough self-confidence.
“Moreover, those (advertised) products are not necessarily effective. The testimonials are there but those people’s health levels may be different from ours. We don’t even know if the contents of the (advertised) product are suitable for us even though it is registered… the contents may be dangerous for someone who has other diseases. This is why it’s important to refer to a doctor,” he added.
Shazli Ezzat said not everyone needs to take supplements, adding that it would depend on the requirements of a person’s body.
Senior lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Clinical Psychology and Behavioural Health Programme Dr Shazli Ezzat Ghazali.
“But due to people’s weakness (the desire to remain healthy and look good), many (businesses) are taking advantage of them and manipulating the situation by introducing a variety of health products.
“People are easily deceived too when the sellers use all kinds of tactics including collaborating with well-known figures such as artistes 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 are not required to take them,” she said, adding that healthy people can get all the nutrients they need from their daily intake of vegetables and fruits.
Translated by Rema Nambiar