As students, we lead stressful lives. Between assignments, study and part-time jobs, we can easily get overwhelmed and run down. Healthy eating and exercise can fall by the wayside. Could supplements be the key to maintaining good health while leading a hectic student life?
According to Harvard Medical School, there is limited evidence that supplements offer any significant health benefits. They state that supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet. The NHS also echoes this sentiment, stating that most people don’t need supplements and can get all their necessary vitamins and minerals from food. Of particular note for busy students, Vitamin B6 and B12 help to reduce fatigue and omega 3, zinc and iodine help to support brain function. In an ideal world, we would all be eating a healthy, nutritious diet but as students, how many of us do this?
One vitamin, in particular, has been receiving much attention of late, Vitamin D. Often referred to as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, Vitamin D supports the immune system, helps to keep teeth and bones healthy and regulates insulin. Our body creates Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. It can also be found in foods such as oily fish, eggs and red meat. According to a 2020 Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, 47% of all adults under the age of 85 have a Vitamin D deficiency. The HSE recommends that babies under 12 months should take a Vitamin D supplement, along with adults over 65. In the UK, the NHS recommends that all adults should take a Vitamin D supplement between October and March each year due to lack of sunlight.
Vitamin D has gained a lot of publicity as of late due to studies showing that it could potentially reduce the risk of Covid-19. However, NPHET has stated that ‘there is insufficient high-quality evidence to support any change in existing recommendations.’ Many in the medical community argue that Vitamin D supplements are generally safe and their potential benefits outweigh any low- level risks. Irish experts such as Prof Declan Byrne, clinical director of St James’ Hospital and Dr Dan McCartney, director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at TU Dublin advocate for Vitamin D supplementation to be recommended for all adults during the Covid-19 pandemic.
So where does all this conflicting advice leave students? It is a personal choice as to whether or not you wish to take supplements. Before starting on any supplements, speak to your GP or pharmacist. They will be able to offer advice and help you to determine if supplementation is the way forward for you.