Updated 07 October 2013

Supplements can help South Africans avoid obesity

A US expert says South Africans can avoid the scourge of obesity and preventable diseases by taking nutritional supplements.

An international expert, Dr Guru Ramanathan, says international research is emerging about the real health and economic benefits of wellness supplementation products, which could be very positive for South Africa as its middle class grows.

Dr Ramanathan, who was the keynote speaker at the 7th annual Clicks healthcare conference that took place in Johannesburg, said: “As wealth increases and the middle class expands, people become busier and then commonly reach for convenience/fast foods which tend to be processed.

"Such processed foods are macro-nutrient dense but are lacking in adequate amounts and types of key micro-nutrients, which causes all sorts of negative chain reactions and can lead to malnutrition and obesity.

“However, the move towards wellness in South Africa is very positive considering the country's particular public health concerns.

Specialty retailer

"I'm not seeing as many obese people here as in the US, but as affluence grows, people need to manage their health to avoid problems like obesity.

"South Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog this whole experiment the US went through with convenience foods.

"Scientific research now backs the efficacy claims of several complementary medicines and vitamin and mineral supplements that could be of great benefit to the South African public.”

Dr Ramanathan is the Chief Innovation Officer for US-based General Nutrition Centres (GNC), the largest global specialty retailer of health and wellness products. As a global expert, he spoke on international trends in supplementation and preventative wellness.

While the US has been battling obesity and early onset diseases related to poor diet and lifestyle choices, SA has been dealing with the world’s largest HIV/Aids epidemic, malnutrition, maternal and child health issues, diseases like tuberculosis (TB), and more recently, issues related to over-nutrition and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

To find a balance, consumers are turning to supplements like omega 3 fatty acids, multivitamins, probiotics and folic acid during early pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects in the foetus. And the science is proving that these supplementations have real, measurable health benefits.

Nutritional status

Dr Ramanathan highlighted a number of significant, positive research studies into complementary and alternative medicine:

•    Omega 3 fatty acids: Millions of dollars have been invested in research and over 150 international clinical trials have demonstrated the benefits of these fats in various health applications, including heart, joint, cognitive and eye health. Omega 3 also assisted cancer patients to cope better with chemotherapy;

•    Multivitamins: In a recent random, placebo-controlled trial by GNC in the USA, 112 adults were given a high potency multivitamin blend or placebo or a traditional low potency multivitamin for 42 days. Those on the high potency multivitamin all showed improved nutritional status, with statistically significant increases in their lutein levels in particular, B vitamins status, as well as decreased inflammatory status and enhanced quality of life within a few weeks;

•    Heart health: A recent US study on the health benefits of grape seed polyphenols indicated significant benefits to heart health, particularly a lowering of systolic and diastolic blood pressure in pre-hypertensive adults;

•    Obesity: A recent US study on obesity indicated that a daily high protein and fibre meal replacement helped patients lose approximately 3kg in 12 weeks, but more importantly, significantly reduce their bad cholesterol levels.

Coronary heart disease

Dr Ramanathan said the good news of health supplements extended beyond medical benefits and it could also hold enormous economic benefits for South Africa, as was seen in the US.

It was estimated that through daily supplementation of vitamin D and calcium for the elderly, a saving of $13.9bn (about R131bn)  across five years could be achieved, from a reduction in the occurrence of hip fractures among the elderly.

Similarly, daily Omega 3 supplementation was estimated to bring about a $3.2bn (about R32bn) saving across five years from a reduction in the occurrence of coronary heart disease.

Dr Ramanathan said SA was responding positively to the trend towards preventative wellness with cutting edge research into health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, vaccine development and diagnostics.  The Department of Health also recognised the need to study emerging health concerns associated with nutritional imbalances.

Herbal or traditional products in South Africa are expected to grow at a 3% constant value compounded annual growth rate.

E-commerce and reliable online health information is also empowering consumers to shop wisely for their health and wellness needs.

The new head of healthcare at Clicks, Rachel Wrigglesworth, said: “There's a lot of focus at Clicks to ensure that our customers have access to the latest quality supplements and our pharmacists and healthcare staff are trained to provide customers with appropriate advice.

(Press release from Clicks)

Photo: Pill bottles from Shutterstock


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