Am I missing something? Some Thoughts on Nutrient Supplementation
There is a lot of conflicting information out there on nutrient supplementation. Questions like: “Do we need to take vitamins to be healthy?” or ” Can’t we get everything our bodies need from the food we eat?” have different answers depending upon who you ask. I’ve decided to weigh in on the subject in an attempt to help you make some sense of the confusion.
First, I don’t believe that everyone needs to take supplements. If you are feeling great, have plenty of energy, have consistently good bowel habits (you “go” one to two times daily …. sorry!), sleep soundly, don’t often get sick with colds or flu, do not take medications, are not exposed to chemicals in your food or environment, have no chronic conditions like high blood pressure, arthritis etc.. and are not stressed, then read no further because you are likely biochemically balanced. On the other hand, if you ask yourself “Am I feeling at the top of my game?” and the answer is a resounding “NO” for whatever reason including any of those listed above, the cause could be as simple as a vitamin or mineral deficiency in which case you may benefit greatly from supplementation.
Now vitamin deficiency diseases such as Scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency), Beriberi (severe thiamine deficiency) and Pellagra (severe niacin deficiency) are rare today in developed countries, but “subclinical deficiencies” of these and other nutrients are more common than ever. A “subclinical deficiency” occurs when not enough of a nutrient is present to allow the systems of the body to work correctly or efficiently, however the deficiency is not severe enough to show symptoms of the specific deficiency disease. These relatively low-level deficiencies contribute to many chronic health issues today from depression to insomnia to high blood pressure … the list goes on and on!
If you are wondering why our society is prone to nutrient deficiency, the answer is multi-fold. Aside from the potentially obvious reason of poor diet consisting of highly processed foods, there are other “hidden” variables that contribute to deficiencies. For instance, adherence to a healthy diet abundant in fruits and vegetables no longer guarantees that one is obtaining all of the nutrients necessary for optimal functioning of the body mostly due to over-farmed, mineral-depleted soil and extended transit time from farm to table. These are critical factors that lead to a decrease in the vitamins and minerals present in those foods.
Impaired digestion is another common cause yet often ignored contributor to nutrient deficiencies. The digestive system must have an adequate amount of hydrochloric acid as well as digestive enzymes in order to break down the food we eat into nutrients that feed our cells. Not only does acid and enzyme production tend to decrease with age, but the use of antacid medication blocks the production of stomach acid. Supplements that heal and balance digestion are readily available out there and a good first step to assuring that your body is getting the nourishment it needs to function optimally.
Speaking of medications, antacids are not the only ones that undermine our general nutrition. The majority of common medications available today, both prescription and over-the-counter, including aspirin, ibuprofen, antibiotics, antacids, anti-depressants, diuretics and so on, actually deplete the body of important nutrients. This becomes a problem because each vitamin and mineral plays an active role in, well, everything that your body does! Nerve function, metabolism of hormones, energy production, cholesterol metabolism, brain function … everything! Over time the body becomes increasingly depleted and then symptoms sneak up on us in the form of chronic conditions. Upon a close look at an individual’s mix of medications, simply adding back in what the medications are pulling out may make the symptoms (or medication side effects) disappear. Keep in mind though that a similar situation occurs when one is under emotional or physical stress. Whether experiencing a challenging life change, coping with an illness, over-exercising (yes, that too!), or going through a physiological change like (for you women) menopause or even the monthly menstrual cycle, the body’s demand for certain vitamins and minerals increases substantially, potentially depleting it of the very raw materials it needs to function.
So it is my opinion that, given the state of our food and soil, our levels of stress, and any nutrient-depleting medications that we take, often there is a need for a vitamin or mineral supplement. THAT SAID …
Swallowing bucketloads of random supplements based on very general advice from TV or internet health gurus is not the way to go in my opinion and here’s why: First and most critically, it’s important to consider any medications that you are taking prior to embarking on a supplement regimen. While medications can create a need for supplementation as pointed out earlier, they can also interact with certain supplements, so it’s important to check with your doctor or nutritional consultant first. A good (and common) example of this is fish oil, which will thin the blood and therefore is not safe to take with a prescription blood thinner like Coumadin. In addition, these and other blood thinning herbs and nutrients should not be consumed for a couple of weeks prior to any type of surgery.
Next, consuming high doses of specific nutrients can sometimes create secondary nutrient imbalances. I’ve seen this happen with 5000 iu’s of daily Vitamin D3 supplementation in a Vitamin D-deficient (confirmed with blood tests) adult male. Following about 2 months of consistent D3 supplementation, he began to experience heavy heartbeats and sporadic palpitations, symptomatic of magnesium deficiency. You see, in order for Vitamin D3 to work properly, it needs several “cofactors”, one of which is magnesium. So the D3 will pull magnesium from the tissues which will create a deficiency state for someone who is already borderline low in that mineral. This is easily correctable, however this is a good illustration of how there is no “magic bullet” that works alone when it comes to the complex human body. It is for this reason that, whenever possible, I recommend whole-food-based supplements made from actual fruits, vegetables and herbs and consist of the complete package of nutrients and cofactors, even those which have yet to be discovered and named!
So, although nutrient supplementation should be far from necessary in an ideal world, modern life throws us some really stressful curveballs 24/7 like the ones pointed out above. Hopefully this post has given you some food for thought to help you make an informed decision as to whether supplementation is right for you.
If you have any questions on this post or if you would like to explore the possibility of Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis to determine your nutrient levels, email me at Sue@HealthyByNatureHWC.com or call (215)833-6713 for more information.
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