Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Supplementation - When should one consider taking supplements?


Why do we supplemetent?

"I eat a healthy diet, why can't get enough of vitamins X, Y and Z through food?" It is a VERY common question and yes, a very reasonable one. Unfortunately, it is one that cannot be truly answered until we ask ourselves a few others. Are you truly eating a healthy diet? Are you deficient in any essential vitamins or minerals?

Are you absorbing the nutrients from the foods you are eating? Do you have special needs that are difficult to meet through diet alone? The answers to these questions will determine whether supplementation is necessary for you.

I want to be clear that I am not promoting you choke down a bowl full of supplements before you leave your house every morning. However, if you aren't getting the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need through diet alone, you become more susceptible to disease. Medications aimed at treating disease tend to have side effects that cause further problems down the road. Supplementation is an easy and effective method of ensuring your body is getting everything it needs to live a long, healthy and medication free life.

What is a healthy diet?

I am just going to say it, if you are eating fried chicken and potato chips for breakfast, you are not eating a healthy diet! That was extreme, I know, but its time someone just said it! The sad truth is that we don't have to go near that far. Many of us do eat a very healthy diet, and still are not getting quite enough of the "right stuff" to claim perfection. Canada's Food Guide recommends, in order to "meet your needs for vitamins, minerals and nutrients", that an adult male should consume 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. Depending on the specific fruit or vegetable, you are looking at 1 to 1/2 cup servings. Combine that with 8 servings of grain products, 2 servings of dairy or alternatives and 3 servings of meat and alternatives and you will find it is tough to get it all in before bedtime. One should also keep in mind that specifically when it comes to vegetables and fruits, Canada's Food Guide is providing us with the minimum requirement. Naturopathic recommendations tend to run a little higher.

Variety also plays a big role here and needs to be addressed. VARIETY is important. You may eat a salad for every meal, but are you varying the toppings? Are you trying to incorporate a variety of other vegetables, nuts, seeds, cheeses, beans, lentils, oils, etc.? In order to round out and boost the nutritional value of your everyday salad, variety is essential. We all have likes and dislikes, the key is not to get so stuck in our patterns that we are getting more than enough of certain nutrients and none of others.

Again, by no means am I saying that it is impossible to meet our nutritional goals via food, nor that you shouldn't try! In fact, I encourage everyone reading this article to spend the next week counting their servings of each of the food groups and sticking to Canada's Food Guide's recommendations. I guarantee you will feel great, but some of you may also find that it takes a little planning and can be challenging to follow on a daily basis.

It is for all the reasons above that a high quality multivitamin or a daily greens supplement may be essential, to give certain vitamin and nutrient levels a boost and put you up to the recommended quantities of essential vegetables and fruits.

The evolution (or is it destruction?) of food

My mother grew up on a farm. If she needed eggs, she ran out to the chicken coop and grabbed them, if she needed milk, she took it straight from the cow. She did not have a microwave to heat up insta-meals packaged in plastic. Was she healthier for it? I think so!

Today, it seems nutrition has taken a back seat to convenience. Staple grains like wheat are being massed produced for mass consumption and losing essential nutrients in the process. More and more preservatives are added to our foods to increase shelf life. Colour, flavour and texture are created and added to make food more enticing, ultimately decreasing what is most important, the nutritional value of the foods we eat. Natural farming processes are becoming a rarity and pesticide use has increased. Agro-chemicals require more energy and work from our bodies as they need to be filtered out and detoxified. The natural mineral content in our soil is depleting and and therefore the mineral content of most vegetables is significantly less than what was grown just 50 years ago. In general, food today is simply more processed, being stripped of its inherent nutritional properties for the sake of mass production and convenience. Pollution plays a role here, as well. Our air, water and soil quality is changing for the worse and the plants and animals that live and grow in this environment are affected.

Lately we have heard a great deal about the importance of Omega 3 fatty acids. Simultaneously we are learning more and more about the heavy metal content, mainly mercury, of many of our tastiest fish friends. Fish oil is a prime example of a supplement that is becoming more and more necessary in order to minimize our levels of mercury while still getting in the essential Omega 3 fatty acids, needed for to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and protect against a variety of neurological concerns.

Needs change

The fact of the matter is, as we age and grow, our nutritional needs do change. Lifestyle factors like stress, use of prescription medications and habits like smoking also change our nutritional needs. There are certainly times in our lives when we need to boost levels of certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients in order to adapt to these changing needs. During pregnancy, for instance, a prenatal vitamin is almost universally recommended in order to compensate for the growing babe in the making. In childhood, vitamin C and iron may be necessary in supplement form to round out your little picky eater's diet. Teenagers may also need extra calcium, as they are growing rapidly during this period. Seniors also need to supplement with extra calcium and vitamin D, as well as possibly a B complex if their eating habits are deteriorating. The calcium requirement of postmenopausal women is increased due to both reduced intestinal absorption and less efficient kidney conservation. Calcium supplementation has been shown to significantly decrease bone loss in postmenopausal women, reducing the risk of osteoporosis in this susceptible group. Women who are still menstruating may benefit from extra iron, especially if their menses is heavy.

Some needs change with the season. Many people know vitamin D as the sun vitamin, but during or cold Canadian winters, it doesn't matter how much sun there is, we are simply not able to absorb this much needed vitamin through our skin (and are very rarely outside with skin exposed). For this reason, vitamin D supplementation throughout the winter months is essential. Many Canadians get so deficient throughout the winter that it is recommended they supplement year round to compensate for the deficiency.

We are all susceptible to the odd cold or flu, not matter how well we eat. When our immune system is compromised, our body is smart, and uses up the resources it has in order to fight these bugs. In cases like this, supplements like vitamin C are necessary to boost these depleted levels. When smart bugs get the best of us, antibiotics are often prescribed. Although they do a great job of getting rid of nasty bacteria, they also completely wipe out the population of good bacteria within our gastrointestinal tract. Probiotic and prebiotic supplementation is an effective way to repopulate these good bacteria in order to prevent dysbiosis.

Even as exercise habits change, so do nutritional needs. Body builders, marathon runners and individuals looking to shed a few pounds need to make sure they are supporting their bodies changing needs as they exercise. A high quality protein powder for example, is made to be absorbed quickly and efficiently, providing essential amino acids in the smallest number of calories and may prove to be an essential and complimentary addition to any athlete's daily diet. Free radicals are generated more quickly during exercise, and as such, athletes may also want to consider supplementing with antioxidants after especially taxing workouts.

Broccoli doesn't have any Astragalus!

There are a number of plants that have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. Years ago, these plants were usually eaten in their whole form or boiled and made into teas. Nowadays it is more common for these plants to be dried, powdered and made into capsules, or made into alcohol extractions known as tinctures and taken in liquid form. Either way, these herbs have a well supported history of use and can show amazing results in the treatment and prevention of both acute and chronic concerns. For the treatment and prevention of the common cold or flu, herbs like astragalus, echinacea and goldenseal all have strong immune supportive, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, often making over the counter or prescription medications avoidable if used before the condition gets too advanced. Plants that we do often eat in the form of spices, oregano, turmeric and cinnamon being excellent examples, also have very well known and effective medicinal properties. The problem is that there tends to be a significant difference between the amount of these substances that we would use when sprinkling them on food, versus the amounts that are recommended in terms of disease prevention and treatment. In cases like this, taking the herb in supplement form makes it much easier or more palatable.

Deficiencies increase requirements

Magnesium deficiency is extremely common, with some reports stating that well over half the North American population deficient in this much needed mineral. Simply put, once deficiencies arise, it is difficult to restore your levels to the required amounts without supplementation. Again, it becomes a matter of efficiency and effectiveness. When we are already low in a specific vitamin or mineral, chances are that we aren't accustomed to eating enough or possibly any foods that are high in these substances. Although increasing our intake of these substances through food is necessary, it can often be too overwhelming for an individual to go from nothing to nothing but, in one step. Supplementation is the perfect compromise. In the case of magnesium deficiency, supplementing with magnesium will compliment an increase through dietary means, and can usually be stopped once levels are adequately increased, allowing for food to maintain these levels once they are achieved.

Supplementation is especially important if the deficiency has gotten so low as to affect the health of the individual. In the case of iron deficiency anaemia for instance, a patient may find it both difficult as well as a very slow process to attempt to increase their iron stores strictly through diet. Supplementation with Iron is faster, easier and can increase stores within 2-3 weeks, improving energy and helping to build up their immune system. In the case of intestinal inflammatory states, such as IBD, there is often malabsorption, especially of fat soluble vitamins. Once again, states like this may make supplementation necessary. Vitamin E, for instance is a fat soluble vitamin and potent antioxidant. It can be found in a variety of nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables, but may not be absorbed in this form, as inflammation impairs the mucosal membranes along the digestive tract.

Supplementation with a multivitamin and mineral complex, ensuring adequate fat soluble vitamins like vitamin E is necessary in order to avoid severe malnutrition. Vegetarians or vegans may have difficulty finding non-animal sources of vitamin A, vitamin D and most B vitamins, once again to avoid a state of deficiency in these vitamins, supplementation may be the only way to compensate for lower than normal levels.

With life threatening diseases such as heart disease, some cancers, a variety of neurological disease, autoimmune diseases and diabetes on the rise, not only do treatments need to focus on deficiencies that leave us more susceptible, but more focus needs to be put on prevention. Yes, a healthy diet and exercise are a great start, but it may not be enough. Talk to your health professional. Be honest about your dietary habits, about your current health state and about any family history of disease. Ask about deficiencies and make an educated decision about what your individual nutritional needs are and if they are being met. If it turns out you need added support in one area or another, supplementation is an easy, reliable and effective option. It could make all the difference to your health.

8 comments:

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