Although it is important to obtain vitamins and minerals from eating healthy foods, most of us need supplementation to fill in the gaps where diet leaves off. In modern life, multiple factors affect why we do not receive adequate nutrition simply from eating, such as busy schedules and ever-present temptations to eat unhealthy, processed foods.
In addition, nutrient content of modern food is compromised due to soil erosion, processing, pollution, and changes in farming methods. According to the FDA, we must intake more fruits and vegetables in a day than most of us are capable of consuming. If eating a perfect diet seems difficult – if not impossible to maintain -the best way to ensure you receive more of what you need to stay healthy and reduce risk of disease and illness is through proper supplementation.
Are you confused and overwhelmed?
In the health food market there are many vitamin and mineral supplements from which to choose, and most people take supplements not knowing exactly what their bodies need. There is also a vast difference between high-quality vitamin and mineral supplements and those manufactured with lesser attention to ingredients, and which contain fillers and chemicals. There are a variety of products available in many different price ranges. All claim to provide health benefits. How do you know which products are good quality? Just as everyone has unique needs and requirements, each product offers different benefits. Some products offer little to no benefit, and not all products work for everyone. That’s why taking something you buy from the store without knowing whether you need it can be a waste of time and money. It can also offset your health in a negative way.
The right choice for your body
A supplement from a whole-food based, organically-produced source containing phytonutrients and co-factors will provide more benefits for health than a synthetically-produced one. Phytonutrients are specific organic components of plants which promote health. A co-factor is an organic molecule or ion (usually a metal ion) required by an enzyme for its activity. These are elements found in foods which allow their nutrients to become available to your body. Whole-foods based products provide nutrients necessary for health from a source in which those nutrients are naturally found. Synthetically produced vitamin and mineral supplements contain isolated nutrients with lower potency that are produced in a laboratory, and are inferior to the naturally-occurring variety. Because the body is unable to absorb synthetic nutrients the same way it does natural ones, synthetic varieties do not contribute to health.
However, simply because a bottle of vitamins is expensive or labeled “organically produced” does not mean it is good quality or right for your individual needs. Always read labels and check ingredients. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, conduct research and/or consult with a practitioner. For example, a commonly occurring ingredient in supplements is magnesium stearate. This ingredient is typically known as an industrial agent which is used as a binder in tablets and pills. It decreases absorption, may be toxic, and suppresses the immune system.
To know whether a supplement you are taking is worthwhile, consult a knowledgeable health care practitioner. Medical doctors normally lack training in and have little experience with nutrition. Their education focuses on complaints and symptoms and how to alleviate them – often with drugs and surgery. By the time you see a doctor, your body has arrived at a condition that is intolerable to you. However, it did not become that way overnight. Lifestyle habits such as poor diet, inadequate rest, lack of exercise, and stress reduction usually contribute to a decline in health over weeks, months, or years. A qualified individual to consult would be a complimentary practitioner such as a nutritional therapist, chiropractor, or naturopath. Their training focuses on causes of health issues and how to eliminate them at the source. Many health conditions and diseases can be traced to lack of adequate nutrition – and particularly in developed countries (e.g., the United States).
Another important consideration is your body’s condition and need at any given time. For instance, you may be deficient in Vitamin D and need an extended period of mega-dosing with this nutrient to get your body back to normal. How would you know whether you need it and in what quantity? Reliable methods used to determine the extent of a deficiency in specific nutrients include blood tests or muscle-testing. Both types of tests can be performed by an experienced practitioner. Only some practitioners have training in muscle-testing – a practice based in the study of applied kinesiology. This practice determines your body’s immediate reaction to certain nutrients, whether it is deficient or not, and is a powerful tool to determine what supplements to use and to determine the length of time you will need them.
Guidelines to follow when considering supplements:
Some supplements are not standardized or of good quality. A great deal of what is available in most grocery and some health food stores is not considered good quality by health care practitioners who are knowledgeable about nutrition. Professional grade products are usually the best choice. Educate yourself with research to learn which ingredients are best by reading books on the subject and consulting with an experienced practitioner. Trying to decide about supplementation on your own can be a daunting proposition that may lead to further health issues and a waste of money.
Since many traditional medical doctors are un-knowledgable about nutritional supplements, for best results, seek the advice of a qualified practitioner such as a certified nutritional therapist, chiropractor, or naturopathic physician.
Whole-food, organic product with phyto-nutrients and co-factors are the best choices.
For whatever reason, if you are not receiving adequate intake in your diet, you may need to choose supplements that solve the following dietary requirements: basic vitamins/mineral balance/other nutrients and trace elements, essential fatty acids (Omega 3s), fiber (for regularity and toxin removal), digestive aids (such as digestive enzymes), and probiotics (friendly bacteria that populate your intestinal tract and keep your immune system functioning).
Once you begin a protocol of taking supplements, make a commitment. It is only through a dedicated approach to taking supplements in conjunction with permanent lifestyle changes that will allow you to realize results.
Every so often, consult with your practitioner about supplementation. As most people in developed countries are deficient, initial administration of supplementation often requires a heavier dosing of nutrients to bring the body back into balance. Because your body’s needs are affected by its condition, you may need less or more of various nutrients at any given time. Make certain you are getting enough of what you need, or that you are not taking too much.
Brands to consider when purchasing supplements are Biotics Research, Apex Energetics, and Standard Process. These reputable companies sell products through qualified practitioners and are considered by many knowledgeable professionals to be the gold standard for health supplements. There are many other good products available as well; check with your practitioner and your local health food store.
What are the health benefits?
The main purpose of taking supplements is to enable the body to overcome deficiencies which cause health problems – also known as malnutrition. In the United States, we are some of the most overfed and undernourished people on the planet. There is an abundance of food, but much of what is available is not real food. Not only are we in the habit of regularly consuming substances that are not real food, we are contributing to an overall decline in our general health by consuming foods that actually make us sick by depleting our bodies of vital nutrients. It can take years to notice the effects of malnutrition. By the time we discover that our bodies are malnourished, there is a lot of work to do. It can become habitual to eat junk over real, whole foods that improve health – due to hectic schedules, demand for “convenience foods” which enable us to continue our busy lives, the amount of stress we place upon ourselves to get everything accomplished, and the departure from preparing meals from scratch.
The proper regimen of good quality supplementation can also aid the body in eliminating toxins which hamper and impede normal bodily functions. Every day we are exposed to toxins in our environment from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we eat. Supplements in the forms of vitamins and antioxidants can reduce the amount of toxin build-up in the body and improve health condition. Toxins that build up affect the way we feel, function, and age.
Nutritional supplements also support the immune system which is located in the digestive tract. Everything you eat affects digestion, immune system performance, and overall health. When your immune system is low, it affects every single bodily function. When immune system function is compromised, your body is vulnerable to disease and illness. People who take care of themselves with proper supplementation, exercise, and diet are less likely to come down with a cold or flu virus being passed around from person-to-person.
Remember, the best way to maintain health is through a healthy diet. However, in many cases, some supplementation is necessary. If you do need supplementation, follow these guidelines for better results. Your individual needs and body condition will dictate whether or not you are getting the necessary nutrients for your health.
For more information about making the right choice in nutritional supplements, visit Merchant Circle.
A modified version of this article appears on Bodybuilding.com.