Each day, a new conflicting study is published about Vitamins, Supplements and Minerals. Which makes it hard to answer the question ‘Are Supplements good for you and which ones should you take?’
One day folic acid is good, the next it’s found to cause cancer. One day Vitamin D is a lifesaver, the next it’s found to have no benefit. With so much information available (and with incredibly convincing marketing messages from some Supplement companies muddying the waters), how do you know what’s best? Here we explore why the science can be confusing and why it shouldn’t put you off living a Supplemented life.
The Science behind Supplements.
Vitamins and minerals are Micronutrients — something your body needs in tiny amounts. They influence nearly every process in your body and are essential for your overall health.
A common problem with studying Micronutrients in isolation is that they actually work as a team and exist alongside other nutrients in nature. Studies often look at high doses of one extract of a Nutrient, which doesn’t give a complete picture of the benefits it might deliver. Or tell you whether the Supplement might be good for you in smaller doses or in a more natural state.
Step 1 on this path is what we eat, ensuing that we are eating a balanced Diet and getting as many nutrients from our food as possible. Step 2 considers Supplements according to our individual needs. Essentially, the correct Nutrients from Diet and Supplements work collaboratively to maintain the proper balance in your body.
Why start with a Balanced Diet?
A Vitamin is defined as ‘a biologically active, organic compound which is essential to maintain a state of health’. The word comes from ‘vital amine’, indicating just how vital they are.
To maintain an optimal state of health we need a balance of Micronutrients, Minerals, Antioxidants and Amino Acids. And as our bodies can’t produce all of the nutrients that we need to function properly, we have to eat them!
Unfortunately, because of depleted soils, industrial farming and hybridisation techniques, the animals and vegetables we eat have fewer Nutrients. Due to this, insufficiency is very common and can happen for several reasons. Some common causes include
- Poor absorption of Nutrients — for example, if you have Coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease.
- A diet lacking in fruit or vegetables.
- A Vegan or Vegetarian diet.
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Medications — like the oral contraceptive pill, antibiotics or antacid medication.
- Pregnant women, teenagers and older people all have increased nutritional demand.
- High levels of stress or intensive exercise.
Insufficiency can lead to many of the chronic conditions we struggle with every day: low energy, poor concentration, low mood, and aches and pains.
A key indication that you might be lacking in micronutrients is problems with hair, skin and nails. Your body will prioritise getting essential micronutrients to your vital organs to keep you alive, and if you don’t have enough, signs will appear externally, like weak brittle nails, thinning hair and dry skin.
Over a long period of time Insufficiency can become Deficiency and lead to many diseases.
So, which Supplements should you take?
Unfortunately there is no ‘One Size Fits All’ answer to this question!
Start by looking for any sign that you may not be getting all the Nutrients you Need. Some common indications that show you could benefit from Supplementing your Nutrient stores include: Chronic Skin Issues (Acne, Eczema, Dry Skin) Weak or Brittle Nails, Dry or Thinning Hair, Frequent Infections, Low Mood, Anxiety, Fatigue, Headaches, Poor Concentration and Sleeplessness.
As a guide, if you can answer ‘Yes” to any of these questions, you’re most probably low in some key nutrients:
- I generally feel run down and exhausted.
- I grab for quick snacks on the go instead of eating meals.
- I skip meals as often as a couple of times a week, because I’m so busy.
- I almost always skip breakfast.
- I get twitches, cramps, achy joints or restless legs at night.
- I have premenstrual symptoms.
- I catch every cold going and take a long time to recover.
- I struggle with mood issues especially depression or anxiety.
- I crave sugar, salt or chocolate.
- I get cracks in the corners of my lips/mouth.
- I am often constipated.
- I have white lines on my fingernails, and they break or split very easily.
- I have thinning, premature grey or dry hair.
- I have dry skin, especially on the backs on my arms.
- I have acne, psoriasis or eczema.
- I spend less than an hour outdoors in the sunlight every day in the summer, and less than several hours outside daily in the winter months.
- I am vegan or vegetarian or follow a restricted eating plan.
- I complete more than 30 minutes of intense exercise at least 5 days a week.
So, how do you know which Supplements are going to be good for you?
If you’re already taking supplements and not achieving your health goals, or if you have signs of multiple deficiencies, then working with a trained practitioner to assess your levels can be helpful.
They’ll help you distinguish between:
a) Lack of a particular Nutrient – from poor dietary intake or increased demand (due to illness, stress, lifestyle) and;
b) Deficiency in a particular Nutrient – due to poor absorption or utilisation of the Nutrient.
Factors that can affect these, and need to be addressed first, are gastrointestinal health, use of medications, drugs, alcohol, stress, hormone imbalance, illness and toxic exposure.
Luckily, testing is increasingly accessible and testing your nutrient status with blood and/or urine. As with any testing, it’s important to recognise that the results are just a snapshot in time and that levels can fluctuate. When used in conjunction with symptoms, testing is a great way to help you with your supplement choices!
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any condition. If you have a medical condition, are pregnant, or take any form of medication, consult a trained professional or doctor before taking supplements.