Supplements – do we need them and when?

supplements_vitamins

Do We Need to Supplement?

This would have to be one of the questions I get asked a LOT as a nutritionist.  To supplement or not to supplement?  Let me just start off by saying that we at Rejuvenate For Life are big believers in using real food and food as medicine.

“You can’t out-do Nature. The synergistic effect of real food is priceless. Scientists are now finding out that people taking a whole bunch of antioxidant supplements may actually be worse off than people not taking them. Why? Because taking a single extracted, heavily processed vitamin or mineral is not the same as getting that vitamin or mineral along with all the other cofactors (other vitamins or minerals that are needed for it to do its job properly) that it needs in order to perform the required function in the body. You see, all nutrients work together with a whole bunch of other nutrients in order to make things happen in the body.” – Optimum Health the Paleo Way.

There is absolutely a time and place for supplementation and yes, as a practitioner I do use supplementation with clients when necessary, but it is always combined with utilising good food and it is usually only after some functional testing has been done to check out their baselines.

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When it comes to supplements, you can not out-do Nature. The synergistic effect of real food is priceless. [tweet this]

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A Little Too Much of a Good Thing

That brings me to the next point.  Just because a little bit of something is good for you – does not mean that a lot must be great!  Simply taking vitamin B6 because you heard it will give you more energy or taking vitamin C because you heard it’s good for colds is not necessarily the right way to go about it.  Just taking a supplement willy-nilly or even in larger doses can actually disrupt your biochemical pathways and further exacerbate imbalances.  Too much of a nutrient can be just as harmful as being deficient in a nutrient.

A classic example of this is fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K.  These vitamins accumulate in the body, so you can’t just keep taking more and more of them – be aware of this.  Vitamin A taken at high doses for a long period of time can result in toxicity and may lead to things such as nerve lesions, painful joints and bones, nausea and hypercalcaemia.  Fish oil is another one – if you are taking a poor quality fish oil it can actually be worse for your health than taking NO fish oil, because you are taking in rancid, oxidised oil.  Everyone has their own individual fatty acid profile, and so if you don’t know what your levels are to start off with, how do you know what you are trying to correct?

Synthetic vs Mother Nature

Another point to make here is synthetic vitamins are very different to the vitamins you find in nature and natural foods.  These vitamin capsules, tablets or powders may include other fillers and stabilizers – some even contain gluten.  They can also be made with ingredients such as magnesium stearate which can decrease the bio-availability of the nutrient.  Some of these synthetic forms of vitamins are so low in bio-availability, you are almost better off taking nothing!

Real food on the other hand, contains a little magic! I am most certain that what is in real food and what our body does with it is even more complex than what researchers have discovered to date. Scientists have tried to figure out why food is so good and replicate it, but our manmade versions just don’t have the same effect as the ‘magic’ that is contained in real food.

They tried this with antioxidants.  We all know that getting more antioxidants in our diet is good for us…so what if we made supplements with just the antioxidants and nothing else?  Turns out, this is not the best option for us.  Studies have shown that supplementation with antioxidants such as vitamin E, in individuals with chronic diseases, can actually increase mortality.  These same antioxidants contained in REAL food along with all the necessary co-factors and synergistic nutrients – gold!  Get as much of them in you as possible.

It is also worth noting that all nutrients are not the same.  Folate, folic acid and 5-methyltetrafolate are not all the same thing!  In some people who have methylation issues (methylation is the adding or removing of a methyl group and this process is involved in hundreds of reactions in the body), they need to make sure they are getting what is known as an ‘active form’ of folate in order for them to be ‘functioning correctly’.  If they are taking an inactive form, it just banks and cannot be utilised and can cause all sorts of issues.

So The Take Home Message…

If you think you may be deficient in certain nutrients or you are just not feeling your best – my honest advice is go and see a qualified Nutritionist, Naturopath or Integrative GP and let them help you and if need be, do some functional testing so you know your baselines and what needs work.

Functional testing is an approach to health care that evaluates the body’s functional systems, in order to assess for biochemical imbalances. We need certain micronutrients in order for us to function optimally and a lack of these can lead to various illnesses.  The practitioner is able to utilize various tests to assess these biochemical processes and if imbalances are found, take a targeted approach to correct them.

There are many practitioners who are trained in functional testing.  These may include some nutritionists, naturopaths or integrative GPs.  In Australia you can call Research Nutrition to ask which practitioners do functional testing in your local area or you can also look up ACNEM for GPs with training in nutritional and environmental medicine.

This way you are not wasting your money buying supplements you don’t need or running the risk of creating nutritional excesses.

  • A qualified practitioner will also have access to nutrients in their ‘active form’ making them bio-available and this means that what you are taking is actually going to work for you.
  • You get what you pay for.  In the world of vitamins and minerals – I would usually place my bets on ‘cheap’ means ‘very limited bio-availability’. It really is a case of you get what you pay for.
  • Generally speaking – powdered or capsules will have better absorption and utilisation over tablets.  This is due to many tablets being coated with magnesium stearate.  Remember many also contain added fillers and stabilizers.
  • Look for fish oil that is triglyceride form, third party tested and is sustainably fished and part of the Marine Stewardship Council and is research backed.
  • Steer clear of these big bucket cheap fish oils.  They are just not worth the cheap bucks you will pay for them and you don’t need to be taking in rancid oils.

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Invest time in your ultimate vitamin pill – the food you put in your mouth every day! It is the best way to invest in your health. [tweet this]

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The Ultimate Nutrient Pill

  • Invest time in your ultimate vitamin pill – the food you put in your mouth every day!  This really is the best way to invest in your health.
  • A great pick me up and nutritional boost is to make a vegetable juice or smoothie.  Make sure that the bulk of the juice or smoothie is green vegetables and not too high in sugary vegetables such as carrots or fruits (it is too much sugar when you are juicing and removing the fibre)
  • Swap up the vegetables you use daily and use what is seasonally.
  • Make sure where possible your vegetables are organically grown.
  • Introduce some organ meats to your diet – these babies are PACKED with nutrients.

 Supplements FAQ’s

Are there specific supplements for women or men?

There are some supplements that are specifically designed for men or women.  But the ones I am referring to are the ones you would get from your practitioner after a consult.  They would be using them for very particular symptoms or conditions you have presented with – say if a men presents with prostate or male hormonal issues or perhaps a female is wanted to do preconception care or have issues with PMS.  These types of issues may need specific nutrients but should always be prescribed by a professional.

The sort of ‘Men’s or Women’s’ multivitamins you find at major supermarkets – I do not believe are worth you wasting your money on.  Save that money and buy some seasonal, organic vegetables and make yourself a juice :)

What are the nutrients most people are deficient in that I may need to check with my health practitioner? 

This is another hard one to pinpoint – without doing appropriate testing, but there are some nutrients that most people in this day and age can benefit from.  If you think you are suffering with deficiencies, see a practitioner who can help you and do not self-prescribe.

Where you live can play a big role in your nutritional status.  It is well known that the soils in Western Australia are very deficient in selenium – so that is a big deficiency seen where I live.  If you are living say where Irena is at the moment (London)– vitamin D might be an issue, so you may benefit from a from a good cod liver oil natural boost your vitamin D and A levels.

Magnesium is an essential nutrient that is our ‘calming’ mineral, our muscle relaxant.   It gets used up at rapid rate when we are stressed – and you guessed it…these days we are stressed a LOT.  I see magnesium deficiency quite a bit and can show up with symptoms such as muscle twitching (especially eye) and difficulty sleeping.

Excess omega-6 is another common one…coupled with deficiency in omega-3.  Most people in this day and age (unless they are willing to be super vigilant with their diet and eat oily fish DAILY) could benefit from taking some fish oil.  Unless you are taking blood thinning medication or have clotting issues – then you should not supplement with fish oil as it can cause further thinning of the blood.

Zinc is another very beneficial nutrient that is needed for hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body, including many that have to do with neurotransmitter and hormone production.  Symptoms of zinc deficiency can include white spots on the nails, poor wound healing and lack lustre and brittle hair.

Remember, it is never advised to start taking new supplements before consulting your primary health care professional, always discuss your options with them first.

I am a vegetarian/vegan, what supplements might I need to take?

Being a vegetarian or vegan, this is what you want to be mindful of is that:

  • You are getting sufficient protein in your diet.
  • You may need to consider supplementation of vitamin B12 in particular .
  • You are getting sufficient omega-3 (EPA and DHA) in your diet.  Please note that plant sources of omega-3 do not convert in sufficient amounts in the body to EPA and DHA.  Check out our previous post here on chia seeds for more of an explanation.  You might want to consider supplementing with algae based EPA/DHA.  A vegetarian diet is usually high in grains which are high in omega-6, so this always needs to be monitored.

I eat paleo/primal, what supplements might I need to take?

As long as you are getting loads of fresh vegetables and fruits as a part of your diet, then you should not need supplementation if you are already in good health.

  • Be mindful you are getting good sources of dairy free calcium, such as loading up on your greens, sardines, almonds and sesame seeds.
  • Make sure that your diet contains adequate soluble and insoluble fibre – hint…eat your VEGETABLES!

Do we need mutlivitamins?

I would have to say no.  Most people think that they might need them if they are ‘cheating’ on their diet and not eating right or they are hitting a really stressful period and if that is the case – see a practitioner and get a GOOD multivitamin that is actually going to work.

The ones you find in major supermarkets have such low doses and are usually packed to the brim with fillers and preservatives – you are better off taking nothing!  Trust me.

If you are cheating on your diet, maybe stop for a minute and find out why?  Is there something that you can do different?  Can you add a seasonal green juice or smoothie?  A seasonal vegetable juice will be so much more beneficial and will have more bioavailable nutrients than a run of the mill multivitamin.

If you are going through a very stressful period or time when you just do not have time to yourself, book in a visit to your local nutritionist or naturopath and talk to them about a multivitamin that could assist you over this period.

Should you take vitamins with food?

This really depends on what you are taking, and they are all different.  If you are taking something prescribed by a nutritionist or naturopath, they will advise you at the time of how to take that supplement.

Things like fish oils, should be taken with food or just after food as you need your pancreatic enzymes to break down the triglycerides of the fish oil.  Supplements that contain zinc are also better off taken with food as they can cause nausea and supplements that contain B vitamins, particularly B6, should not be taken at night as they can keep you awake.

How to store supplements?

Store them in their bottles in a dry, cool area.  Most supplements that require special storage such as probiotics, which need to be kept in the fridge, will advise this on the bottle.

Some people find that storing their fish oil in the fridge will reduce reflux that the fish oil causes them.  If a fish oil is causing you reflux, it may also be a sign that the fish oil is already oxidised, so make sure you are buying a good quality fish oil.  It should not give you fishy burps!  If it is…find a new one.

Supplements can help people, but should be never used as a replacement for a good diet.  They should not just be randomly added to your diet – you could be doing more harm than good and creating further imbalances.  Never start taking any new supplement without consulting your primary health care professional first, and if you feel you need a boost or your may have a nutritional deficiency, seek professional help.

Check some of our favourite nutrient boosting recipes

Grilled lamb liver with caramelised onions and grapes

Kohlrabi & sesame prawn salad with dulse seaweed

Green & mean spinach & leek soup

Turmeric chicken & kale salad with citrus dressing

References

Miller E, Pastor-Barriuso, R, Dalal, D, Riemersma, R, Appel, L, Guallar, E, 2005,  Meta-Analysis: High-Dosage Vitamin E Supplementation May Increase All-Cause Mortality, Annuals of Internal Medicine, Vol 142 No.1

Osiecki, The Nutrient Bible 7th edition, Bio Concepts Publishing

Othomolecular – Therapeutic Nutrition based Upon Biochemical Individuality – http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1996/articles/1996-v11n04-p190.shtml

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Claire Yates

By Claire Yates

Claire Yates is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, holding a Bachelor of Health Science, who is passionate about paleo nutrition, health and having fun! She is the author of Optimal Health The Paleo Way and is a self-confessed lover of good food and good coffee.

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