In today’s society it appears you can buy a supplement for just about anything. Pills, powders, potions, and various tinctures are widely available that make a variety of health claims. But do these actually work and should everyone be taking a supplement of some description? This is the question I commonly get asked and it is important that we know the answer to avoid potentially harming our bodies or at the very least avoid unnecessary spending.
What Are Supplements?
Supplements come with different ingredients and different potential health benefits or claims.
These supplements include but are not limited to:
Vitamins – contain either several vitamins in low dose in a multivitamin formulation or come as individual vitamins or groups of vitamins e.g. multi B supplement.
Minerals – contain either several minerals in low dose in a multimineral formulation or come as individual vitamins e.g. selenium, zinc, copper etc.
Oils – can be found in capsule or liquid form and include krill oil, cod liver oil, fish oil, and flaxseed oil.
Antioxidants – formulations containing antioxidant compounds such as resveratrol, green tea extract, glutathione, n-acetyl cysteine etc.
Herbal Supplements – include liquid, powder or capsule herbal extracts e.g. vitex, silymarin, horny goat weed etc.
Greens Powders – contain dried green plants including barley grass, spirulina, chlorella and wheatgrass.
Fibre Supplements – soluble and insoluble fibre supplement e.g. psyllium
Protein Powders – contains the protein portion of foods such as whey, rice, pea and soy often mixed with a fibre supplement and a sweetener.
Performance Enhancing Supplements – these include all sport related supplements – creatine, L-carnitine, branched chain amino acids, alpha-lipoic acid, d-ribose and glutamine.
Probiotics – contain known strains of beneficial gut bacteria and come in liquid, tablet, or powder form.
Should Everyone Take Supplements?
The general thought that anyone and everyone should take the same supplements is incorrect. Our bodies have different needs and therefore some individuals may require extra support in the form of supplementation whilst others may get away without taking any supplements. Also, the needs of our body may change depending on our stress levels and other lifestyle factors, current diet, as well as our age; and so may our nutritional requirements change accordingly. Due to these situations we may need extra supplementation for only a period of time.
In an ideal world we would get all that we need from the food we eat. Indeed, food should ideally be our medicine. Choosing a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables of different colours, wholegrains, lean animal products, eggs, beans and other legumes, as well as nuts and seeds, helps to ensure we are getting enough nutrients.
Unfortunately, our diets can be lacking in certain nutrients due to poor nutritional choices, lack of available fresh foods or access to fresh foods, and even due to poor soil quality, which compromises the vitamin and mineral content of the produce we eat. I encounter a number of common deficiencies in clinical practice including:
- Zinc – can lead to brittle hair and nails, poor energy, hair loss, digestive issues, and poor wound healing.
- Iodine – can lead to thyroid problems resulting in fatigue and weight changes.
- Iron – can lead to anaemia and fatigue.
- Vitamin B12 – can lead to anaemia and fatigue.
- Magnesium – can lead to cramping, heart palpitations and constipation.
- Vitamin D – can lead to osteoporosis, and may even lead to difficulty losing weight, autoimmune conditions, depression and certain types of cancer.
These deficiencies, luckily, can be detected by laboratory testing and are worth having tested annually.
Dr Cris Beer
Holistic Medical Doctor