The general thought that everyone should take the same supplements is incorrect. Our bodies have different needs and requirements 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 diverse 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.
However, 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.
There exists other common deficiencies suggested in scientific research to affect those living in Western nations that cannot be laboratory tested. These are vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, and potassium, selenium, as well as antioxidants. Largely these deficiencies are blamed on poor nutritional intake of the foods listed above. As a general rule I do not prescribe these nutrients unless I suspect from someone’s lifestyle, diet, and/or symptoms that they may be deficient.
Aside from the above common deficiencies there are certain circumstances where supplementation is recommended regardless of laboratory testing.
- Folate – in women planning to conceive and in the first three months of pregnancy. Also recommended in the situation of high homocysteine blood levels (a measure of heart attack and stroke risk). Also given to individuals on certain anti-epileptic medications as well as methotrexate medication.
- B12 – often given in cases of pernicious anaemia by injection form.
- Calcium – often recommended for postmenopausal women who do not have enough calcium in their diet. It is important to have a magnesium supplement as well as calcium.
- Coenzyme Q10 – this is important for energy production and is inhibited in those taking a Statin for high cholesterol therefore increasing the risk of muscle soreness. For those taking a Statin it is recommended to take coenzyme Q10 in its active form ubiquinol or reduced form to improve absorption into body cells. Some natural medicine practitioners also recommend coenzyme Q10 in those older than 50 years to improve energy as the natural production of coenzyme Q10 reduces with age.
- Thiamine (vitamin B1) – often given in the case of alcoholism to prevent brain damage from alcohol poisoning.
- Vitamin K – given as either injection or oral form to newborns to prevent potential bleeding due to low vitamin K body stores (vitamin K is used in blood clotting).
- Omega-3 fatty acids – often included in infant formula and thought to improve brain and cellular function. Often also recommended in those older than 60 years as a blood thinner and anti-inflammatory agent.
- Vitamin B6 – often given in cases of mild morning sickness as well as for PMS.
- Multivitamin/multimineral – given in cases where nutrition is lacking due to poor intake, poor absorption of food nutrients due to certain medical conditions, or due to medical conditions which cause an increase in nutritional requirements. I generally do not recommend multivitamins/multiminerals for everyone as they are not tailored to individual needs.