Supplements are advertised everywhere and for everything! From fatigue combatting complexes to pre-natal vitamins. Supplements are often sold to us as a “cure-all”, with conflicting claims made for their efficacy. Supplements may not cure all ills, but they can often make a positive difference. With a massive variety from vitamin A to zinc available, it can be bewildering working out what’s best for you. I always recommend seeking advice from a qualified practitioner.
I’ve been using supplements for the past couple of years to support my health. I’ve found some them to make a noticeable difference. Supplements have a broad range of applications. From boosting our immune systems, and treating symptoms, to helping support a balanced diet, and treating deficiencies. Not everything works for everyone, but many people report good results. Supplements are available in a wide-range of qualities – one of the main differences being between synthetic and food-state supplements. There can be big variations between the supplements that can we buy on the high street to those that can be bought from specialist suppliers.
Do we need supplements?
This is a debatable question. Research conducted prior to WWII and the widespread use of pesticides suggested that we can get all the vitamins we need from our food. But more recent research has shown steep declines in vitamin and mineral levels found in food. Thus we have to consume larger amounts and variety of fruit and vegetables to meet our daily requirements. Some studies have suggested that we should actually be eating 10 portions of fruit and veg a day! Deficiencies and absorption issues can also be linked to a number of health conditions, such as Crohns and Lupus. These may increase our required amounts further.
What can they do for us?
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can have devastating effects. From fatigue to rickets, deficiencies can cause long lasting effects. So don’t dismiss a deficiency as unimportant! Even when we don’t have deficiencies, supplementation may help to alleviate symptoms. Although there is an ongoing debate regarding the effectiveness of supplements for boosting our immune system, many people report fewer coughs, colds and infections after taking Echinacea, Elderberry and vitamin C. Doctors often recommend supplementation (particularly folic acid) to women trying to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding. Vitamin D is suggested for people of South Asian, African or Afro-Carribean decent. These groups can be at higher risk of developing vitamin D deficiency.
Synthetic vs food-state
Cheaper supplements tend to be synthetic – made from man-made chemicals rather than from a concentrated food source. This often means that they can’t be as easily metabolised by the body. They can also contain various fillers, artificial colourants, and hydrogenated oils. But they are often a cheaper alternative to food-state supplements. Some supplements have to be synthesised – amino acid chelates for example, as these don’t exist in foods.
Food-state supplements are exactly that – made from natural foods. Usually concentrated plant matter. The bioavailability of these supplements is often much better than that of synthetic supplements. Due to higher manufacturing costs they can be a more costly option. In my opinion the better bioavailability makes them well worth the extra cost. Food-state supplements can be purchased on the high street. But some of the best quality and most cost effective brands are only available on the web.
Allergies and amounts
Its also important to make sure that you check your choice of supplements for any potential allergens. I prefer brands that offers animal-free and soya-free products. Most will be free of the more common allergens such as gluten. Although, if you have allergies to brassicas, cruciferous vegetables, and seaweed in particular then make sure you check the ingredients! This goes for synthetic vitamins too! They often have gelatin capsules and can cause problems for those with multiple chemical sensitivities.
It is also important to not take too much and stay within the recommended limits. Vitamins are either fat or water soluble. If you take too much of a water soluble vitamin (such as B vitamins and vitamin C) you will likely pee the excess out. But fat soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D and K) can cause damage if you take too much. Overdosing on supplements is possible, as are contraindications with prescription meds. Its always best to check the amounts and contraindications with your pharmacist if in doubt.
The advice given to patients about supplementation is ever-changing. Some doctors will say its a waste of money whilst others may even suggest a good multi-vitamin over anti-depressants. As anyone with complex health issues knows, sometimes you need to consult more than one practictioner. Nutritionists, naturopaths, as well as a range of complementary therapists should be able to advise you on what is best for you.