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Supplements – Beneficial or a Waste of Money?

Supplements – Beneficial or a Waste of Money?

Between health gurus and varying research statistics, we are always getting conflicting data about different vitamins and minerals as to whether they are beneficial or an expensive waste of money.

There are always big differences in the pricing of apparently the same product, coupled with a raft of articles raving over the newest ‘must have’ nutrient at the time.

All this makes it very confusing for the consumer to know what to do when they are just trying to do the best they can to maintain health at their different life stages, or have a condition or symptoms that they believe nutrition can fix.

We get all the nutrition we need from food, right? Buying supplements is just a waste of time and very expensive pee?

Well, like most health issues, the answer isn’t definitive. This is because we are all individuals with different DNA and lifestyles; research can be a blunt edged tool that takes a range of people, according to age for instance, or without sufficient numbers to get a truer median, or without taking their individual ‘health blueprint’ into account. There’s a case for looking at subsets to get a more accurate picture.

Let’s address some of the issues that we have to consider. I strongly believe that food is nature’s medicine. What we eat quite literally builds us from the womb and maintains us until the end of life. What our mothers ate, and grandmothers too, has influence on our start in life. Our personal DNA and genetic code has influence, and our everyday life as we mature, the food choices we make, the lives we lead, will all play their part in our lifetime’s health pathway.

Even with a perfect diet and the best possible start in life, the combination of many other factors, including depleted soils with far less minerals that even 30 years ago, the methods of storage and transportation of food, the reliance on chemical fertilisers and industrial farming techniques, the genetic alteration to heirloom species; makes it harder for us to obtain all the minerals and vitamins we need solely from the foods we eat. Perhaps not impossible but for the majority of us, very much harder either to access or afford.

One way we can make the most of our diet and possible need for supplements, is to start personalising our nutrient intake according to possible genetic needs, gut health, lifestyle, rates of absorption and nutrient take up, dependent on our current state.

Our lifestyles are a big factor in nutrient uptake, and smoking, alcohol units consumed a week, lack of exercise, lack of exposure to sunlight, stress from home and/or work, depletes nutrients before we even look at dietary intake. Supplements will be an expensive waste of time if we rely on these to make up for the other poor choices.

We need to clean up the whole of our life at the same time before we can make use of nutrient rich foods and maximise on supplementation.

One area research does agree on, is that for the majority of us, common nutrient deficiencies include Omega fats, vitamin D, folate, zinc, magnesium, selenium and iron. We can look at the RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake) of our vitamins and minerals and imagine we are ok because we are meeting that percentage from our food choices.

However, these figures represent the bare minimum to prevent disease but are not enough to optimise our health. For example, the RDI vitamin C level is enough not to get scurvy but not enough for all its other functions in the body. It’s also a water soluble vitamin so what you don’t use you pee. A reason to keep topping up your C level throughout the day especially when under stress or unwell.

Vitamins and minerals all act as co-factors in our ability to take up food nutrients, so they are indispensable to health. Many processed foods will be devoid of them unless ‘fortified’, that is ‘added in’ because the rest is ‘dead food’ – food that fills us up but doesn’t bring the same nutrient levels. Coupled with the high salt and sugar levels in processed foods that cause our addictions and cravings for carbohydrate foods, this further runs down our ‘barometer’ of good health. We simply aren’t getting enough high quality nutrient, or the fibre needed for good gut health which is a big part of nutrient uptake. Our current awareness of obesity and high probability of chronic disease and early mortality from eating poor nutrition, is a wake up call for the nation and the world. Access to quality nutrition is often called a postcode lottery in the UK. Those living in the more disadvantaged areas simply don’t have the choice of where to shop or the money to spend that some higher quality foods can cost. However, there is still plenty of good nutrition in tinned and frozen foods like vegetables, beans and pulses, and oily fish, sometimes higher, because it was ‘picked and packed’ within a very short time. That isn’t the whole answer and there has to be a levelling out together with subsidies and education, to bring the changes that are needed.

Common signs of nutrient deficiency that often happen are, dry skin and hair and those bumps on the backs of arms – vitamin A; white spots on the nails – zinc; cracks in the corner of the mouth, mouth ulcers and gum disease – B vitamins; low energy and heavy limbs – iron and B vitamins; skin issues – vitamin C; rickets and soft bones – vitamin D. Here’s an easy test to see if you might have a vitamin D deficiency; press quite hard on your shin bone and if its sore or painful – get tested for vitamin D and make every effort to get a good 20 minutes of morning sunlight for the body to make its own vitamin D. Tired muscles, low mood, insomnia – magnesium.

Anaemia is when a person has fewer red blood cells than a normal or an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin in each blood cell. They may look paler or have a sore and red tongue or mouth ulcers besides feeling tired all the time because there aren’t enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body.

Vitamin B12, or folate deficiencies, are something vegans need to be aware of because they will find it hard to get enough through their diet, can cause a wide range of symptoms but pain on the side of the body can be a first sign of deficiency. It will feel like a nerve shock coming on every few seconds. It can occur at the side of either hip or on the sides of the body along the ribs. If you are vegan or vegetarian, yeast extract (Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products all contain B12 but depending on the individual, supplementation might be needed. A blood test may be taken.

Here’s a mind boggling fact – there are 37, billion, billion chemical reactions in the body, every second! And every single chemical reaction needs chemical helpers – and these are our co-factors – the vitamins and minerals! I mentioned earlier how our DNA code plays a role in our nutritional requirements and here’s why. A whopping third of our DNA codes are for enzymes – these are catalysts that convert one molecule to another with variations in how they work, making each person’s individual needs more or less for a different nutrient. So my need for magnesium, folate, B vitamins, B6, B12, zinc etc, will be different to yours.

Next, we also have to consider our individual gut microbiome. This will determine whether we are able to digest and absorb nutrition and if we can make our own vitamin K for instance. Issues surrounding our gut need to be addressed first. It might be that taking that probiotic isn’t helpful until the gut issue is resolved.

Next, we should take into account the levels of stress each individual has in their life that causes our body to excrete more minerals, magnesium especially. Alcohol will deplete all our B vitamins and magnesium. Taking diuretics, blood pressure medication, or acid blockers, drinking too much coffee, eating too much sugar, smoking; these have a big impact in depleting our stores of vitamins and minerals; and our lifestyle choices must be addressed simultaneously with implementing dietary changes because otherwise it’s a case of ‘locking the stable door after the horse has bolted’ and the healthy outcomes won’t happen.

Among those subsets in society we could include vegans, children, adolescents, pregnant mothers, mid-lifers and menopausal women, sports enthusiasts and older people, for example. All requiring different levels of specific vitamins and minerals at these different times.

As we get older we tend to eat fewer calories, so it is of the utmost importance to make those all foods that are eaten as nutrient dense as possible, and this takes some advance planning, and relying on a slice of toast and a cup of tea for breakfast won’t be enough; this group need to eat some protein at every meal to help prevent muscle wastage, and include vegetables and some fruit to meet at least their 5 a day, and fibre intake, although scientists are now advising 10 a day – that does take some advance thinking and planning!

Vegans are most likely going to be short on vitamin D, also iodine which is found in fish, and the B vitamins which are in good quantities of animal protein. Yes, pulses and beans and green veggies supply them, but one would have to eat more than it is possible to eat at any meal to get even the recommended minimum amount, let alone the optimum levels. B12 is especially needed. Likewise, Omega 3s, readily available from oily fish and the amino acids from animal protein needed to maintain muscles. Amino acids are our building blocks. Vegans must plan their meals carefully and consider supplements where necessary to obtain all the nutrients they need.

So, I think there is a strong case for taking targeted supplements but alongside a lifestyle appraisal, and the support to make those healthy changes at the same time to maximise their benefit. Always reviewing as the situation changes because it might just be a short term help, or something to consider continuing for a longer period. We can do so much with simple food choices. Cook from scratch, batch cook if you are busy, choosing brown rice and not white to get the B vitamins from the husk, including more vegetables in the daily quota, choose buckwheat or quinoa as an alternative grain as they are also proteins and bring fibre, eat more nuts and seeds, little powerhouses of nutrition.

A kinesiologist can help with food testing where indicated and advice on a healthy diet more specific to the individual, while supporting their lifestyle changes at the same time. She can also test for supplements if they are required and the length of time to take them. It may be that the supplements currently being taken are no longer required and result in a cost saving.

Before I finish I would like to give a bit of a shout out for magnesium – the ‘magic’ mineral!

Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that we must obtain from our diet. It has over 300 functions in the body and plays a crucial role in hormone balance. For example magnesium affects thyroid function, oestrogen detoxification, blood sugar, stress hormones, and more. It helps relax our muscles. For many, their current lifestyle is causing magnesium depletion, particularly if processed foods such as ready meals, pastas, pizzas, snacking on crisps and biscuits or anything which is pastry based, are part of the regular diet. Every meal like that is a lost opportunity to properly ‘feed’ yourself – your body, your mind and emotional state. To look after yourself.

Depleted stores of magnesium is associated with symptoms and conditions such as, depression, stress, anxiety, insomnia, restless legs, migraine, headaches, twitchy muscles, especially the eye lids, muscle cramps, hypertension, fatigue, waking up feeling tired, palpitations, menstrual cramps and PMS, constipation. Creating a need for sugar to get a quick energy fix – but soon followed by a longer slump. Also creating the inability to control a healthy weight.

There are different magnesium compounds and choosing the one that is most bio-available for better absorption would be helpful.

Choosing nutrient dense foods will be the single best thing you can do for yourself, both now and for a healthy future. Considering specific supplements at different stages of life to take in combination with healthy eating can make all the difference to well-being too.

Supplements are big business and is hard to know what to choose or if its even the right one, or in the most bioavailable form to make a difference. There are a few makes that have good scientific and nutritional back up, one of these is BioCare. I have an account with them and any client of mine can access their panel of clinical nutritionists for free advice if needed. Likewise, if a client kinesiology tests for a particular supplement they can receive 10% off their order when they quote P11467

I leave this to the client to decide if they want to take up the suggestion. See BioCare website link below. Other makes might be suggested too.

Clients can also bring any of their existing supplements to be kinesiology tested if they are unsure if they are making a difference, or still need to take them.

Kinesiology balancing is as individual as our own biological make up. Sometimes testing just confirms that eating more of a particular food group is all that’s required.

Supplementation has a place in our overall dietary uptake and can make all the difference to our lifetime journey of healthy well-being when targeted to the individual.

Website: www.biocare.co.uk
Client Code: P11467
Clinical Nutrition Team: technical@biocare.co.uk
T: 0121 433 8702
Customer Service Team: customerservice@biocare.co.uk
T: 0121 433 3727