Supplements: to take or not to take?
A common question I am asked is, "do I need supplements if I eat a healthy diet?"
I am certainly a proponent of getting your nutrients from foods. Whole foods contain a combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, balanced to enhance the absorption and utilization by the body. However, there are a number of reasons we may not get adequate nutrients from the diet. The common reasons for nutrient deficiencies include:
- Processed foods. The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be high in processed foods which are lacking in key nutrients. These processed foods can also deplete nutrients as the body tries to metabolize the sugar, trans fats, chemicals and preservatives frequently contained in them.
- Digestive issues. I find digestive issues very common and many people are unaware they even have digestive issues. These can include food intolerances, bacterial overgrowth, infections, all of which can inhibit the proper absorption of nutrients.
- Low stomach acid. Stomach acid is needed to properly break down food for absorption. Low stomach acid can occur as a result of taking antacids and PPIs, and also becomes more prevalent with age. Additionally, it can lead to bacterial overgrowth.
- Poor soil quality. Even if you are eating healthy plant based foods, our soils are becoming depleted of minerals. When the soil is depleted of minerals, the food is depleted as well. Buying organic certainly helps as they tend to be grown in more nutrient rich soils, and as an added bonus you avoid many of the pesticides.
- Missing Co-factors. Certain nutrients require other key nutrients to be properly absorbed. For instance, calcium should be taken with adequate vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K in order to be absorbed into the bone. Taking calcium alone, if poorly absorbed, can result in calcium getting into arteries and causing calcification.
- Prescription medications. Prescription medications can deplete many vitamins and minerals. A very common example is Co-Q10 depletion by statins.
- Low fat diets. A lot of emphasis over the years has been placed on avoiding fat in the diet. However, fat is required in order to absorb fat soluble vitamins. These include vitamin A,E, D and K. So if you are not getting enough fat with meals, these vitamins will not be absorbed. The key is to make sure you avoid unhealthy fats like trans-fat and eat healthy fat like avocado.
- Sunscreen. While protecting our skin from excessive sun exposure is important, it can also contribute to a vitamin D deficiency. After all, the sun is our best source of vitamin D and adequate levels are essential for a healthy immune system. Make sure your physician is checking for adequate vitamin D levels.
- Special diets. Many people choose to avoid certain food groups. This can be due to food preferences, food allergies, and for personal or religious reasons. It is important if you are avoiding certain food groups, you understand what nutrients you may be missing and supplement accordingly.
- Genetic factors. Many people have methylation disorders, which reduce the ability to convert certain nutrients into their active form. For example, poor methylators should take the active forms of certain B vitamins like taking methylfolate instead of folic acid. If you want to know if you might have a genetic defect such as a methylation disorder, or a reduced ability to handle free radicals, you may want to consider having genetic tests done. To find out more about genetic tests for methylation, talk to your doctor or contact us for more information.
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Wishing you good health!
Mike Woodley, R.Ph, FAARM, FMNM