Do We Need to Supplement?
By Judith Valentine, PhD, CNA, CNC, CAN
Published in the Coastal Journal Newspaper, Brunswick, Maine
I am often asked whether supplements are a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle regime; and if so, why. There was a time when I may have agreed that a balanced whole food diet was enough for optimal health. But hundreds of blood lab and clinical evaluations later revealed that even a healthy diet can leave a person lacking. The USDA itself tells us that most people are deficient in one or more nutrients. So in seeking to find out why we need supplements, here is what I learned.
Farming techniques: Farming has changed across the country and around the world. Historically, fertilizers like manure, sea weed and other natural, high mineral treatments were preferred. Today fertilization has shifted to synthetic based compounds that don’t contain the same full spectrum of nutrients. Also traditionally most farming followed a system of crop rotation. This is important because growing the same plants on the same soil over and over depletes nutrients. Unfortunately, many large growers do not rotate their crops. As a result, these changes in fertilization and crop rotation have contributed to a lower nutritional status in foods.
Transportation: Many foods now come from far away. Food is most nutritious when fresh picked. Over time it begins to lose nutrients. Consider the time it takes for foods to arrive in Maine from California, or Chile. Then it may sit on grocery store shelves for several days before we buy it. Add more days in our refrigerator or in the fruit bowl and much nutrition has been lost even before it’s cooked. Ask yourself-how much of your diet is local and how much is from away?
Processing: Food processing wipes out a high percentage of nutrients. The food industry adds fortified nutrients in an attempt to make the food whole again, but what about these fortified nutrients—are they the same as those created by Mother Nature? The molecules may be the similar, but I believe there’s an added value from grown nutrients that is difficult to measure. Plants grown in quality soil, in sunlight and rain, and exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen, contain a life force not present in a laboratory. NASA studies the nutritional values of pre-packaged foods vs. foods grown in a space garden habitat in order to seek higher nutrition for astronauts. (AFT Project)
Other Nutrient Depleters: Today in our society, stress levels are higher than ever. It is known that stress activates a ‘fight or flight’ response. Continuous stress eats up nutrients like a starving teenager which begs the question—are we replacing these lost nutrients every day?
In addition, today our bodies are exposed to thousands of contaminants found in water, air, in cleaning compounds, bug sprays, lawn treatments, cosmetics, and flame retardants in clothing and on furniture. Just to name a few. To try and offset this intrusion of unhealthy compounds our body makes antioxidants and we consume many from food. But I think it’s fair to ask-is being alive in the chemical-laden world of 2014 overwhelming our ability to create and restore our antioxidant levels?
Last but not least, prescription medications also deplete nutrients as the liver processes these drugs. If you are taking a prescription it is important to learn which nutrients are being depleted and to replace them. Nutrient-depletion lists developed by pharmacists can be easily found on the internet.
Are All Supplements Alike? Definitely not. Like the wild variations of food quality there is a huge spectrum of differences in the supplement industry. The differences range from very low quality to very high quality and everything in between.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a supplement. 1. Absorbability. Is the supplement made in a way to assure proper dissolution, digestion and absorption into the bloodstream? This is where nutrients must travel to make a difference. 2. Ingredients. What is the quality of the raw compounds that make up the supplement? Have they been processed and heated to a point where they no longer carry their original nutrient status? 3. Fillers. Supplements are a sink hole for food manufacturers. Unused byproducts are sold to the supplement industry to be added as fillers. In many cases they are components that people are allergic to. Prefer supplements without fillers. 3. Verification & Standardization. Has the supplement been tested by a third party lab to ensure it contains what is listed on the label? Many supplement companies do not test. The industry is rife with stories about the FDA pulling supplements off shelves at random to test levels. These tests show extreme variations in ingredients and strengths.
And so the answer to the question-should we supplement?-is yes. In my experience when people take a high quality multi vitamin and mineral product, they are healthier than those who do not. At times other nutrients might be needed in higher levels than what is normally found in a multi, but this would be best determined by a practitioner trained to make such an evaluation.
Be careful in your choosing your supplements because they are not all alike. Your hard earned money may be enriching the waste recycling plant more than it is supporting your health.
Judi Valentine received her doctorate in nutrition in1995 and followed with a clinical internship at the Capital University of Integrative Medicine in Washington, DC where she was certified as a clinical nutritional analyst. In 2000 she was certified by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, and in 2008 trained to evaluate individual metabolic type by the Metabolic Nutrition Clinic in San Raphael, California. She currently works at Kennebec Pharmacy as a Clinical Nutrition Specialist offering assistance with supplements and general nutrition. This is a free service and appointments can be made by calling Kennebec Pharmacy in Rockport, 207-594-0999.