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To Supplement or not to Supplement ?

January 29, 2013

There is a continual, ongoing debate about the relative merits of a diet that includes nutritional supplements. Some say that we can derive all of our required nutrients from food alone while others claim that this is now extremely unlikely as a result of soil depletion, chemical pollution and modern processing. Then there is the question of whether supplements will work for you.

Let’s take an overview of some key issues regarding nutritional supplementation:

Nutiritonal supplements act as the name suggests – they supplement rather than substitute for an appropriate diet that satisfies an individual’s own particular nutritional requirements.

Some people have specific conditions that may benefit from a particular programme of supplements. In this case it is obviously important to follow professional recommendations and appropriate dosages.

Although supplements don’t require a prescription, they do require careful selection and use for any health benefit to occur. In addition, side effects can occur and some supplements could potentially do more harm than good if used incorrectly.

You only gain benefit from what you absorb so your digestive system must be in a state to digest supplemental nutrients. For example, to absorb calcium you need sufficient acid in your stomach and Vitamin D in your small intestine.

Supplements usually take longer to work than medication. Leave at least one month before assessing the results.

If you experience an allergic or intolerance reaction then stop.

Fillers, binders and colouring agents are not there to benefit your health. Serious questions have been raised about the possible side effects of pregelatinized corn starch, magnesium stearate, sodium benzoate, talc and other capsule ingredients.

Most supplements are best taken with food and away from caffeine or alcohol.

When you take vitamin B2 (riboflavin) in any supplement your urine will turn yellow. It’s normal.

To gain full benefit from supplements take them every day.

Minerals are absorbed easily when bound to amino acid (protein building block) chelates, ascorbates and citrates. By contrast, the gut can only absorb minimal amounts of minerals that are bound in cheaper compounds like calcium carbonate and ferrous (iron) fumarate.

Some bacteria boost immunity and aid in the absorption of various minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. They can also provide important amino acids and help to cleanse the gut. Therefore a course of good quality probiotics is often worth consideration.

L-Alpha Tocopherol is a synthetic, cheaper form of vitamin E that is sometimes used as a substitute for the more bioactive and naturally occurring D-Alpha Tocopherol. How would you know if you weren’t specifically advised ?

Ingredients that sound as if they come from a paint brochure like Orange No. 4 Sunset would work better on your bathroom wall than in your digestive tract. These are additional food colourings and additives with no nutritional value. {see Hansenb, W. F. (1966). Chronic toxicity of two food colors, Brilliant Blue FCF and Indigotine. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 29-36. McCann, D. B. (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised,double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet}.

The dosages of most of the nutrients in many high street multi-vitamin tablets are so low as to provide almost no therapeutic benefit. The forms that the nutrients are provided in are often the cheapest and least absorbable as they contain various fillers, binders and excipients (vehicle for another substance).

Vitamin B and C are water-soluble nutrients that are either used by the body or excreted within about 4 hours. This means that any kind of standard one-a-day multi-vitamin has limited practical use in this regard.

If you do want to explore the possible benefits of a supplement programme then a combination of a good quality multi vitamin, vitamin C and Omega 3 oils is a fairly standard platform for basic health gains. Specific supplements can then be added as required.

Ultimately, if you want to explore supplements it may be worth paying a little more for products that will provide definite benefit.

Spencer Joseph

From → The Gut

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