To Supplement Or Not to Supplement?
First of all, I'd just like to apologise for being extremely quiet here. I set up my website and released it into the world over six months ago and have done very little with it since. While I always knew I wasn't going to be going crazy on here while I was finishing off my degree, I did think I would have shared a little more than I have. To be perfectly honest, I've been busy getting stuck into a new job that is using up most of my creative juices. When I've not been working I've simply been enjoying my summer holidays.
I was watching the news this morning when I came across two very conflicting stories being shared on supplements. I couldn't help but see at that moment everything that was wrong with sensationalising news headlines, making an already confusing and multifaceted topic even more stressful for the average listener.
So with this little spark of inspiration/Monday motivation I decided I would put a blog that will hopefully help clear a bit of the haze surrounding supplementation.
First things first, when it comes to supplementation, not all supplements are created equally. As with so many other things it really isn't as simple as saying they are good or bad. It's how they are made, used, who they are used by and how they are reviewed that determines their safety and efficacy.
Are supplements bad? Good? Safe? Unsafe? To be perfectly honest, they can be all of those things. Supplements have the potential to cause harm (if taken with conflicting medications, for prolonged periods of time, unnecessarily or with underlying health issues), but do also have the potential to be beneficial and have incredibly therapeutic actions.
I personally think the problems we are seeing with some supplements at the moment is that they are viewed as ‘natural’ and therefore most people assume that they can’t do any damage. If you saw the news stories shared, you will know that this is actually very far from the truth. The results of supplement misuse can be heartbreaking.
It's reported that approximately 60% of Australians currently take some form of supplement every day. Though most probably wouldn’t think about if they could be dangerous in any way, where they came from or even think to tell their healthcare practitioner. I personally think that we need to step away from self-prescribing, understand that you can’t out supplement a crap diet and start communicating more with our practitioners to make sure we are using supplements safely.
If it has been determined that you do in fact need a supplement and it is safe for you to take said supplement, these are the main factors you need to be mindful of:
The Form Of The Nutrient Used - a single nutrient can be derived from various different forms, with some forms being better absorbed and utilised by the body. You want to make sure the manufacturer has used a high-quality form of each nutrient so that the body can derive as much of that nutrient as it possibly can. Remember: you are not what you eat, but what you absorb.
Dosage - a supplement might contain 20 different nutrients, but the dosages of the majority of the nutrients may be too low to have a beneficial and significant effect. It’s also worth making sure the dose is not too high and is safe to take with any preexisting conditions you may have or any other medications/supplements you are taking. This is when working with a professional and communicating with your various health care providers is really important.
Extra Ingredients - cheaper supplements are often filled with lots of extra and unnecessary ingredients to ‘fill them out’. Commonly used excipients are additives, colours, fillers and potential allergens such as gluten and lactose.
Sourcing Of The Nutrients - nutrients need to be derived from sources that have not been contaminated or come into contact with any dangerous chemicals or substances, such as heavy metals like mercury. You want to be sure you know exactly where the manufacturer is getting their raw materials from. This is especially important when it comes to fish oils.
Manufacturing Standards - this isn’t as much of an issue in Australia, but something to be conscious off when buying online from overseas stores. Many companies offering significantly cheaper products may be more inconsistent and vary from batch to batch, especially in terms of the active ingredients. Activated ingredients are beneficial as they help your body to speed up the action time of the specific nutrient. Basically, your body has to do less to gain more out of an activated form of vitamins. This is particularly the case for the B-group vitamins, but for others makes no difference to the efficacy of the supplement.
When it comes to supplements my advice is to first and foremost focus on your diet. The more nutrients you can get in from real food, the better. There really is no replacement for a nutrient-dense diet full of real food. Work with someone who can help you figure out which foods are naturally rich sources of the most important nutrients you may need, instead of swallowing a bunch of pills. After all, nutrients work synergistically. Nature is not stupid and a supplement is rarely superior to what’s available in real, whole foods.
If you do however need additional support, know that there are some really excellent supplements out there that can help you. It’s just a matter of finding the right one for you, making sure your healthcare practitioner(s) know everything you are taking, and that you are being regularly reviewed.
I hope this helped and gave you something to think about.