When we speak about nutritional supplements, the first things that usually come to mind are calcium, glucosamine or iron. While these certainly are the most commonly used forms today, the vitamin and mineral world has evolved into a big business and more and more people are realizing the benefits and the importance of supplementing our bodies.
Fifty years ago, it was virtually impossible to walk into a grocery store and have a selection of herbs and supplements at our fingertips. But today there is a vast supply of just about anything you could think of.
But why is supplementation so important to us, especially once we reach certain ages? Through time, our bodies go through some major physical changes and if we have lived normal lives, then we probably have been introduced to such things as processed foods, fast foods, sugars and all the things we love but know are not good for us. Essentially, what it comes down to is making sure that the immune system is functioning properly. If our immunity is suppressed for whatever reason, the body is not going to be able to fight off even the simplest attack on our system.
The body is composed of six nutrient groups:
In order for the immune system and for cell function to be at its optimal levels, all these groups are necessary in our regular diets.
For people who are watching their diets, getting the proper amounts of fats, proteins and carbohydrates may be an achievable goal and if you are hydrating your system consistently with water then you are almost there. But the problem arises in the foods and drinks that we regularly consume that don't give us the adequate supply of vitamins & minerals in our diets. So right away, our immune and cell functions are affected. We need to replace what the body is lacking in our diets to have optimal health. If there is a chronic illness or degenerative process occurring within the body, this must be considered in a workup.
Taking nutritional supplements to make up for the deficiencies in our regular diets should be an integral part of our health. But we are providing a lot more in the ways of organ and cell function.
It is very important to distinguish between nutritional supplements and Western medicine and how a disease process is treated. Medications are primarily for more acute situations where the objective is to block a certain process the body is going through, usually in a rapid manner. While the results may vary, this may be causing further problems because the body itself is not being allowed to do what it was intended to do in the first place-to heal itself.
Conversely, nutrients are completely safe in the fact that they are already present in the body although their effects may take a little longer.
In today's world of chemicals, pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, heating processes and a diet that consists of at least 90% processed foods, it is essential for our bodies to make up for this depleted type of diet.
Most vitamins cannot be made by the body, they must be taken in as food. Our best sources for this are whole foods that are heavy in vitamins.
Types of supplements
The optimum vitamins that we should look for are whole food vitamins. Whole food vitamins are obtained by taking a vitamin-rich plant, removing any water or fiber and then packaging it for stability. In this form, the vitamins retain its full nutritional integrity. When taken by an individual, the person does not have to utilize any of its own reserves to get the full effect of the supplement.
The major problem today is the increasing number of synthetic products that are available to us. Vitamins and minerals must work synergistically together in order for them to be a whole food supplement. If there is a vitamin deficiency, this can cause a mineral deficiency and the same is true the other way around. With a whole food vitamin, it should contain trace amounts of important minerals in order for them to function properly. When there are no traces of minerals in a vitamin supplement, the body must rely on its own body's mineral stores causing possible depletion.
Vitamins serve several different functions, including hormone production, antioxidants (cell protection from free radicals), growth regulators for the body and enzyme metabolism.
Here is a list of the most common vitamins and their primary functions:Vitamin A: for immune strength; used for healthy skin and for blood sugar stabilization; antioxidant.
Vitamin B complex: depleted as we age, used for energy stores.· B1 (thiamine): for cognitive health
· B2 (riboflavin): strong antioxidant
· B3 (niacin): taken for cholesterol and triglycerides regulation
· B5 (pantothenic acid): used as an anti-inflammatory
· B6 (pyridoxine): also an anti-inflammatory, also promotes prostaglandins that aid in artery dilation.
· Folic Acid: critical for human fetal development, important for women of childbearing age. Also, important for atherosclerosis risk.
· B12: good for food metabolization, nervous system stimulation and the prevention of pernicious anemia.
Vitamin C: another powerful antioxidant, reduces free radical production, protects against cancers, heart disease and infection.
Vitamin D: actually a hormone; strong antioxidant; essential for bone health and also facilitates the absorption of calcium. It is best taken in by natural sunlight but also found in raw dairy and fatty fish.
Vitamin E: Very strong antioxidant
Vitamin K: Essential for clotting, important for women prone to osteoporosis
Minerals originate from the earth and most of the minerals that come from our diet, come directly from plants or indirectly from animal sources. In reference to minerals, there are four types of supplements that are available.
· Elemental: these are the least expensive made and have an absorption rate between one and eight percent.
· Ionic: This means in the form of ions. Ions are unstable molecules and thus, incomplete molecules. Not the ideal form of mineral intake.
· Colloidal: Barely gets absorbed by the body.
· Chelated: Superior to all others; Best absorbed at the cellular level; most readily absorbed into the bloodstream.
Here are some common minerals and their functions:
· Calcium: the two primary functions are for muscle contraction and bone building
· Magnesium: important for heart and immune function, as well as muscle and bone; Linked to hypertension, osteoporosis, headaches, diabetes and much more
· Sodium: cell life, waste removal
· Phosphorus: bone formation, cell energy, nerve transmission
· Chromium: insulin function, immune function
· Iron: hemoglobin formation,
· Zinc: antioxidant production, fat metabolism, wound healing, skin health
· Boron: reproductive health
Other important supplements:
· Amino Acids: Important to supplement if diet is low on animal protein.
· Coenzyme Q10: essential for heart and immune function; naturally present in most human cells
· Fiber: decreases inflammation, lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels; intestinal health
· Probiotics: "friendly bacteria" for the intestinal flora to help reestablish a healthy intestinal tract.
· Fish Oils: commonly referred to as omega-3 fats ; numerous benefits including heart function and the prevention of cancers; body fat reduction
Most Americans (99%) are vitamin or mineral deficient, causing an array of chronic conditions or illnesses to appear that their doctor may never look at their diet as the culprit.
But vitamins and minerals play an extremely vital role in our health and we are usually surprised to learn that nearly all of us have some type of a deficiency.
A common question may be how being deficient in our diets can lead to illness. Let's use the example of chromium, the most common mineral that Americans are deficient in (at least 90%). One of the primary functions of chromium is the regulation of insulin and it's relation to the pancreas.
Eating foods that cannot be digested properly (processed foods, refined sugars, etc.) will ultimately deprive our bodies of the needed chromium that regulates this insulin function. If there is any disruption of the insulin-pancreas relationship, we then can see how being insulin deprived can be a precursor to adult onset diabetes (type 2).
The primary reasons for mineral deficiency are:
· Soil depletion: lowered mineral content in plants due to topsoil issues
· Diet: processed and refined foods inhibit absorption of minerals
· Mucoid plaque of the colon: excess will cause dehydration and the loss of water and minerals that should have been reabsorbed.
· Competition: an excess of one mineral may cause a deficiency in another because minerals compete for absorption.
· Prescription medications: have an inhibitive effect on mineral absorption
It is very important to note that supplementing on vitamins and minerals does not necessarily mean that absorption is taking place at the cellular level or in the bloodstream. There are many synthetic (man-made) products that are available to us and that may be causing a whole different issue. If the supplements being taken are not bioavailable, which means being utilized by the cell, then this is a waste of time and money and may be causing a toxicity issue.
Toxicity issues and side effects of supplementation
The question may present that vitamin and mineral supplementation in excess may cause side effects or even toxicity. As mentioned earlier, if the supplements are not being properly absorbed at the cellular levels and taken in excess then toxicity may occur. That is why it is essential to only take whole food supplements, because the chance of absorption is a lot higher opposed to synthetic supplements.
Upon doing research, looking for chelated products should be our top priority in making a decision. The cost may have an influence on some people but cheaply made supplements will obviously be the lower end product (elemental form).
In regards to side effects, there may be an issue where either a prescription medication or an over the counter product (motrin, advil, etc.) is said to have an adverse reaction to a specific supplement. While the chance of this occurring is extremely rare, there is always the recommendation that this be discussed with your physician before beginning a regimen of supplements and medications concurrently.
As of this date, there has never been a recorded death due to the use of nutritional supplements while prescription medications are the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S. today. Unless it is a life saving drug, the answer seems obviously clear that supplementation is much safer than its western counterpart. If a diet is not at least 80% raw foods, the need for supplementation becomes increasingly important to make up for the lost nutrients the body eventually goes through.