Nutritional supplements – do YOU need them?

It is not easy to obtain all the nutrients we require from our diet. Modern methods of food production, storage and processing destroy much of the vitamin and mineral content of foods. Modern lifestyles have many contributory factors which cause further depletion of the body’s store of minerals, or which reduce the body’s ability to digest and absorb these nutrients.

The government lays down recommended daily amounts (RDAs) of most vitamins and minerals but some, such as zinc, selenium and magnesium, are not usually available in these quantities in the average diet. Also nutritionists would consider these RDAs less than sufficient for most people. Certain conditions or diseases benefit from much higher than usual amounts of particular nutrients.

People with a health condition are likely to be deficient in one or more key nutrients. Improving your diet will help to remedy this, but as already mentioned it is not possible to obtain all we need from food alone. Extra amounts are needed to remedy the deficiency and the quickest way is to supplement. Sometimes ‘luxury’ levels of certain nutrients are required to facilitate healing. So most patients will benefit from supplementation with one or more of the following; probiotics, minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and amino acids. To be of use these supplements must contain therapeutic quantities and be of sufficient quality. I do not therefore recommend high street or chain store brands which mostly do not meet these requirements.

It is unwise to have repeat prescriptions for longer than three months, without reassessment unless advised by a therapist. Health and circumstances may change and a prescription may no longer be appropriate. This does not apply to maintenance prescriptions. It is unwise to take individual minerals or vitamins as many work together or compete for absorption within our bodies. Supplementing one vitamin or mineral in isolation may unbalance others.

There are some supplements which are generally required by most people.

One of the most important supplements is a pro-biotic. A history of poor dietary choices, high sugar intakes, and anti-biotic use are common for many people and can cause poor gut bacteria. If the gut is in poor health then nothing else can function correctly. A pro-biotic will return your gut flora and your bowel to a good state of health. This product will repopulate the gut with useful, health promoting bacteria.

The other important supplement is a good multivitamin / mineral. This product provides the minerals required to balance the macro-mineral status of the body together with the vitamins required to help them work effectively. It also contains trace minerals such as zinc, chromium and manganese in which you are very likely to be deficient.

Much of the population is deficient in the essential fats, mainly Omega-3s. This is because few people consume the foodstuffs which contains these essential fats, (oily fish, cold-pressed vegetable oils, nuts and seeds). The quickest way to rectify the situation is to supplement with fish oil or flax oil.

Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. When people have a health condition their body is likely to produce more free radicals and yet they do not have the means to counter their effects. So supplementing with anti-oxidants can be very helpful. Antioxidant substances include Vitamins A, C and E and also lesser known nutrients such as lycopene, lutein, beta-carotene and selenium.

If we have a situation where the liver has been compromised and is not functioning well, such as in a history of poor gut health, high prescription medication intake, long term use of painkillers or alcohol misuse then some form of extra liver support can be helpful. In chronic disease and hormone imbalance conditions the liver usually requires attention.

Digestive enzymes are complex proteins involved in digestion that stimulate chemical changes in other substances. They work optimally at specific temperature and pH. Digestive enzymes include pancreatic enzymes, plant-derived enzymes, and fungal-derived enzymes. There are three classes of digestive enzymes: proteolytic enzymes needed to digest protein, lipases needed to digest fat and amylases needed to digest carbohydrates. If you have had impaired digestion, poor gut health, acid reflux or similar conditions then you might benefit from digestive enzyme supplementation. These will help improve your digestion until such time that your body can function properly by itself.