Vitamin and mineral supplementation continues to be a contentious issue amongst health professionals. The common catch-cry of the medical community is that vitamins and minerals are adequately available from our food. It’s hard to appreciate the credibility of this advice, when it is delivered from a profession that receives negligible nutrition training. In Australia, this claim contrasts in stark hypocrisy against laws prescribing the mandatory fortification of bread with thiamine and salt with iodine. In addition, folic acid supplementation in pregnant women is a recommended requirement to protect an unborn child from developing spina bifida. But we’re meant to be getting that from our foods, right?
The inconvenient reality is that food ‘ain’t what it used to be. The marvel of modern agriculture has robbed our soils of essential minerals and consequently, our plants are deficient in these nutrients also. As natural health expert Charlotte Gerson explains; plants need over fifty vitamins and minerals, yet our abused and overused soils only typically receive phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium. If our plants are vitamin and mineral deficient and our bodies cannot manufacture these essential compounds, where else are we supposed to obtain them from?
Whilst sustainable agricultural practices such as biodynamic farming aim to restore our soils to health, we have considerable work to do before this option is universally adopted and available to everyone. In the interim, most of us are opting to eat as best we can however the majority of people fail to eat even the bare minimum required fruit and vegetable servings. This is a tad worrying when you consider that even those who do are probably also missing key nutrients. Importantly, supplementation is not a substitute for a healthy diet. But until we can replenish our soils and eat produce freshly picked in season, supplementation can be a tool to atone for the shameful lack in our foods.
Thanks to our current insidious exposure to environmental pollutants, we may also require higher doses of nutrients than any of our predecessors. It is well established in the medical literature that smokers require higher levels of vitamin C than non-smokers. Many cities around the globe already exceed the air pollution limits established by the World Health Organisation. Simple logic follows that in a depressingly polluted world, our bodies need all the ammunition that is possible to stay healthy.
Whole Food vs Synthetic Supplements
Ideally, we as humans should be consuming our vitamins and minerals through foods in their whole, natural and organic form with all the essential co-factors and enzymes essential for delivering the nutrients directly to our cells. We have however established that due to the state of our soils and planet, food is unlikely to always provide the essential vitamins and minerals required for optimal health. A reasonable option is therefore to supplement (in conjunction with a healthy diet). However, when confronted with the barrage of supplements available on the market, it is difficult to discern whether natural or synthetic supplements are appropriate for your individual needs.
Supplements may be natural food derivatives or laboratory manufactured. The majority of vitamins that are sold in pharmacies, grocery stores, and vitamin shops are synthetic vitamins, which are only isolated portions of the vitamins that occur naturally in food. Vitamins and minerals in nature do not exist as single components that act on their own, they are made up of several different components – enzymes, co-enzymes, and co-factors– that must work together to produce their intended effects. In this context natural supplements are far superior to their synthetic counterparts however this is not the end of the story.
In considering synthetic or natural supplements you must look into why you are supplementing in the first place. If you are looking to take therapeutic doses for a particular illness then it may be necessary to take synthetic supplements to achieve high enough doses for the program to have effect. There is much published work supporting this approach and in this context synthetic supplements play their part. If you are generally healthy and are looking to supplement your diet on a day to day basis then natural supplements are your best option.
Designing a Supplement Program
There are countless studies showing that by simply increasing your vitamin and mineral intake you can promote mental clarity, weight loss, boost your immunity, reduce stress, prevent cancer and other diseases, combat depression, lower blood pressure, reduce cravings, increase energy levels, improve sleep, and regulate digestion. Given this information is it little wonder that many experts now advise that an all-round supplementation program, in conjunction with a healthy diet, is a savvy health choice. The following supplement recommendations will cover the basic building blocks of a robust supplement program (recommended by Holistic Nutritionist Patrick Holford):
- A high potency Multi-Vitamin & Multi-Mineral
- Vitamin C
- Essential Fats
Multi-Vitamin / Multi-Mineral
Supplementing a healthy diet can improve the body's ability to detoxify and lose weight. There are many different combinations to promote certain functions of the body however it is good to consider a high quality, high dose multivitamin as a solid foundation to begin with. We are lucky there are many multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplements available to us today from your local healthfood store or pharmacy. These have great results but we recommend where possible to chose raw, wholefood nutritional supplements as our bodies are designed to recognize nutrients best when they come from food. Look for these in specialized healthfood stores or ask your integrative physician.
Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants. It is important to know that Vitamin C is not produced by the body. The therapeutic properties of Vitamin C are plenty. They include very high anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, aiding in the prevention of cataracts and helping to lower cholesterol. Vitamin C is a great antidote for neutralizing free radicals that will cause premature aging. Vitamin C works wonders at the onset of a cold or flu when taken to bowel tolerance. High doses of Vitamin C is effective as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of cancer. Vitamin C is worth taking separately because the amount you need does not fit in a multi-vitamin. This can be taken in a powdered form or pill form. Look for Vitamin C as Ascorbic Acid.
Essential fatty acids or EFA’s cannot be made by the body and we therefore need to get them from the food we eat. These oils are great to maintain healthy hair and skin, elevate moods, nourish your brain, assist in a healthy pregnancy, increase energy, and regulate blood sugar. There are two ways of meeting your essential fat requirements: one is from the diet, either by eating a heaped tablespoon of ground seeds every day, having a tablespoon of special cold-pressed seed oils and/or eating fish three times a week; the other is to supplement concentrated oils. For omega 3 this means either flax seed oil capsules or the more concentrated fish or krill oil capsules providing EPA and DHA.
Probiotics help to boost our immune system by assisting the body to absorb nutrients. 80% of our immune system is located in the digestive system. When good bacteria get destroyed by stress, poor diet and antibiotics, probiotics help the digestive system by balancing out the good and bad bacteria. Prebiotics are equally important. They are necessary to keep your army of good bacteria alive to continue to keep the bad bacteria in check.
See our Supplement Buying Guide here.