Simplifying the supplement aisle!
We’ve all been there. Staring at the shelf full of supplements, some pretty, some bright & shiny, all confusing. And while it might seem helpful to have staff on hand to explain what they know of the differences (though it’s hit and miss whether the employees know anything about them), it can still be overwhelming. How ‘bout a little help?
First of all, abandon the concept of finding the “One pill with everything” or a "Miracle in a bottle". It doesn’t exist. And if there is such a product on the shelf claiming to contain every vitamin and mineral that you might need, have a good look at how much of each component is in there (not to mention how big the capsule is!). If a product hosts a laundry list on the back, chances are each component is present in such small amounts that you’d have to take a dozen just to meet the recommended daily requirements. After all, there’s only so much room in the capsules...
Another important thing to think of is that rather than simply stocking up with cheap supplements in the drug store, make sure to go for high quality. Yes it costs more, but it's really worth it to avoid the additives, binders, etc. that are often included in low cost pills. Supplements you get from you Naturopath are sometimes more expensive, but they are much better quality, usually free of fillers, and you can trust that the ingredients are pure and often organic. This means you usually need to take less to get the same/better effect, which ultimately costs less in the long run. If you are determined to go at it on your own, please be mindful of this to avoid wasting your money and time!
There are certainly several supplements that are considered safe for the majority of people and that may help to promote/maintain good health/prevent certain disease processes. These include:
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) - omega 3 and omega-6 fatty oils that the human body is unable to produce, and which must be obtained from the diet (from vegetable oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish). EFAs are important for brain/neurological health, cell membrane maintenance and to down-regulate inflammation.
Vitamin D is useful for the health of bones, muscles and the immune system, and it’s gaining increasing credit for decreasing the risk of certain cancers, infections and MS.
Probiotics are the heathy bacteria that live in our digestive tracts. They have many roles including, maintaining healthy digestive function, preventing colonization by potentially harmful bacteria, regulating immune responses, helping treat skin diseases such as eczema, and potentially for preventing allergies when taken by pregnant women.
A few recommendations* for certain groups of individuals may include:
Iron: Important for red blood cell health, and lost each month with menstruation
B Vitamins: Important for stress reduction & hormone regulation (and are depleted by birth control pills)
Bone Building/Maintaining supplements (Calcium, Magnesium, etc): To help maintain bone density
Prenatal Multivitamin: For those considering pregnancy; protective against many birth defects, particularly neural tube defects
Bone Building/Maintaining supplements: To prevent loss of bone density, which decreases with age.
Vitamin D: Helps support muscle, bone and immune health
Vitamin B12: Important for nerve and red blood cel health, and not well absorbed (therefore may be deficient) if individuals have low stomach acid (common for many seniors)
CoQ10: Important for a healthy heart and energy production, and depleted by multiple medications (including statins)
Vitamin B12: Essential for nerve and red blood cell health, and mainly found only in animal foods
Iron: Important for red blood cell health; insufficient amounts can result in anemia
Calcium: A supplement required for healthy bones and muscles, and may be depleted if one avoids all dairy (though this is available in ample vegetarian foods, for example kale, almonds, salmon, sardines)
Zinc: Important for immunity, as well as hair, skin and nail health (needs easily met by consuming nuts, seeds, beans, fortified cereal)
Certain medications are known to deplete nutrient levels in the body, common ones include, but are not limited to:
Statins (lower cholesterol): deplete CoQ10
Anticonvulsants (manage seizures): reduce calcium, vitamins D & K and folic acid
Metformin (used in the management of Type II Diabetes): depletes B12 levels
Birth Control Pills: deplete Vitamins B & C as well as folic acid
Methotrexate (used in autoimmune disorders and some cancers): deplete folic acid
Antacids/Acid Suppressors: interfere with calcium, Vitamin B12, iron and zinc absorption
Finally, remember that supplements are just that - a supplement to a healthy diet. Pills aren’t going to fix an unhealthy dietary lifestyle, and they shouldn’t be taken to replace real food. A healthy diet is made up of healthy organic/local fruit, vegetables and protein, whole grains, raw nuts and seeds, good fats and plenty of pure water. After all, a plate of real food is much more enjoyable and palatable than a bottle of capsules/powders...
* While generalizations are easy to make, each individual’s needs are specific, and I would certainly recommend that you talk to your own Naturopathic Physician for specific supplement recommendations, as well as appropriate dosages for your own needs!
Dr Katarine Holewa