The dictionary defines a supplement as “something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.”
In nutrition, supplements are just that, meant to add to a healthy diet. It is important not to use supplements as a means of replacing real food, and to add them only when needed.
Sometime eating healthy isn’t enough. The world that we remember from our childhood isn’t quite the same today. In our modern world, we are constantly bombarded by environmental pollutants and stress. Our nutritional requirements are increasing while the number of calories we require are decreasing, because our general level of physical activity has declined. This results in needing more nutrients from less food.
With the advancement of scientific discovery, according to food scientist and author, George Mateljan, we need more than 45 nutrients from our diet! The absence of any one of these nutrients, whether it is needed in small or large amounts can have a profound effect on health.
So how do you know if you might need to add supplements to your diet? Consulting with your doctor is a good place to start! Here are some examples of situations where added vitamins or supplements might be necessary:
A visit to your local pharmacy’s vitamin aisle might be a little intimidating these days! As with many items in our modern day stores, there are many, many choices. Here are a few of the products you might find:
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that are essential to life. They are often called micronutrients because, in comparison to the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats), they are needed in relatively small amounts. Macrominerals are needed in large amounts, and include calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Microminerals, or trace minerals include zinc, iron, copper, manganese, chromium, selenium, iodine, potassium, and boron. Vitamins are organic compounds, meaning they occur naturally in plants and animals. They function as activators in the chemical reactions that constantly take place in our bodies. There are water-soluble and fat-soluble forms.
When it comes to vitamins, the word “soluble” means “easily dissolved.” Water-soluble vitamins are easily dissolved in our systems and only stay in the body for a short period of time – about two to four days. Vitamins B and C belong to this group. Utilization of water-soluble vitamins by your body begins the minute they are absorbed through your digestive system. Thus, these nutrients must be replenished regularly. Since they are not stored but are quickly excreted from the body, toxicities are uncommon.
You guessed it! Fat-soluble vitamins stay in the body for a longer period of time than water-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K belong to this group. Although these vitamins are usually stored in fat tissue, some may also be stored in some organs, especially the liver. If taken in large doses or if you have compromised liver function, there is a potential to have toxicity problems with some of the fat-soluble vitamins.
Herbs are defined as any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume. They contain families of related compounds that interact, and the sum of the biological effects of these compounds is often greater than the so-called “major active ingredient” in the herb or plant. For example, lycopene in the tomato plant is a powerful antioxidant, but also has useful effects in prostate cells.
These are plants that are used in herbal medicine (also known as herbalism), for their therapeutic properties. Several parts of a plant may be used, such as the root, bark, stem, leaves, flowers or fruit, each of which can vary in their therapeutic action.
Herbal medicines are preparations derived from these medicinal herbs. The WHO estimates that 4 billion people, amounting to 80% of the world’s population, use herbal medicines for some aspect of primary health care! Herbal medicine is a major component in all indigenous peoples’ traditional medicine and a common element in Ayurvedic, homeopathic, naturopathic, traditional oriental and Native American medicine. The foods early humans ate contained thousands of phytochemicals, and through modern science we are also recognizing some of these as functional foods (i.e. green tea, soy). Many spices such as garlic and curcumin also have medicinal properties.
Supplements made on the mass production market often include additives that you want to watch out for (i.e. artificial coloring, preservatives, sugars, etc). The general rule of thumb is that you pay for what you get. If you are wanting to truly enhance your nutrition, you want to invest in choosing the best products you can get. And, as always, talk with your doctor to see if supplements are right for you.
Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, 2019, Health Coaching Training Manual, Little, Brown and Company.
Hever, D. (2004). PDR for Herbal Medicines 3rd Edition: Foreword. Thomson PDR.
Iowa Women’s Healthy Study — Archives of Internal Medicine: October 2011
Lieberman, Shari. (2007). The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book: A Definitive Guide to Designing Your Personal Supplement Program. Avery.
The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) — Journal of the American Medical Association: October, 2011.
Zaremba, K. (August 27th 2020). What Are Medicinal Herbs. Fullscript. Retrieved from https://fullscript.com/blog/botanical-herbs
The statements made herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a physician or healthcare professional.