Supplements are a multi million dollar industry these days with almost everyone taking a multivitamin here or a probiotic there without really thinking through exactly why or what they are hoping to achieve in health benefits. In fact, there is some debate about whether supplements are necessary at all and indiscriminate supplementing is almost certainly money down the toilet, not to mention potentially dangerous. So in what circumstances might you benefit from a supplement?
It is likely that even those of us who adhere strongly to an organic, fresh produce-based healthy diet may still not be getting all the nutrients we need due simply to the quality of the food available these days. There is considerable evidence that fruits, vegetables and meat today are not nearly as nutritious as they were even 50 years ago. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss ) Intensive farming practices, soils leached of minerals and widespread use of modern pesticides/ herbicides all mean that the quality of food we ingest may not be enough to sustain optimal health.
One study concluded that we would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents would have got from one. A good quality multi vitamin/mineral could help to balance out these deficiencies.
If your diet also includes large amounts of processed foods (not just ‘junk’ but anything that isn’t in its raw, natural state) then you are probably even more lacking in good nutrition. Most processed foods are plagued with high levels of sugars and vegetable oils and this can tip the balance on our , in favour of systemic inflammation. To improve this balance and increase omega 3 intake we would need to eat a lot of fish and leafy greens. The general population just doesn’t consume enough of these, despite good intentions. If this is the case then a high grade fish oil supplement therefore could make great sense.
Another major factor in achieving optimal nutrition is the state of your digestive health; in many ways it is the foundation of wellness. Digestion is a complex system that not only removes nutrients for our body to use but also houses our immune system and a community of bacteria (weighing up to 2kg!). The balance of good and bad flora, however, can easily be disrupted, especially by poor diet, use of alcohol, many medicines especially antibiotics, the contraceptive pill and stress. This can lead to symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and cramps. An inflamed bowel system causes poor absorption of nutrients which can then lead to even poorer health, healing and energy. We can help restore the balance of healthy flora by judicious use of pre and probiotics. It’s not enough to pluck any old ‘probiotic’ yoghurt off the self though; it has been shown that different strains of gut flora have different roles in digestion so it is essential to choose the right combination and strength.
So if you recognise some of the circumstances above as your situation, then you may well benefit from a specific, well-chosen, quality supplement. It is important to make sure the supplement is right for you, however, and we discuss how to do this while exploring the options in Part Two.
Archaeological research postulates that humans were biologically designed to thrive on a diet whose ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was approximately 1:1, and unlikely greater than 4:1. Today, consumption of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids is estimated at roughly 25:1 . This is due in part to a predominance of omega-6 oils available commercially in our food supply (corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, refined packaged grain products & pastries) and a relative minority of omega-3 sources (fatty marine fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and flaxseed oil, walnuts, & small amounts in canola oil). Industrial production of omega-6-rich animal feeds has also resulted in animal tissues (livestock, eggs, and cultured fish) rich in omega-6 and poor in omega-3 fatty acids. This disproportionately high intake of omega 6’s biases our physiology towards thrombosis, hyperlipidemia, and vasoconstriction.
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