"But I eat well doctor." - Do you?
Daniel J. Crisafi, ND.A., MH, PhD
Since I returned to working full-time in a private practice over two years ago, I have seen how little people’s mentalities have changed in some regards. One of the most frequent comments I hear in discussions and consultations with patients is, "I don't need supplements. I eat well."
Supplements or food?
Nutritional supplements cannot replace a healthy diet, but studies increasingly show that they are important, and even necessary, in order to achieve optimum health. A growing body of research suggests that the North American diet is insufficient.
Many factors support the rational use of nutritional supplements:
1. Food is less nutritious today than it was in the past due to the following factors:
- Conventional farming, which is gradually depleting the soil
- An increased consumption of frozen and prepared foods
- The harvesting of fruits and vegetables before they are ripe
- Longer storage periods
- Food processing
- Industrial practices for raising animal food sources (e.g., eggs, fish, dairy, meat and poultry)
2. The following factors have increased our nutritional needs:
- Increased environmental pollution
- Chemical additives (e.g. colourings and flavourings)
- Increased stress
- Use of medications
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol consumption
- Increased use of medications (e.g. antibiotics and hormones) in raising animals used for food (e.g. eggs, fish, dairy, meat and poultry)
The growing use of medications has increased our nutritional needs
The following observation was cited by the pharmacists who published the Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook (Pelton, Ross, James LaValle et al., Lexi-Comp inc. 2001):
"There are a large number of studies appearing in the scientific literature reporting the drug-induced depletion of nutrients."
In addition, in the July 6, 2002 edition of The Globe and Mail, André Picard wrote the following about the reduced nutritional quality of our food:
"Fruits and vegetables sold in Canadian supermarkets today contain far fewer nutrients than they did 50 years ago. According to the Canadian data, almost 80 per cent of foods tested showed drops in nutrients... In the analysis, the biggest loser was broccoli, a food that epitomizes the dictates of healthy eating. All seven of its measurable nutrients declined, notably calcium and iron."
Even the healthiest foods contain insufficient nutrients to protect us and ensure optimum health.
Take vitamin E, for example. Experts suggest that the average individual consume 400-800 IU of vitamin E per day for its antioxidant and anti-aging benefits. However, in order to obtain 400 UI of vitamin E every day, you'd need to eat:
600 g of sunflower seeds; 1 kg of wheat germ; 40 ears of corn; 15 kg of spinach; or 25 kg of butter . . . every day. (Data taken from Renewal: The Anti-Aging Revolution Timothy J. Smith, St Martin's Press; 1999)
In order to get 1,800 mg of vitamin C, you'd have to eat 26 fresh, raw, tree-ripened oranges or 225 apples! (Based on the amount of vitamin C in an average orange and apple listed in Health Canada's Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods)
Essentially, we need more nutrients than we used to, but our foods contain significantly fewer of them. Hence, the following comment by Dr. Heber:
"We now have a substantial body of data showing that if everyone took a few supplements every day, they could significantly lower their risk of a multitude of serious diseases."
- David Heber, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, UCLA, spoken at a press conference for the Council on Responsible Nutrition, March 31, 1998
Which supplements should you take?
The choice of supplements is a controversial subject. However, there are a few key points to keep in mind.
Everyone can benefit from taking a multivitamin or multimineral supplement. This can be a superfood supplement or a traditional multivitamin containing high quantities of complex-B vitamins and antioxidants. Generally speaking, in order to obtain a sufficient amount of nutrients, you need to take more than one a day.
The supplement should provide at least 5,000 UI of vitamin A (preformed vitamin A, beta-carotene, or both).
It should contain at least 250 mg of vitamin C, 100 UI of vitamin E, and 100 mcg of selenium.
You should take a supplement with at least 25 mg of the following B-complex vitamins: B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin or niacinamide), B5 (pantothenic acid or calcium D-pantothenate), and B6 (pyridoxine).
It should contain at least 200 mg of calcium, 100 mg of magnesium, 10 mg of zinc, 500 mcg of chromium and 10 mg of iron.
Certain vitamins and minerals should be taken in their most bioavailable form, i.e. the form most easily used by the body.
- Calcium: ascorbate, chelate (with amino acids or vegetable protein), citrate, gluconate, lactate, malate or orotate
- Magnesium: ascorbate, chelate, chloride or malate
- Iron: chelate or citrate
- Zinc: chelate, citrate or gluconate
- Vitamin C: in the least ascorbatic acid form (e.g. calcium ascorbate, magnesium, potassium)
Everyone should also take an essential fatty acid supplement if they don't normally get it in a food source, such as organic hempseed or flaxseed oil. The supplement should provide omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids.
In addition, everyone should restore their intestinal flora with a "cure" of good bacteria at least twice a year.
Certain groups can benefit from extra supplements
- Women generally need more calcium. If they take a calcium supplement, it should provide at least half as much magnesium.
- Individuals suffering from hypoglycemia should increase their vitamin B and chromium intake.
- Those who eat a lot of protein or take protein supplements should increase their intake of complex-B vitamins and chromium.
- Individuals who regularly drink alcohol should increase their intake of magnesium, complex-B vitamins, chromium and zinc.
- Those looking to boost their immune system during the cold and flu season could benefit from an aged garlic extract supplement.
- Women who take estrogen (e.g. the Pill or hormone replacement therapy during menopause) generally need more folic acid, vitamin B6 and zinc.
Smokers and those working or living in environments with a high level of pollutants (e.g. printing facilities, hair salons, service stations and factories) should increase their intake of antioxidants: vitamins A (or beta-carotene), C, E and selenium.
It is critical to eat well. However, the data shows how important it is to take supplements in order to achieve above-average health.