Nutritional Supplements – what are they, how do they work and how do you choose them?
Nutritional supplements are without a doubt one of the most easily accessible and also one of the most confusing aspects of self care. Regulation of the vitamin/supplement industry only began in 2011.
Why do we need nutritional supplements?
Besides what I’ve already eluded to, animal feeds have changed from the natural foods they eat in the wild to highly processed, chemical laden concoctions that are designed to maximize growth rate, muscle mass and profit for the growers. The result is meat that is dangerously high in chemicals and totally lacking in the natural nutritional elements that have kept us healthy for so long (until the 20th century!). Watch Food Inc. and you’ll never look at your food the same way again.
If this weren’t bad enough, the modern reliance on drugs to treat diseases symptomatically has led us away from the traditional cures that sought to replace what was missing in the body. Many modern drugs actually block absorption or increase excretion of the very minerals we require for staying well. (An excellent book on the robbing of our bodies by medicines is “Drug Muggers” by pharmacist Suzy Cohen.) As a consequence, virtually everyone in the Western World (many “primitive cultures” are much better nourished than we are) needs to supplement their diet to a greater or lesser extent.
So, we all need supplements until such a time that our soil quality returns and we are not using pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics and corn based feed to alter our fruits, vegetables and meats. Obviously, not everyone will or can spend the $$ to eat 100% organic. But, everyone can start with a good multi-vitamin at least.
Rachel Carson stated in her 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’,
“We are rightly appalled by the genetic effects of radiation…How then, could we be indifferent to the same effect from farm chemicals used freely in the environment.”
Basic 3 Supplements Most People Benefit From
- A Good Multi-Vitamin – I take one by Metagenics called Phytomulti that also has minerals and phyto-nutrients in it. You can get it through health care providers and also on Amazon. There are many reputable brands of vitamins. Just look for one that covers vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients if you can find it. Take with breakfast or lunch. (Don’t take at the same time as calcium). This is one that you should take with food to increase absorption and decrease stomach irritation (feeling queasy).
- Vitamin D – 1,000 to 5,000 units/day. See my post about D here. Ask your physician to check your levels. It isn’t expensive. You want a vitamin D level about 50. Take Vitamin D in the morning as it blocks melatonin, which is a sleep helper.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (usually fish oil aka EPA/DHA) – this has both anti-inflammatory and cognitive benefits. The evidence on the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids is staggering and definitive: we need them for a multitude of processes in our bodies. Because of my mercury issues (even though they didn’t come from fish), I take an ultra-refined liquid by Metagenics — I think you should definitely take fish oil, but you do need to be careful that the source is reputable – here is a good page that discusses them and you don’t need a membership to view it)
What are anti-oxidants?
Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. (What’s a free radical? Why should I care about them? — A free radical is “an atom or group of atoms that has at least one unpaired electron and is therefore unstable and highly reactive. In animal tissues, free radicals can damage cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related diseases.Many experts believe this damage is a factor in the development of blood vessel disease (atherosclerosis), cancer, and other conditions.” We all are exposed to free radicals through:
- the results of normal processes that take place in your body (such as the burning of sugars for energy and the release of digestive enzymes to break down food)
- When the body breaks down certain medicines
- Through pollutants and toxins
Every cell in your body is under daily, non-stop assaults from toxins, pollution and lack of essential vitamins and minerals due to poor diet. Think of your cells, including your brain cells, each getting hit by free-radicals thousands of times a day. This violent process is called “oxidation,” which damages your cells.
Guess what antioxidants do? They counter this damage and often repair it. Antioxidants include vitamins and other nutrients that target free radicals.
Food, particularly fruits and vegetables, is a powerful source of these valiant protectors, and your body produces some itself. Their role is to limit the damage to your cells, which can slow down disease and signs of aging.
2 Common Antioxidants to consider:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). I take a controlled release tablet twice/day. What does ALA do? Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) has many functions, but it’s one of the most effective free radical scavengers, and the only one known to easily get into your brain. It also has the ability to regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and glutathione. So, when your body has used up these antioxidants, if there’s ALA around, it helps regenerate them. No downside to that!
Glutathione is another very important antioxidant. Alpha lipoic acid regenerates glutathione. Alpha lipoic acid also recycles CoQ10 and NAD. In addition to helping us create more crucial glutathione, ALA also helps reduce inflammation, removes heavy metal and helps insulin sensitivity. Anyone who is pre-diabetic or diabetic should discuss adding ALA to their supplement list with their physician.
In the case of alpha lipoic acid, your body does produce it in minute quantities, but most of it comes from your diet or supplementation. Some of the best natural sources include grass-fed red meat and organ meats.
- Ubiquinol (the part of CoQ10 your body can absorb): This powerful antioxidant is used by every cell in your body. If women understood it’s anti-aging properties, they’d stop buying $150 creams and go buy a bottle of Ubiquinol! If you’re under 25 years old, your body can convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol without any difficulty. However, when you get older, your body becomes more and more challenged to convert the oxidized CoQ10 to ubiquinol. Therefore, you may need to take a ubiquinol supplement. Advantages of supplementation with Ubiquinol are:
- produces ore energy for your cell processes
- supports heart health
- stabilizes the immune system and nervous system
- reduces the signs of aging by combating oxidation
- helps maintain a normal blood pressure.
This is by no means a definitive list. And each person has unique needs. It is best to find a nutritionist or physician who is knowledgable and conversant on supplements and discuss your needs with them after having labs to determine your unique situation. This list is just a suggestion of where most people can start!
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