To supplement or not to supplement, that is the dilemma. Supplements nowadays are big business and there are multitudes of them out there. The consumer is faced with many options from good old vitamins and minerals, to all the rage superfoods. How to choose from this array of items that promise good health, vitality and vibrancy? The answer to this question is not a straightforward one but the following points might help you understand.
Supplements are meant to be added to our baseline diet. The concept that we have been sold for decades is that the food that we eat has been stripped of vital nutrients due to poor soil quality and over-farming, therefore we need to fortify our diet with the missing nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. This, in principle, sounds solid and reasonable; however, the challenge is not so much with the poor quality of our diet and foods, but with the supplements that we are taking.
Supplements are often promoted as derived from natural sources or food-based. The reality is that almost all vitamin supplements are made in labs and go through extensive processing, some more so than others, but at the end of the day, the vast majority of them are essentially of synthetic/lab origin to which other food-like substances are then added to make them look like and sound au naturel.
Supplement companies, and there are thousands of them, thrive on the principle of insecurity of the consumer. The consumer thinks that they are lacking important nutrients in their diet which then puts their health at risk. What better way of taking control of this shortage than by adding supplements. The fact is that at no other time in the history of humanity have people lived in so much abundance, dietary and otherwise. This, of course, is not the case the world over, but most people in the industrialized world are suffering from dietary excesses. Taking a few supplements here and there does not address the core issues.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are meant to be added to our diet judiciously and for a limited time. For example, during a cold, one could take vitamin C and zinc. During times of stress, one can take B complex. During the dark winter months, one could boost the system with some vitamin D. In reality, supplements are medications with fewer side effects, and like all medications, they are taken for a period of time to address a health concern. Once the situation has been resolved, you stop the medication. Failure to do so means that you are simply masking the problem and not dealing with the root causes. This will have consequences down the road. However, sometimes there is no clear reason for the root cause, therefore one can buy time using supplements or other medications until there are more physiological, psychological and spiritual resources to explore the cause.
Friendly Bacteria & Probiotics
One of the hot supplements nowadays is the friendly bacteria which is recommended for all manner of health issues simply because gut health is supposed to be influential for overall health. This is the case, but like everything else in life things need to be tailored to the individual. One cannot simply take friendly bacteria because they have a digestive issue. Sure, the friendly bacteria improves the symptoms such as bloating, gas, bowel movement and is okay to use if such symptoms arise in an acute situation, such as after food poisoning or after the use of antibiotics, but prolonged use of any friendly bacteria supplement can throw off the balance of the gut biome.
A friendly bacteria supplement which has two to six strains will boost some of the strains in the gut and throw off the balance in favour of those. This will be okay in the short term, but longer term it can cause other complications which we would never associate with this type of supplement given these are supposedly great medicine.
In the more progressive quarters of the science world, the talk of the gut being the second brain is centre stage. True to our Western way of looking at things, now the focus is all on the gut to the point of ignoring all other aspects of the body. Not long ago, the focus was all on the liver, or the yeast/candida overgrowth, or mercury in our teeth. The fact is that as the ancient medicines of China, India, the Americas, Africa and Europe tell us, the focus varies from one person to another. To treat everyone for SIBO (the new big thing; Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth), as many naturopaths are, is very shortsighted.
Onto the superfoods such as goji berries, ashwaganda, chia seeds, maca root, wheat grass, moringa leaf and the rest of these great and miraculous natural foods. While these are natural, they are potent medicines and all have physiological and energetic properties that neither the companies that sell them, nor the people that consume them, are very knowledgeable on. I have had many clients who have come to me with all manner of health conditions that have been easily traceable to some form of superfood or supplement they took with best of intentions. These natural food remedies are potent stuff and one needs to know their properties fully as well your own makeup to know if they are suitable.
Another aspect to the superfood craze is the environmental impact caused every time a new superfood becomes the next miracle cure. The demand goes up in the Western world and then the local environment of the food (invariably in the poorer parts of the globe) is then invaded by hungry traders eager to make a quick buck.
Essential Fatty Acids (Omega’s)
Another one of the highly overrated supplements are the omegas, or essential fatty acids. They are called that because supposedly our bodies don’t make them, therefore we need to get these essential nutrients from food sources such as flax and hemp seeds or fish oils. What’s interesting is that humanity survived for thousands of years without any of these fancy supplements and had access to these through the foods they consumed. In their concentrated and isolated form, these oils can actually stress the digestive organs.
Recommendations Before You Use a Supplement
- Get a proper assessment of your condition rather than a “ Dr. Google”. This is not always an easy task even with the help of a health care professional.
- If you end up taking more than two supplements for a health condition, you have gone the wrong way, especially if you are not feeling any better for it.
- You should not have to rely on a supplement for an extended period of time. Get the “fix” and discontinue. If not, the root has not been dealt with and you are simply masking the problem.
- If your psychology works better with taking supplements on a regular basis, it is best to cycle their intake. Take them for five days and off for two days. Do this for four weeks, then take a week off. This will prevent accumulation of toxins and improve assimilation of nutrients.
- Know that your food is still essentially your best medicine.
- Aside from that, your lifestyle is your next best medicine. The usual things: eat regular meals, don’t go to bed late, drink enough water (but don’t drown yourself), and have some form of daily physical routine (nothing over the top!).
- As always, LESS IS MORE, with the exception of this newsletter;)
Enjoy the summer!
Armin Madani-Nejad R.Ac