Should I Really Take Supplements?

Walk into any drugstore, and you’ll notice aisles upon aisles of supplements ranging from vitamin A to zinc. With what seems like a new supplement popping up every minute, it’s easy to begin questioning the necessity of all these pills.

Hilda is a woman who visited me recently. She is a thin, very active woman in her eighties. When she walked into my office, she held two grocery bags full of bottles she wanted to discuss. She’d joined a supplement club and received a catalog every month, filled with articles on the importance of a certain supplement. After reading these articles, she was compelled to go to the back of the catalog and order them. Now, she was spending her week managing over forty pills a day!

There is no reason anyone should be taking that many pills. However, there is a place in our diets for certain supplements. Knowing the benefits and detriments of these can greatly impact your health.

What Do We Need?

Ideally, we’d get all the nutrients we need from our food. Today, however, much of what we eat just doesn’t contain what we need. Consequently, supplements have become a necessary part of our diets. While we are better nourished compared to our ancestors, we still have a lot of deficiencies.

The way I determine whether there’s a need for supplements in a patient’s diet is by asking a lot of questions: How is your digestion? Do you get cramps? Do you have muscle pain? Do you get heart palpitations? Do you experience anxiety? The answers to these questions give me a clue as to where a possible need may be.

Family history is also a useful tool. For example, if your family members have thyroid problems, it may be an indication that you’re in need of an iodine supplement. Many times, these needs are easy to identify; if a patient has white spots on his fingernails, this can indicate a zinc deficiency. However, the signs can also be very obscure, as in the case of depression, which has over fifty different causes.

The Big Three

There are three key nutrients that Americans are seriously lacking in their diets: iodine, selenium, and vitamin D. Even people who have healthy diets will still be deficient!

  • Iodine – Over a hundred years ago, it was found that goiter, an enlarged thyroid gland, was caused by a lack of iodine. Iodine was later added to salt so people would get it in their diets. Now, we’ve been told not to eat salt, and the “specialty salts” on the market are not iodized. Because of this, we are revisiting the level of thyroid problems from a hundred years ago.
  • Selenium – A study on selenium indicated a 70% drop in lung cancer, and 50% less cancer overall, in patients taking selenium supplements over a five-year period.
  • Rickets – While I’ve never seen a severe case of rickets, which is a vitamin D deficiency, I have seen plenty cases of osteoporosis, which signals a mild case of rickets. Of the hundreds I’ve tested, I’ve rarely found anyone with a normal level of vitamin D. A weekly supplement of about 40,000 IU is suggested.

Incorporating Supplements into Your Diet

Before you think about adding supplements to your daily routine, examine your diet. The very best way to get nutrients is by eating low-calorie/high-nutrient foods. Kale is essential for its high nutrient-to-calorie ratio. Fresh, organic foods are also rich in nutrients and should be a staple in your diet. Along those lines, the best supplements you’ll find will be those with natural food extracts.

The right supplement also depends on your sex and age. A menstruating woman may require more iron, whereas a post-menopausal woman might experience an iron overload with supplements. Young boys need zinc to make testosterone and have normal sexual development, while young girls need iodine.

Those who take supplements should make sure not to overdo it. Take them intermittently, such as twice per week, rather than every day. Many absorption studies indicate that taking a nutrient every day causes systemic inefficiency. If a supplement like selenium is taken daily, it could cause diabetes because it prevents the absorption of chromium, which is necessary for sugar absorption. Certain nutrients, like amino acids and minerals, often compete for absorption. Copper inhibits zinc, and vice versa, for example.

Absorption of nutrients is variable, depending on our states, not necessarily our ages. If we’re under a great deal of stress, we make less stomach acid, causing more difficulty digesting proteins. Some require an amino acid supplement in order to process proteins and neurotransmitters normally. When people tell me they’re not taking their vitamins every day, I applaud – it’s not a bad thing.

Our diets have changed dramatically over the last few decades, which created a demand for supplements. We need to begin focusing on getting all the nutrients we need from the food we eat before becoming too reliant on pills. However, there is a place for them. Remember to research what will benefit you before taking them.

Scott Saunders

Dr. Scott Saunders is the Health and Nutrition Advisor of Barton Publishing, a company that promotes natural health through teaching people how to cure themselves using alternative home remedies instead of expensive and harmful prescription drugs. Saunders is the director of The Integrative Medicine Center of Santa Barbara, which balances conventional medicine with alternative healing modalities to achieve optimal wellness. Visit his website: Barton Publishing

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