Have you ever stood in the vitamin and supplements aisle at the store and felt overwhelmed? The wall of bottles and their labels all boast health-promoting benefits. As your eyes glazed over all the options, you started to wonder if you even needed them, as you may eat a healthy, well-rounded whole foods diet. On top of that, conflicting information you’ve read in articles or posts online made it impossible to feel like you could make the right choices.
Scientific evidence confirms that some dietary supplements are beneficial for your overall health and for managing some health conditions. They are not drugs and, as such, are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. They are intended to supplement your diet to support your biochemistry and metabolism. You can think of supplements as the oil that greases the wheel of your metabolism.
Why do you need supplements?
If you are dealing with chronic disease or health issues, vitamins and supplements are often cornerstones for healing and repairing health. Vitamins and minerals are two main types of nutrients that your body needs in order to survive and stay healthy. Taking a multivitamin increases your overall nutrient intake and helps you get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals when you can’t or don’t get them from food alone.
Nutrients are an essential part of getting your health back in balance. While you may receive a multitude of health benefits from eating fresh fruits and vegetables, there are numerous reasons why you may be nutrient malnourished.
With its focus on the quantity of production, often to the exclusion of other goals, today's food system is depleting crops of their nutrients. The negative impact from decades of relying on unsustainable agriculture affect nonrenewable and hard-to-renew resources. Resources such as soil, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, fresh water, and fossil fuels, as well as waste and pollution created by the industrial model all affect the nutrient-density within the fruits and vegetables you eat. Along with this, some plants are favored for their high-yielding abilities but they offer less nutritious value. The poor health of the agriculture system has a profound effect on crop nutrients and your health as you aim to be sustained by it.
While fruits and vegetables should be eaten in greater quantities than other foods, this is often not the case. Less than one in ten Americans meet the guidance for fruit and vegetable intake. Malnutrition often goes along with poor diets high in processed foods. If you eat processed foods, it requires more vitamins and minerals to help metabolize them.
Too common, the American diet is excessive in calories, fats, sweeteners and carbohydrates and processed factory-made foods that have no nutrients. This contributes to the high and very expensive rate of cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and other diet-related chronic diseases. On top of that, the crops most affected with nutrient-loss are those that produce refined sugars, separated fats/oils, white flour and rice.
Your gut’s microbiome, i.e.; the microbes that play an important role in your health by helping control digestion and supporting your immune system and other functions, are affected by nutrient deficiency as well. Inflammation and stress from a poor diet, the stresses of modern life, use of antibiotics, as well as other drugs all damage your gut’s ecosystem, which is so important in keeping you healthy. This is where support from probiotic supplements can be handy in restoring your microbiome.
If you are dealing with a chronic disease you may have increased energy needs. Inadequate intake of several vitamins is associated with chronic diseases including heart diseases, cancer and osteoporosis. Your body needs over 40 nutrients every day and if your diet does not provide these, supplements can help, but they cannot make up for the effects of a poor diet. So, beyond eating a balanced diet, supplementation may be of support. These are among the basic reasons you may need the support of vitamins and supplements to help boost or balance your health.
How do you choose supplements?
This answer is best found through the guidance of your Functional or Integrative Medicine Doctor. They can be helpful in selecting the products that address your unique needs. You want to be sure that you are in fact, supporting your health needs and that you are getting the best-quality supplements you can buy.While the manufacturer suggests serving size, your doctor and you might decide that a different amount is more appropriate for you.
A few other important reasons you need the guidance of a professional is that if you buy just any supplement, its nutrients may be cheap, filled with additives, colors, contaminants, allergens and fillers and could be poorly absorbed in your body. Where the supplements or vitamin was produced may not follow proper manufacturing standards which lends towards inconsistent quality. Also, the dosage on the label may not even match the dose in the vitamin or supplement.
Most importantly, you need to make sure you are not self-diagnosing or prescribing yourself with anything that could have a negative effect on your health.
Your doctor will want to know details of your diet, medications and lifestyle habits before prescribing you any supplements or vitamins. This is important to be sure that you are not taking anything that will interfere with medications or that you would be over supplemented. Further lab work and tests may be done to further the exactness of what your body may be deficient of and could benefit from.
There is also the potential for overdose with supplements and vitamins.
Supplementation can be toxic when misused, especially fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Water soluble vitamins get excreted through your urine, but fat-soluble ones are stored in your body fat and remain in your body. Symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes that do not fade, joint pain, constipation, vomiting can occur with over-supplementation. Other dangerous side effects may be symptomatic towards a specific vitamin or supplement. Remember, more is not always better.
Regular visits with your doctor about the use and dose of vitamins and mineral or herbal supplements may help to optimize your nutrient intake and avoid potential harm from inappropriate use. As sub-optimal vitamin status is associated with chronic diseases, it is important for your doctor to identify if you have poor nutrition or other reasons for increased vitamin or supplement needs. They will help to assure that you are getting the best products such as those I source from, and the correct amount, as your health needs are unique to you.
To Your Health,
Kiran Grewal MD