Nutritional supplements produced $32 BILLION in revenue in 2012, proving they are quite a lucrative business. But are they necessary? The answer to this question is pretty complex. Depending on who you talk to, you will usually either get an enthusiastic “YES!” or a emphatic “NO”! So who’s right?!
The ultimate answer lies in each individual and is dependent on a number of variables specific to that person. To put it simply, some people benefit from them and some people don’t. If you’re in great overall health and eat a nourishing, whole foods diet on a regular basis, then you are probably someone that falls into the “don’t” category. If you have a host of health problems and have a less-than-ideal diet, then yes, supplementation could be highly beneficial. However, thinking that taking a few pills 1-2x/day will magically make you healthy, slim, and glowing, while still eating like crap is… magical thinking. It will not work. You MUST eat a whole foods diet; you may not necessarily need to supplement.
There are a few reasons why someone would benefit from supplementation though:
First, in the case of vegans and possibly vegetarians, one would need to take B12 and would likely benefit greatly from vitamin D and a B complex, as all of these nutrients are difficult to impossible to get from plant sources. Without adequate B12, one stands the chance of developing irreparable nerve damage. In addition, some vegans may need to take an iron supplement, though one should get their iron levels tested prior to supplementing, as it can oxidize in the body if not needed.
Secondly, in the case of nutrient deficiencies. As a result of our poor diet, these deficiencies are quite rampant in our population. This can be assessed with a simple blood test or hair mineral analysis of vitamin and mineral levels in the blood or hair. If any of them are low, then supplement! If not, then don’t! Easy, peasy.
Lastly, in the case of certain health conditions. Targeted nutritional supplementation can be incredibly effective at resolving specific issues. For example, someone with joint pain and inflammation could likely benefit from some fish oil, glucosamine, and vitamin D; someone with IBS would be advised to take probiotics, L-glutamine, and digestive enzymes.
- Quality– Not all supplements are created equal. Buying in bulk from drugstores isn’t a good idea, as these companies typically use the lowest quality forms of vitamins and minerals, which aren’t going to be assimilated into the body and are basically worthless at best and inflammatory at worst. Health food stores can be a better bet, but you should still remain wary of quality. What’s the expiration date on the product? Are there any knowledgeable people working there to assist you? Pharmaca is great source for high quality supplements. They are also online. Speaking of online- this is usually your best way of getting the best deal and the best selection of products. Can you tell I recommend this route? 🙂 Make sure you do your research though. To reiterate- not all supplements are created equal!
- Ratios– It’s very important to not over-supplement with one specific nutrient. For example, women are told by their doctors to take calcium for osteoporosis. What we’re not told is that we need to supplement this in conjunction with magnesium. Not doing so could actually result in WEAKER bones! Do your research before supplementing with one lone nutrient- doing this for long periods of time usually isn’t necessary and can sometimes even be harmful.
- Duration– Most supplements don’t need to be taken indefinitely. The exceptions might be probiotics, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 for certain individuals with chronic situations. For most of us though, we only need to take a particular vitamin or mineral until our levels of that nutrient are back to optimal levels, again determined by a blood test or hair mineral analysis. However, if your diet is poor, then supplementing long term with certain products, such as a high-quality multi-vitamin and mineral, vitamin C, and calcium/magnesium, could be beneficial. Again though, there is no true substitution for a healthy, whole foods diet.
Here’s a list of a few reputable companies:
- Designs for Health
- Thorne Research
- Natural Factors
- Garden of Life
If you’d like further elaboration on this topic or advice on your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to post in the comment box below or message me! I’m always happy to provide nutritional knowledge to those genuinely interested.
Moral of the story– Do your research before buying to make sure you’re getting quality and that you actually need it! Don’t waste your money on something you saw on TV or your friend said she took… will it be helpful for YOU? That is the question.