Today we are going to discuss nutritional supplementation. I firmly believe that nutrition should primarily come through our dietary choices and food; however, I do believe that supplements play a role in properly feeding and fueling our bodies. I look at supplements as insurance to a good diet, helping to assure that we are getting adequate amounts of nutrients and in doing so lowering potential risks associated with nutritional deficiencies. In other words, nutritional supplements should complement a healthy diet and not be a replacement for a poor diet. Nutritional supplements can help fill some gaps in if you do not eat enough or a variety of healthy foods. As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
In writing this post, I hope to clarify some questions on nutritional supplements, I do not plan to discuss the need for every potential supplement and what they can be used for, as that would be far beyond the scope of this article. However, I feel that there are some general guidelines that we should follow when it comes to nutritional supplements.
Personally, I take a fair amount of nutritional supplements, even though I eat a generally clean diet. I feel that just like anything else there are things that we need to consider prior to taking nutritional supplements.
- Why are we taking the supplements that we are taking?
- What supplements should we take?
- Is there a difference in supplement quality?
- What are our current dietary habits?
- What are our current activity levels?
- Are there any contraindications to taking supplements?
I feel that as a general rule we should take supplements just to support our overall health. I am not here to debate or to claim that nutritional supplements can be used to cure, prevent, or treat any medical conditions or illnesses. However, I do believe and there is plenty of research to back up that nutritional supplements can help to benefit our overall general health, well-being, and help support many overall functions in our body.
I like to categorize nutritional supplements into more foundational supplements and focused supplements. Our primary focus today will be on the foundational supplements as a discussion of focused supplements is beyond the scope of this post. Just like a strong foundation on a house helps reduce the risk of having structural issues, foundational supplements can be thought of the same way with our body.
Micro & Macro Nutrients
Nutrients are substances required by the body to perform its basic functions. Nutrients must be obtained from our diet since the human body cannot make them. Nutrients have one or more of three basic functions: they provide energy, contribute to body structure, and/or regulate chemical processes in the body. Nutrients are classified as macronutrients or micronutrients. Macronutrients are the main nutrients found in food and maintain our body’s structure and function. You typically need a large amount of macronutrients to keep your body working properly. Macronutrients come from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, which give your body energy in the form of calories. We have covered macronutrients in length in our previous blog series: Macronutrients. On the other hand, micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals. Compared to macronutrients, your body needs a smaller amount of micronutrients for optimal performance. Though micronutrients do not provide energy, they’re essential for functions like digestion, metabolism, energy production, hormone production and brain function.
Supplements can be used to help increase and assure proper intake of macronutrients. Most commonly, protein powders and fatty acid supplements, including Omega-3s are used to help supplement a healthy diet. Protein powders make it more convenient to assure that we are getting all of our essential amino acids (those that must be consumed through our diet, for more information on this see our blog post all about protein) along with getting adequate amounts of protein, especially for those who live a more active lifestyle. As we discussed, last week in our heart health blog post, most Americans are extremely deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, as a result an Omega-3 supplement is a great idea for most of us. Omega-3s in addition to being a primary fuel source of our heart, Omega-3s also have great benefits for our brain and help to reduce inflammation, which likely decreases our risk to certain cancers; and they reduce triglyceride and increase good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Though we use some supplements to help with the intake of macronutrients, most supplementation is focused on improving intake of micronutrients, mainly vitamins and minerals. Most people are familiar with multivitamin and mineral supplements and may even be taking one. Multivitamins and minerals are a great addition to our diets in ensuring proper intake of these very important nutrients to our body’s ability to properly function and reduce our risk of many known deficiency illnesses. Certain vitamins have also been found to have cancer-reducing effects including vitamin D and antioxidants, which include Vitamins A, C, and E. When it comes to multivitamins and minerals one of the most important aspects of taking one is understanding its ability to be absorbed, or its bioavailability. If you do not understand absorption or bioavailability of a supplement it is likely best to consult with a health professional who does. Not taking this step may be reducing the benefits of taking a supplement if your body is unable to absorb and use it properly. I like to think of it like taking a medication without first consulting your doctor or a pharmacist, typically it is something that you should not do.
In addition to multivitamins, many vitamins and minerals can be supplemented individually. This is important for certain populations who may require higher intakes of certain vitamins or minerals including athletes (more active people will burn more nutrients, therefore have a need for increased intake), pregnant women (need to increase certain nutrients to assist in their health and the health of their baby during pregnancy), individuals with certain health conditions (certain health conditions can reduce one’s ability to properly absorb nutrients thereby requiring a higher intake to get adequate amounts). Specifics to amounts and types of individualized micronutrients that certain people or populations should be taking is beyond the scope of this post. At this point, it is just important to understand that there are times where taking a specific vitamin or mineral is important.
Top 5 Nutritional Supplements
Along with supplements that assist with macronutrient and micronutrient intake, there are several nutritional supplements on the market that are not classified as either one, however they are just as important to our health and well-being. I will review a few that I think are the most important foundational of these. My top 7 of these are Glucosamine, Collagen, Probiotics, Curcumin, and CoQ10.
Glucosamine is very important to overall joint health. It is one of the primary building blocks for many aspects of our joints including ligaments, tendons, cartilage and synovial fluid. Glucosamine has been researched and shown to have long term beneficial effects on joint function and pain in individuals with and without osteoarthritis. It may also help to delay the onset of osteoarthritis by slowing the breakdown of cartilage.
Collagen is another nutrient (actually considered a protein) that is important to overall joint health. It is found in our connective tissues including muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, bone, and cartilage. Collagen has been shown to have beneficial health effects on our skin and bones. It helps to improve the hydration and elasticity of our skin and also helps to improve the density of our bones, possibly reducing the risk of osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women.
Probiotics are extremely important to our gut health. Probiotics are living microorganisms that provide significant health benefits. These health benefits include production of certain vitamins including vitamin K and some of our B vitamins, assists with metabolism, strengthen our immune system, and are vital to proper digestive function. Probiotics help to balance out bad bacteria that can also be found in our gut, particularly our large intestine. There are a number of things that can disrupt this balance and destroy our good bacteria or probiotics, which can result in significant digestive issues. Some of these things include taking antibiotics (which in addition to killing off bad bacteria also kill off good bacteria), smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, lack of physical activity, and stress. As a result, the need for probiotics to maintain healthy digestion goes up with any of these situations or lifestyle choices.
Curcumin is derived from turmeric, traditionally used as a herbal remedy and spice. Curcumin supports a healthy metabolism and helps to promote a healthy inflammatory response. It also supports heart and brain function. Given its ability to promote a healthy inflammatory response curcumin may have a role in reducing the risk of cancer.
Coenzyme Q 10 aka CoQ10 is a substance that is found naturally in our body. It is found in the highest concentrations in our heart, kidney, liver and pancreas. Its primary function is to produce energy. It is known that CoQ10 production decreases as we age. In addition, many statin drugs (used to help lower cholesterol levels) also decrease CoQ10 levels. CoQ10 is important to our heart health and has been linked to possibly reducing the risk of heart failure and helping with heart failure treatment.
As we have discussed, supplements should be considered as a great addition to a healthy diet. They should not be used to replace a healthy diet as our primary nutrition should come from food that we consume. Supplements have a role in helping to ensure adequate intake of certain nutrients, especially for certain populations as explained above. In review, I believe the foundational supplements that should be considered are the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Protein powder (particularly in those who are very active and in the elderly population)
Safety & Quality of Supplements
Prior to considering adding supplements into your current diet and nutrition it can be advisable to consider discussing with a healthcare professional, who is qualified to understand your specific nutritional needs. Not all supplements are equal, the good and the bad of supplementation is that they are not regulated. This is good in the sense that we should have access to good nutrition without a governing body being able to regulate what and when we have access to it. However, this also effects the ability of supplements to be held to a particular standard. In other words, companies have the ability to reduce the quality or bioavailability of a supplement and still sell it as containing quality ingredients. When choosing a supplement you should verify if the supplement has a Certificate of Analysis (COA), which is awarded by an independent third-party company, including NPA (Natural Products Association), NSF, OTC (Over the Counter Drug GMPs), TGA (Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration), and the requirements of the FDA Dietary Supplement Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)
Most products that have been certified by one of these third-party companies have been tested for one or more of the following:
- The supplement contains what’s stated on the label and in the amounts listed
- Products are standardized from batch to batch.
- The supplement is free of harmful levels of contaminants or other potential drug contaminants.
- The product doesn’t contain any undeclared ingredients.
In review, supplements can be a great addition to a diet and ensure proper and adequate intake of many essential nutrients that our body requires to function at its best. Supplements should never replace a healthy diet, but are best used as referred in “supplementing” a healthy diet. They can be more important in certain populations, including:
- women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- adults or children with diagnosed nutritional deficiencies
- individuals with conditions causing nutrient malabsorption
- those who have undergone bariatric surgery, such as gastric bypass
- athletes or very active individuals who have higher nutritional requirements
If you would like more information about supplements and how they may be able to help you or would like to learn more about simplifying your way to a healthier diet, consider taking the time to come meet with us by signing up for our First Step Nutritional Coaching Session, where we can help you reach your nutritional goals and establish new nutritional habits. It literally is only 30 minutes of your time, to discover what we may be able to help you with here at ChiroFitt. We look forward to helping you on your journey to a healthier and more active life!
Until next time…