Is there a need for supplements in your diet? Maybe, maybe not. Some of the things that should be considered include:
- Your current and past health history
- Your age
- Your gender
- Your diet
- Your sleep and exercise habits
- Your work habits
- Your energy levels
- Your digestive health
- Your mental health and wellness
- Your skin health
All of these things are indicators to a naturopathic physician who understands the functioning of various systems (digestive, cardiovascular, hormones, lymphatic, etc.). Vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and enzyme deficiencies can show up as a wide variety of symptoms. For example, vitamin D deficiency is something commonly found in the bloodwork of patients suffering with chronic pain. If you live in a climate such as the pacific northwest where there is a lack of sunshine and you eat a traditional north american diet, you’re likely low on vitamin D.
Dosage is also very important. You may think you’re getting enough of something from a multivitamin, but in order to have a therapeutic effect, it is sometimes not taken at an appropriate amount. Or, you can be getting too much of something, which can also result in symptoms. For example, if you’re eating a lot of foods that are very high in iron and you’re taking high doses of iron in supplement form, it can result in iron toxicity. A lot of this has to do with the vitamin being fat soluble or water soluble, which will determine if your body stores it in your fat cells or not.
Genetic predispositions also play a role. Some people have difficulty breaking down certain foods or absorbing certain substances which, over time, can lead to some interesting symptoms. If you have food sensitivities or food allergies (which are different things, by the way), you may be forced to avoid certain foods. Those foods might be high in certain vitamins and minerals, which you might not be consuming, which can lead to a deficiency.
Sometimes the solution to your symptoms isn’t simply to add a supplement. Some vitamins need to be consumed with fat in a meal or with Vitamin C/Orange Juice, or in conjunction with another vitamin or mineral in order to be absorbed.
If you have underlying gut microbiome issues, you’re likely not absorbing some nutrients from your food or your supplements, which means you’re literally just flushing your money down the toilet. If your gut can’t absorb the vitamins and minerals, your body will simply discharge them via urine and feces.
Last, but certainly not least, the quality of the supplements you buy is very really important. A lot, but not all, of the inexpensive brands you would find at a grocery store are not bioavailable. This means, the way they were processed renders them un-absorbable. For example, if you get a cold pressed Omega-3 supplement of poor quality, you likely won’t see many benefits.
So what’s the best course of action? Talk to someone with specialized training in nutriceuticals like our Naturopathic Physician. “What about my family doctor?” Well, if you have one, lucky you, as they’re becoming more and more difficult to find in BC. You may be even luckier and have one who has taken an interest in learning more about nutrition. Unfortunately, most of them don’t have the level of training necessary to give you the right advice. They are experts in their area of practice and conventional western medicine certainly has its place, but most of the time, this isn’t where they shine. The human body is very complicated and nobody can know everything, which is why we have so many other specialized options available like Naturopathic Physicians, Dieticians and Holistic Nutritionists.
And here’s a little bonus for you. Some of these professions are covered by your extended health plan. Naturopathic Medicine is almost always covered, but it’s a good idea to check with your insurance provider first.
So, what are the top 10 supplements you should consider taking and why? (always consult a nutritional professional before adding anything to your diet)
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are called “essential,” because your body can’t produce them on it’s own. They play a role in hormonal balance, hair and skin health, and vaginal tissue health through menopause. Omega 3’s have a natural blood thinning effect, so consult a professional if you are already taking blood thinners! It can be found in fatty fish like salmon and in both flaxseeds and walnuts. A new trend is to take Omega 3’s harvested from algae, but some people can’t convert this form into useful fatty acids.
2. Magnesium is a mineral which can reduce the occurrence of mood swings and bloating associated with PMS. Ever wonder why you crave chocolate when you have your cycle? Dark chocolate is high in magnesium! Magnesium also helps your body absorb calcium, which is an example of supplements that should be consumed together, in order to aid development of health bones and teeth. Magnesium can interact with some antibiotics and cause harm to those with pre-existing kidney conditions. Another good reason to consult a professional! Magnesium can be absorbed from dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, form legumes, nuts and halibut.
3. L-arginine is an amino acid. Its great for boosting libido/sex drive because it boosts human growth hormone levels which in turn, helps blood vessels dilate and improves bloodflow to the genitals. It can also be helpful for treating angina and coronary artery disease. Caution with taking large doses though, as it can lead to low blood pressure and headaches. It can be found in dairy products, poultry and nuts.
4. Biotin for strong, healthy hair and nails. Biotin is one of the B-Complex vitamins and plays an important role in metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and amino acids. It is important for enzyme production related to liver and nervous system health. If you’ve taken antibiotics or anticonvulsant medications, both can deplete your biotin levels. Biotin can be found in salmon, liver, cauliflower, cottage cheese and eggs.
5. Inositol can help promote ovulation in women who suffer from infertility, obesity, endometriosis, fibroids or polycystic ovarian syndrome. However, taking too much can result in iron deficiency as it can prolong bleeding with menstruation. Inositol can be found in legumes like kidney beans and red beans as well as some nuts.
6. Glucosamine Sulphate can provide pain relief for people who suffer from arthritis and reduce the progression of osteoarthritis significantly. It increases the amount of cartilage and lubricating fluid around your joints. Caution for people who are diabetic or are allergic to shellfish! This is an odd one, as it’s not readily available in food form.
7. Co-Enzyme Q10 is an important antioxidant for heart health. It helps the heart pump blood efficiently and is important for people with heart disease and high blood pressure. This supplement becomes more important with age because the body naturally reduces it’s production of this enzyme as we get older. If you’re already taking prescription medications that lower your blood pressure, this enzyme could be dangerous for you to consume. Talk to a professional. It can be found in fatty fish, liver and soybean oil.
8. Lycopene is an antioxidant you get from fruits and vegetables with a red tone. It has been linked to prevention of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer. It has also been linked to preventing osteoarthritis. If you have high cholesterol or an inflammatory disease, you likely have a lycopene deficiency. You can get it from watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, pink guavas and tomatoes.
9. Chromium is a trace mineral that helps to regulate your metabolism of blood sugar, allowing a steady release of energy throughout the day. It can also suppress appetite and help shed weight around the waist. It should be consumed with Vitamin C to make sure it gets absorbed. If you’re taking thyroid medication, this supplement can negatively interact with it! Chromium is found in whole grain cereals, apples, grapes, raw onions.
10. Resveratrol is an antioxidant with anti-aging, anit-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. It does have a weak estrogenic effect, so if you have any hormone sensitive health conditions like breast cancer, ovarian cancer or uterine cancer, it should be avoided! Resveratrol is found in red wine (no wonder so many women love it), red grapes, mulberries and purple grape juices.
Our naturopathic physician will be able to individualize what may be needed for you specifically given your condition and your health goals. A thorough investigation of digestive health is of extreme importance. With a healthy GI tract, we can absorb nutrition from the food we consume. There are very safe and effective professional grade nutriceuticals available to you and for a wide variety of conditions. The degradation in our soil is also a concern and mineral deficiency can be an issue. How a naturopathic doctor will determine what may be helpful as far as supplements is determined by several factors such as your condition, your health goals, your nutritional status, your digestive health. Blood work and mineral analysis may be suggested to get a more comprehensive understanding.