As a nutritional therapist one of the things I come across on a regular basis is people’s misunderstanding of supplements. I often hear things like “why do I need to supplement when I can get all I need from a balanced diet”, “if a little is good then more must be better” and variations of, all types of any supplement are the same so any kind of one will do. Part of my job as a therapist is to help educate these assumptions so the client can address the challenge they have with the best tools available. More often than not this involves the careful use of quality supplements. In this article I hope to help the reader with simple steps to follow when trying to buy quality supplements for therapeutic use.
What are supplements? For the most part they are chemical formulations of nutrients in nature found to support health, that is what they have become thanks to the billion dollar industry built up around them. Originally supplements were groups of nutrients in nature taken to add to your health and vitality. In the best sense of the word they are vitamins, minerals, co-factors and herbs including Superfoods. Besides their nutritive value they form parts of essential systems including hormones and enzymes. Everyone needs to top up what they are not getting naturally from their diet so these systems keep working optimally.
The supplement industry makes it harder for consumers to get quality supplements with its emphasis on marketing and the next big thing. The constant in your face advertisements, marketing campaigns and marketing spin make it hard to tell fact from fiction. Science and research institutes release their latest findings often with political bias and then try to explain those findings to the non scientific community. This leaves room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. If that is not confusing enough there is also an element of the industry that can only be described as modern-day snake oil salesmen. They cut corners and intentionally mislead the public to make a quick buck.
The result is a mixed bag of assumptions, half-truths, anecdotes and expectations.
The danger of this mess of information is that people do not get the results they should and conclude supplements don’t work. Worse still people start to live with reduced vitality until illness shows up. Then they turn to orthodox medicine as their sole means of regaining health when good quality nutrients in the form of supplementation could have helped.
The simple but important solution to reversing this misinformation occurs when you take an active interest in your own health. The quality of nutrients you consume really can make the difference. It is true that the food you eat should be the first choice for these vital nutrients but in their absence supplements are better than nothing, especially if they are of good quality.
You really can influence your health through the food you eat. Let me tell you a quick story to illustrate this point. Scientists studying bees wanted to know what it was that made the queen bee a queen bee instead of a worker bee. After examining the DNA of the larvae of bees they found no differences . The only thing that differed in the life of the queen bee was that she feeds on royal jelly exclusively! It has been found that the science of this study carries over to humans, you can change your gene expression through the quality of nutrients you get in your diet. This means you can change the quality of your health.
As someone who takes supplements and recommends them the main things to watch out for when selecting supplements are
- Buy from a trusted source choose a specialist when ever you can.
- Do your own research on any supplement you plan to take regularly.
- Pay for quality if you do the above steps properly you will know quality when you see it.
- Look for compatibility i.e. Supplements that suit your lifestyle and biochemistry etc.
- Buy natural supplements as close to nature and minimally processed as possible.
If all this sound too much like hard work consult with a nutritional therapist whom you respect and can learn from. That way you can leverage his or her knowledge without doing the legwork yourself. One resource I have found useful in my profession and my own search for independent unbiased information about supplements has been consumerlabs.com .