There is no need to be tired all the time, get every cold that passes through the office, or suffer from chronic indigestion, sinus problems, arthritic aches and pains, or any of the other problems most people experience. The right supplements can correct nutrient deficiencies as well as treat many common problems as effectively as drugs, resulting in true, vibrant, rewarding health. But what to expect from supplementation can still be a mystery to many people, and it’s what I’ll explore in this article.
Most of our foods are woefully short of nutrients. Even if you try to make healthy choices, you’re still not getting what you need, because depleted soils have lost much of their mineral content, and many of the fruits and vegetables that are commercially available at the grocery stores are developed and cultivated for eye-appeal, shelf-life, and shipping – not nutrient value. Plus, we must consider that many people aren’t getting even two servings of fruits and vegetables into their daily regimen, much less their “daily 5”. With our drive-thru food culture, it’s very unlikely that most people are even getting close to the required nutrients we need for good health.
Some consumers use dietary supplements to fill nutrient gaps. However, many supplements simply provide the recommended daily intake (RDI) of nutrients. What most consumers do not realize is that the RDI is the minimum set to prevent actual deficiencies – not the optimal level to provide vibrant health. Iodine is a case in point. Most people don’t get the iodine they really need for thyroid function and cancer prevention, only the base amount needed to prevent goiter. And even though there is iodine added to some table salt, many people have cut down on salt at home or switched to healthier natural salts means that their iodine intake is even lower. There are also many toxic compounds that compete with iodine – things like fluoride, chlorine, and bromine. The idea that you’ll get the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes you need for a healthy heart, a sound mind, proper digestion, or pain relief from diet alone has become sadly outdated. That’s why – in addition to a healthy diet – you need to supplement with therapeutic levels of proven nutrients.
First, I’d like to point out something that will probably sound obvious but needs to be stated anyway. Supplements are supplemental to your diet and exercise regimen. They are not replacements for them. They won’t make up for a lifetime of bad habits, nor are they going to make you suddenly thin if you keep eating doughnuts for breakfast and avoiding exercise. You can’t undo the damage of decades in a week to 10 days. You won’t lose 30 lbs. in 30 days with no effort. A mistake some folks make is adopting a “pharmaceutical mentality” about supplements. Unfortunately, when people take prescription drugs, they expect same-day results. Also, they often think that the new drug will be enough to cure or control their disease. So, they continue to eat poorly, and gain weight or have heartburn, or they keep eating refined sugar and flour and have problems with blood sugar, for example. In contrast, most supplements take time to work. I would say the average, in most cases, is about 8 weeks, but it can be more or less depending on the health problem and the potency of the extract or ingredient. Also, the longer you use it, often the better the results. Natural interventions work with your body, so that means you need to reduce some of your bad habits and turn your course in the direction of health, not further disease.
There are some supplements – concentrated oils for sinus congestion and pain-relieving ingredients like high-absorption curcumin and boswellia – that can provide immediate, notice-able effects, but these are in the minority. Many health concerns will simply take a little longer to heal. Some examples include hair and skin problems, mood, anxiety, depression, ligament and tendon damage, bone density improvements, and yeast or other chronic infections. I must point out, though, that some people notice a lift in their mood almost immediately after using a high-quality multivitamin. That’s because they have been so deficient in their nutrient intake that their body and mind are practically leaping for joy at receiving the very ingredients they have been waiting for. But again, in many cases, the results from herbal extracts and other nutrients typically aren’t noted until at least a month into a given study. It takes time for natural ingredients to turn around some of the damage that has occurred over a lifetime. So, expect results from quality supplements – but not always immediately. One of the biggest mistakes I see with people trying natural medicines is stopping too soon – before the products have a chance to work!
Many times, “you get what you pay for” is very true when it comes to purchasing supplements. There are plenty of cheaply produced formulas out there, and many of them simply don’t work because the quality of their material is either not very high, or it isn’t provided in the therapeutic and clinically studied amounts that can do any real good. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes a combination of both. It’s also important not to be taken in by faddish statements about supplements, either. Some companies market their products as superior because they do not contain “fillers and binders.” These substances are more correctly called “excipients.” Excipients are those ingredients in a product that do not play a therapeutic role. Excipients are used to either protect the key ingredients or help them work better. Some protect key nutrients from light exposure and degradation, while others act as antioxidants that help to resist oxidative reactions. Others protect the efficacy of the product by helping the product resist moisture or other stressors. Some are included to make the products easier to swallow, so they do not stick in the throat. Still, others assure that the tablet or capsule disintegrates after ingestion in an optimal time span. Therefore, excipients are tools to be used judiciously to create effective products. That said, there are problematic excipients – synthetic chemicals, derived from petro-chemicals, etc. – that responsible companies do not include in any of their products because they have concerns regarding these materials’ impact on health. The best products are created not only to contain a specific amount of nutrients but to also ensure that these nutrients are safely delivered in full potency to the person ingesting them. So, you’ll need to educate yourself and ask questions at your health food store. It’s a much better source for supplements than generic “big box” stores because health food stores have a mission in mind: to help people live better naturally. Many of the products you’re likely to find at discount stores were created with the idea of making money – not providing the real ingredients you need at levels that matter. At the Oregon Natural Market, we are staffed by people who have a passion for their work. They’ll help you find the right products for your individual needs. And if you have a budget – and most of us do – tell them. We’ll respect that and start you off with the foundation of what you need versus simply trying to sell you everything in the store.
I firmly believe that supplementing with the right ingredients can make a huge difference in your life. I also know that supplementation needs to be a part of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes a diet rich in proteins, fruits, and vegetables, and regular, effective, and enjoyable exercise. With just a little research on your own and building a relationship with your favorite health food store or a natural health practitioner, you’ll find the best nutrient formulations that will help you live the way you’ve always wanted.
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics