One of the most common questions people ask those of us who are in the nutritional supplement industry is “Why do I need to take supplements – can’t I get all the nutrients I need simply by eating well?” The short answer is, and this may surprise you, “No!” And this is not just my opinion.
Although the fields of functional medicine and traditional medicine clash in many areas, they both agree that nutritional supplements have merit. Take vitamins, for example. In a study published in the June 19, 2002, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors noted that vitamin deficiencies have been associated with many chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. They also found that “elderly people, vegans, alcohol-dependent individuals and patients with malabsorption are at high risk of inadequate intake or absorption of several vitamins.” The authors concluded that “it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.”
It follows that those who eat well would not have to take as powerful a vitamin supplement as those with a poor diet, which begs the question “How many Americans eat well?” Let’s ask the government.
Since 1979 the US government has sponsored a continuing research project called Healthy People, which provides goals for the US to improve the health of its population in 10-year increments. According to the version called “Healthy People 2010,” which involved approximately 350 national organizations and 270 state agencies, only three percent of Americans eat at least three servings of vegetables daily and only 28 percent eat two servings of fruit.
That being said, I don’t want to take the position that only those with a poor diet need supplements, as this downplays the importance of eating well. Dr. Robert A. Rakowski, a clinical nutritionist and the clinic director of the Natural Medicine Center in Houston, Texas, says, “Taking supplements in the absence of a good diet is still a poor diet with supplements.” My opinion is that the initial goals regarding nutrition should be to strive to improve our diets and to use supplements to ensure we are receiving the essential nutrients. After that, then you can start looking at all the other performance and health benefits of targeted supplementation, such as improving workout recovery, countering the effects of environmental toxins, accelerating fat loss and lowering the risk of coronary heart disease. In this regard, let me share with you 10 specific reasons you need supplements.
Insufficient nutrients in our food. We can’t get all the essential nutrients we need from food alone. Of course, nature intended our food supply to provide us with the nutrients we need – and those nutrients would have been sufficient in our food of 100 years ago. But our food today is highly processed, genetically modified and prepared in a way that often destroys much of the nutritional content. According to Dr. Rakowski, our farm industry’s fertilizers often contain only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. “It takes 17 elements to make a healthy plant, and we only put three back in. So what happens is this malnutrition in the plants becomes malnutrition in the animals and becomes malnutrition in humans.”
Poor digestion. If our digestive systems functioned optimally, we wouldn’t need as many high-quality nutrients in supplement form – but that is not the case. It is estimated that one half of the US population produces insufficient stomach acid, which diminishes the ability to absorb nutrients from food and can increase inflammation, stomach bacteria and numerous other health issues such as bloating, stomach pain and even depression. Incidentally, one of the reasons for low stomach acid is a deficiency in vitamin B.
Poor food preparation. When you cook food improperly, such as by using a microwave, you risk reducing its nutritional value. Also, many foods that are used in fast-food restaurants are processed. For example, the processing that converts brown rice into white rice reduces the fiber content by about 75 percent and also reduces nutrients such as iron, niacin, thiamin, folacin, potassium and vitamins E and B6.
Environment toxins. The US Environmental Protection Agency published a report in 2002 that said more than 7.1 billion pounds of 650 different chemicals had been released into the air or water – and 266 of these chemicals are associated with birth defects. For the past 28 years Dr. Mark Schauss, MBA, DB, has been studying medical research concerning the effects of toxins on our health. Says Schauss, “In a study by an environmental group on people not working in industry, such as teachers and journalists, the researchers found that the blood of the subjects contained nearly 100 chemicals that did not exist 40 years ago.” Fortunately, many of these pollutants can be detoxified by natural supplements such as glycine, vitamin C, selenium and N-acetylcysteine.
Obesity. In a study published in the July 2004 International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that when rats are exposed to toxins, their body temperature drops. Schauss says that such hypothermia may be a protective response to reduce the effects of toxins. As for human body temperature, there is debate within the American Medical Association about reducing the average healthy body temperature from 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 98.0 degrees. It’s not because 98.0 degrees is healthier but because fewer patients had a temperature of 98.6 during doctor’s visits.
In his book Victory over a Toxic World, Schauss says that the chemical load in a toxic person may impair their ability to burn calories by about 7 percent. Using the example of someone who normally consumes 2,500 calories a day, the lower metabolic rate would create 47,815 extra calories in one year. “Typically, if you burn 3,500 calories you lose one pound,” says Schauss. “Take those 47,815 calories and divide this by 3,500 and you get 13.66 pounds worth of weight gain a year. Do that for 10 years and you have increased your weight by 136.6 pounds and you are now officially obese.”
It’s estimated that 50 percent of the population in the US is overweight or obese and at current rates that percentage will increase to 75 percent by 2015. Using supplements for detoxification is one way to combat the growing obesity problem.
Insomnia and Stress. The National Center for Sleep Disorders Research reports that the symptoms of insomnia affect between 30 and 40 percent of adults, and that between 10 to 15 percent of adults say they have chronic insomnia. Insomnia has many adverse effects on our health; for example, a survey of 1.1 million Americans by the American Cancer Society found that those who slept less than six hours per night had significantly higher mortality rates than those who slept approximately seven hours per night.
There are many supplements that can help ensure a good night’s sleep. For those who have a hard time falling asleep due to anxiety, phosphatidylserine can lower cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. For those who have trouble staying asleep, magnesium sulfate and vitamin E supplements may help.
Hormone Imbalances. Although both testosterone and estrogen are present in both males and females, estrogen is considered the female hormone and testosterone the male hormone. A decrease in testosterone makes it difficult for men to gain muscle mass, and an excess of estrogen makes it difficult for both men and women to lose fat once it is acquired. But there are many other hormone imbalances that can affect bodyfat storage.
The theory of BioSignature Modulation is that many individuals have stubborn problem areas due to imbalances in their body biochemistry, especially with hormones. During a BioSignature assessment, skinfold measurements are taken in 12 major bodyfat sites. If the triceps carry a relatively high percentage of fat, this would indicate a problem with androgens; and if the lower back skinfold is high, there may be a problem with insulin. By identifying which hormones are causing the fat imbalance, a precise supplement protocol can be prescribed to restore the hormone balance so the individual can lose the excess bodyfat.
Weight Loss Programs. When people cut calories to lose weight, they also reduce the amount of nutrients they consume. This can result in nutrient deficiencies. Also, as we lose weight, often the protein requirements increase, as the body will start relying on protein as an energy source. Using a protein supplement will enable the dieter to spare muscle loss, prevent hunger and also stabilize blood glucose. Further, a supplement can provide the extra protein without adding additional calories from carbohydrates or fat.
Quality of Life. There are many nutrients that can improve our quality of life. One such nutrient is resveratrol, which is a compound found in plants. Resveratrol was discovered in 1939, and it ensures healthy plant development by protecting plants from fungi and bacteria. Among its properties in humans are the following: raises metabolism, increases energy, suppresses appetite, stabilizes blood sugar, accelerates the breakdown of fat stores, improves insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism, reduces inflammation, increases muscle mass, suppresses estrogen and protects the stomach lining.
Among the most common sources of resveratrol are red grapes, peanuts, pistachios, blueberries, cranberries, huckleberries, raspberries, lingonberries and mulberries; it can also be found in dark chocolate. However, it is difficult to get the dosages of resveratrol you would need from food or wine – in fact, you would need to consume at last 1,000 bottles of red wine a day to duplicate the dosages given to mice in some resveratrol studies. A resveratrol supplement would be the only logical alternative.
Athletic Performance. Supplements help athletes achieve physical superiority over their competitors. Particularly valuable are the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are collectively known as branched chained amino acids (BCAAs). Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs are used as a form of energy by muscle cells and can be used during training to increase the quality of the workout. BCAAs have numerous other benefits for athletes, including modifying hormone profiles to increase muscle mass and strength while reducing bodyfat. BCAAs also can help reduce post-workout muscle soreness.
There you have it - the answer to the question of why we need to take supplements. And not just one good reason, but 10.