Supplements are meant to be…supplemental.
What you eat, and how you eat, influences your body in profound ways. Food supplies the nourishment we need to fuel our brains, balance our hormones, move our bodies, heal from injury, stay healthy, and build muscle while nourishing both body and soul. Can supplements fill the gap between your current nutrition status and optimized nutrition?
In a previous post I simplified what good nutrition is. And in my coaching program I can work with you to build good nutrition habits so you eat well more consistently. But maintaining a healthy diet with sufficient macros and a rainbow of vegetables each day can be really hard, especially if your schedule is irregular, you’re traveling, or have some picky eaters in your family.
Are you taking supplements?
Until a few months ago I would have recommended a standard suite of supplements as an insurance policy for your nutrition: multi-vitamin, probiotic, and omega-3s. Maybe some protein powder also. But without doing regular lab work, how do you know if this shotgun approach is working?
According to the scientists at examine.com (a great source for unbiased information on supplements and their health claims), multivitamins might be a good idea for you if:
- You know you are at risk for several nutrient deficiencies and your diet cannot otherwise be modified,
- The multivitamin provides adequate dosages to cover deficiency risk (the Recommended Daily Allowance), or
- The multivitamin is a better purchasing option than supplementing individual vitamins or minerals.
Vitamins and minerals are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as dietary supplements, meaning they are essential nutrients that we need to maintain health. Labels on containing these products must specify whether a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) has been established for its components and the amount the product actually contains. The RDA is the level established to prevent disease. At these levels, a multivitamin is a pretty good insurance policy to supplement a healthy diet.
Beyond vitamins and minerals, the supplement industry is like the wild west with little to no oversight or quality control. Today’s supplements also may contain herbs, botanicals, amino acids, and enzymes, which the FDA does not consider dietary supplements and does not regulate in any way. If you want to find out if the products you use actually contain the ingredients in the same amount listed on the label, two websites that independently test commonly found over-the-counter products are: www.labdoor.com and www.consumerlab.com. And again, examine.com can help you evaluate the validity of their health claims or lack thereof.
Too much of a good thing doesn’t make it better
If a little is good for preventing dietary deficiency and disease, wouldn’t mega-doses optimize wellness?
Know this: too much of a good thing doesn’t make it better, and you cannot know whether you need more or less of a vitamin without being tested. Here are some of the risks of taking high doses of vitamins:
- Some products can be harmful when consumed in high amounts, for a long time, or in combination with certain other substances, including prescribed medications.
- Fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate in your body to unsafe levels. For example, care should be taken with supplementing vitamins K and D.
- Even water-soluble vitamins may not be benign. It’s commonly believed that it’s ok to take megadoses of B vitamins to boost energy and combat stress because what you don’t use gets flushed out of your body (hello, fluorescent yellow pee). examine.com recently reviewed research that links high levels of B vitamins with lung cancer and concluded that
“high-dose, long-term consumption of any supplement can potentially interact with your biochemistry in unexpected ways. Exceeding the recommended, tested doses of even the most healthful micronutrients may not be innocuous.”
- Other research is starting to show a trend supporting the hypothesis that vitamins taken as a supplement are not as bioavailable as when those vitamins are bound in food sources that contain them.
- A recent article in Scientific American describes the effect of the body’s circadian rhythms on gene expression and the potential impact of these findings on the effectiveness of taking medications at different times of the day or night. It makes me wonder if there’s a possibility that different vitamins and supplements are absorbed differently when taken at certain times of day, based our unique circadian rhythms.
One Simple Change
We all want to feel great. We all want to do what we can to stay healthy, have good energy throughout the day, pursue the activities and adventures of our dreams. The best way to do this is to eat well, sleep well stay hydrated, and move more.
If you’re having trouble with any of these elements, let’s talk about what you can do differently. You don’t need to have a cupboard full of vitamins, minerals, and supplements to feel your best.
One simple change can start a cascade of benefits that can change your life forever.
To your health!