Supplements can be super helpful in certain situations of deficiency, when additional demands are placed on the body and to reduce risk of future illness - however, there are some ‘watch outs’ to consider.
..Get to the ‘root cause’ of your symptoms first
It may be that the supplement isn't going to help, and may mask symptoms needing attention. For example, taking B vitamins for energy may be helpful in the short term, but if the underlying cause is adrenal fatigue or a sluggish thyroid, this needs medical attention.
Speak to your GP or our nutritionists who can perform functional testing, to investigate symptoms.
..Check interactions with medications!
Therapeutic doses of nutrients can interact with certain medications. For example, calcium taken with antacids can facilitate a higher absorption of aluminium. Turmeric (curcurmin) taken with anticoagulants can slow down blood clotting, increasing the risk of bleeding.
..Choose good quality products.
Check ingredients with health shop staff, nutritionists or GPs. Consider these factors:
- ‘Type’ of nutrient. Certain ‘forms’ of a nutrient can be better absorbed/tolerated than others. e.g. magnesium oxide is less readily absorbed than magnesium citrate / gluconate. Iron is most commonly given as ferrous sulphate, however, this can cause nausea and constipation and reduce absorption of vitamin E; ferrous citrate or picolinate may be a better choice.
- Added nasties. Check for fillers, binders, flavour enhancers (sugars), preservatives. Too much carrageenan, for example, can cause gut upset. Parabens have been found in some supplements; these are hormone disruptors and have been found in breast cancer tumours*. Some supplements in the UK have been found to contain high or unacceptable levels of heavy metals, solvent residue, aflatoxins (moulds), herbicides and pesticides**. A professional can guide you towards pure products.
- How is it processed? Some nutrients require special processing e.g. fish oil and omega plant oils need to be cold processed to minimise oxidation. Whey protein needs to be specially filtered to remove lactose and hormones.
..Consider ‘gentler’ food based supplements
If you experience side effects from synthetic nutrients, food based may be a better choice. Also, our body may use nutrients better when delivered in their natural, whole form state, alongside enzymes, co-factors etc.
..Supplement forever (unless directed by a professional)
In the most part, supplements are not intended for long term use. Exceptions to this may be B12 for vegans, or supporting health with a chronic illness.
If you are correcting a deficiency or boosting a nutrient level, the advice is to do this for a certain period, then stop and measure level/symptoms. For example, following an injury you may take collagen and / or glucosamine; once the injury is healed, continued supplementation needs to be reviewed.
Bear in mind, long term dosing of some nutrients can disrupt levels of others; some types of iron can inhibit absorption of vitamin E. Zinc and iron interact competitively for absorption - so high doses of either can impact absorption of the other.
..Rely entirely on supplements
Food needs to come first! We should never eat rubbish and make up for it by taking supplements.
As mentioned, supplements may be useful short term, but consideration should be given to including these nutrients in the diet long term. For example, omega 3 capsules can be used to boost anti-inflammatory action in the body; long term dietary interventions include: 3 portions of oily fish weekly, flaxseed oil on salads, chia seeds and walnuts on porridge / in smoothies etc. Similarly, probiotics can be taken after antibiotics to re-populate the gut; long term dietary interventions for gut health include kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, fermented dairy, kefir - all probiotic foods.
To summarise, although supplements can be super beneficial, they should be taken with care and consideration. Ideally, consult a professional about when to take and what to take: your GP or a nutritionist here at Spokes.
- *Pugazhendh, D. P. (2005). Oestrogenic activity of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (common metabolite of paraben esters) and methylparaben in human breast cancer cell lines. J Appl Toxicol., 301-9.
- **LIva, R., Heavy-Metal contamination is a real problem, Integrative Medicine Vol. 6, No. 2 , Apr/May 2007.
- Yashodhara, et. al, 2009. https://pmj.bmj.com/content/85/1000/84.long
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