Supplements: Do you really need them?

Vitamins. Minerals. Herbs. Powders. Tinctures. Whatever you want to call them, they are all supplements of some sort.  We have a love/hate relationship with supplements. On the one hand they can be life-saving when it comes to severe deficiencies or certain illnesses. On the other hand they can be a huge money pit with all the marketing that drives people to purchase supplements they probably don’t need. Where’s the line, and does the average person like yourself really need these concoctions?

Supplement formulations started becoming available in the early to mid 1900’s. After researchers finally discovered what vitamins actually were and more of their uses in the body, synthetic forms were created to treat deficiencies. But even back then claims about their effectiveness were exaggerated and many medical professional were skeptical of their use.

It doesn’t seem much has changed, has it? Supplement companies claim their products can do everything, including alleviate fatigue, reduce depression, improve skin tone, enhance digestion, and outright cure illness…. you name it. The sheer number of companies out there marketing their vitamins, minerals, herb and tinctures gives us a clue these tactics are working.

BUT, sometimes vitamins DO help! Have you ever been iron deficient? Been diagnosed with a B12 deficiency? Been told you may be malnourished? While these are relatively rare, conditions in which nutrient deficiencies exist do happen. It may be a genetic condition, an issue with absorption, or just a plain crappy diet, but sometimes there are reasons to use supplements.

Now, of course diet should be the first priority. Why? If you don’t address the diet, these deficiencies are likely to recur. Also, in many cases the nutrients from food are more absorbable and help ensure we don’t overdo it with one vitamin while neglecting others. Food is fabulous for having a whole host of vitamins and minerals, some of which we never even think about on a daily basis. Have you ever thought about your chromium, copper or molybdemum intake? Exactly. Thankfully with a healthy, balanced diet, most of the time you don’t have to.

Also, high dose supplementation can actually be dangerous. Did you know that long term use of zinc can decrease your copper absorption? And high intakes of calcium throughout the day can reduce your ability to absorb iron? You just end up trading one problem for another.

However, while working on your diet, supplementing with key nutrients may be useful! Common products such as calcium, iron, B12 and even a multivitamin may be helpful additions to restore good nutrient status when used appropriately.

The key is assessing what needs you have, how those might be helped, and picking the right product to help you in the SHORT TERM. Ideally supplements should not be a lifetime prescription.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this. With some genetic conditions there may required use of certain supplements for the long term. Also some nutrient therapies may take an extended period of time to work depending on the person and type of illness. These should always be evaluated by a physician to ensure that long term supplementation is not only safe but also effective.

Quality of supplements also matters. Have you heard those stories of vitamin and herb products NOT actually containing what they say they do? Unfortunately this problem exists. If possible choose products recommended by your healthcare professional and buy from reputable businesses.  I love Amazon as much as the next person, but avoid purchasing supplement there if at all possible. There are known to be counterfeit sellers and you may not actually be betting the quality product you were expecting.

Let’s now answer the question: supplements, good or bad? As with most things in life, clearly it depends! You may need supplements, but don’t assume that everyone does. Always address diet first and consult a professional for the right supplement protocol for you.

If you have questions about what is right for you, please reach out! While I do not claim to be an expert in the area of supplements and frequently refer to naturopaths for detailed protocols, I certainly can advise when there are diagnosed deficiencies or if you just have general questions about personal needs or product choices.

My overall recommendation: Think diet first. Correct with supplements when and where needed. And always consult a healthcare practitioner for guidance.