Nutritional supplements seem like a good idea – but are they? It depends on your goals and the supplement. There are many differences such as whole food, dietary, essential, and so on. Your goals and current lifestyle should determine what type you need, and when to take it.
Our bodies need a variety of nutrients to function on a day-to-day basis, and need a lot more during times of healing. Athletes need a higher level of nutrition as they use their bodies more than the average person. Your age determines how many nutrients you need, for example, as we age, we may not absorb as much as we did when we were younger, so more supplementation may be needed. If you simply do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, you may need supplements to fill in the nutritional gaps. But beware that not all nutritional supplements are created equal.
Nutritional supplements are almost necessary these days since many of us are on the go and simply do not have time to consume a well rounded diet. In addition, many foods lack the nutritional value they once had due to harvesting before the produce is truly ready (when the food is at its nutritional peak), our soil is depleted and contains contaminants, and processing. This leads to some basic supplements that are more common than others.
Probiotics are used to help maintain balance of the good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract. These good guys keep the bad guys in check while keeping your immune system healthy. If you have digestive issues this may be what you are looking for.
Green superfoods are used by many who feel they do not eat enough green leafy vegetables. They are a great supplier of not only vegetable protein, but are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Wheatgrass contains a gluco-protein that is known to reduce inflammation and fight cancers.
Fibers are used in supplemental form for those who do not get enough in their diet and by people doing a body cleanse. Often the fiber contained in bread or cereal is not the kind that will help sweep the intestinal tract, so this may be beneficial.
Other common supplements include; Essential Fatty Acids which reduce internal inflammation and keep skin healthy, amino acids for maintaining muscle tissue and many of the fat burning supplements for weight loss.
Many so-called “daily” vitamin supplements are made from synthetic replicas of vitamins, and often state so on their websites. Health professionals, including some medical doctors, inform us that the body does not utilize these the same as the nutrients found in fresh, whole foods. To compensate for this, the Food and Drug Administration set an RDA, or Recommended Daily Allowance, for us. Unfortunately, even with this supposed pre-caution, many of these supplements are still not as beneficial as one might believe. So how do you know which supplements are the “good” ones?
When choosing the right supplement, take into consideration who is making the supplement. We would like to think the larger companies are reputable and public, therefore would not attempt to deceive the public. Yet, this is done and some of the largest drug manufacturers also make these supplements including; Pfizer is the manufacturer of Centrum and has been convicted of fraud more than a few times. Bayer owns Schiff Nutrition and Procter & Gamble own New Chapter; and each company benefits from pharmaceutical profits. Other large companies that manufacture vitamins such as Walmart and GNC have recently been sued for selling herbal supplements that contain none of the herb stated on the label. My guess is these companies jumped on the band wagon to take advantage of those who know they need the added nutrition, but thought these companies were trustworthy.
Often the larger companies add ingredients that may be detrimental to your health, all in the name of profit. These include BHT, which promotes tumors and is toxic to your liver, kidneys, lungs and thyroid (1), sodium benzoate, talc (both of which are known toxins that are difficult for your body to digest), calcium carbonate (the least absorbed form of calcium), and hydrogenated palm oil which is a known free radical that promotes cancer. These are just some of the ingredients found, and, unfortunately, taking a daily vitamin also means you are taking a daily dose of these toxins.
Smaller companies are more reputable when it comes to nutritional supplements, but still do your research as some 'small' companies are simply the larger ones in disguise, and we cannot lump all small companies as looking out for our interests, either. To start your research, read through the lines on the labels to see where your supplement is manufactured, how and the source of the nutrients. So, what should you look for on the label?
For example, if you are shopping for Vitamin C, check the label to see if it just lists the vitamin along with amount, or does it state, “Vitamin C from rose hips”? The latter means that the vitamin was taken from the rose hip before further processing, so you know it is from a whole food source. Look for similar statements for the rest of the nutrients (not necessarily all, however). Also watch for trick statements or words such as “like” ours. For example, a company may claim their supplement is “from a mineral rich lake” , which is probably the case if those are the words. On the other hand, it may read; supplements “like” ours come from a nutrient rich lake, meaning this particular product is not. As you read and watch for the words, you will become used to the buzz words to watch for.
There have been many studies on nutritional supplements, so take these into consideration when choosing one. Again, it pays to know who is behind the study just as it is good to know who manufactures the supplement. Often those that pay for studies are not required to show all the results so will often leave out those that are controversial.
Watch out for controversial studies such as those that done with Vitamin E. Anyone following the history of these studies will see that at first “research” showed Vitamin E was bad for you. Studies later, it slowed heart disease so it was good for you. But then later it was claimed Vitamin E caused heart disease. But how could this be?
It happens that one of the studies followed only people with cancer and another only seniors who were very sick. They were so flawed that even the Dietary Supplement Information Bureau has a web page of links that question the findings.
As far as herbal supplements, you will more often not find studies. If there are, they will more likely be listed under any one of the many scientific names of the components that make up an herb, instead of the herb itself. This is because studies are mainly done with a goal in mind – to make money. If a compound is isolated that shows it is responsible for a health improvement, it is highly likely it can be patented (nobody else can make it), followed by huge profits. On the other hand, herbs are plants that cannot be patented (unless they are genetically modified, of course). This all means that beyond general studies done for the public on foods such as garlic or turmeric, you will have to read studies done overseas.