We have a deeply symbiotic relationship with food. Our digestive tracts have learned, over thousands and thousands of years, how to extract nutrients from the plants and animals in our environment. And we do a really amazing job of translating raw materials into the people we are – you, me and Joe next door, all walking around, doing our thing. It’s easy to forget that we really are what we eat.
There can be downsides to our dependence on food. Here’s an example. Pellagra, a debilitating B vitamin deficiency, used to occur fairly frequently in the US. Why? By the end of the winter, the canned and preserved foods were running low, the fresh foods were all used up, and people’s health suffered from the lack of fresh vegetables. This happened to my own grandmother as a young girl – and her family was not poor or disadvantaged.
Modern refrigeration and transportation networks have solved that problem, thankfully. We now also have the ability to mimic the nutritional content of foods in the lab in the form of a supplement. And it can certainly be much cheaper to do that than to get our nutrient from organic apples or brussel sprouts.
Here’s the catch: the nutrients in food are packaged in a completely different way than what we’re able to construct in a lab. Vitamin C is a classic example. In nature, ascorbic acid is the outer shell of a complex array of intricately linked phytonutrients. All of these have a role to play in our metabolism – and ultimately in our energy and long term vitality. If we’re missing out on those synergistic phytonutrients, our health will ultimately decline.
So a Centrum or One A Day formula is 1) not going to have the full range of nutrients we need, and 2) may actually be creating nutritional imbalances. How can that be?
The body only has one place to shop: it has to use what’s available inside you to process what you eat. If the supplement(s) you take are not balanced in the same way that whole foods are, you can be missing essential co-factors that make your digestion work the way it’s meant to. The bottom line is: nothing replaces our underlying need for fresh, whole foods.
Why supplement at all? Why not just eat a good diet? A nutritious, well-balanced diet is indeed the cornerstone of good health. But think back to what you ate over the last week, and be honest with yourself. Does it really meet that criteria? Or did you have coffee with an energy bar rushing out the door for breakfast, lunch from a fast food restaurant at your desk, and a carb-heavy dinner followed by a bowl of ice cream? If that sounds more like your normal day than you’d like, that’s not uncommon. You’re not the only person doing some version of that, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
Even for those of us who really are trying to make nutrition a priority, it’s an uphill job to get and stay healthy. Here’s the reality:
– We’re unbelievably stressed…
– Our air and water are not clean…
– The majority of our food is grown with hormones, fertilizers and pesticides that compromise our health…
– And – bonus! – we are surrounded by chemicals and plastics that outgas into our air and our water. They’re showing up in breast milk, so this is not trivial.
The adage from computing circles “Garbage In = Garbage Out” really does apply here. We get a pretty high toxic load everyday, and a “trying to eat healthy” strategy is, sadly, just not enough to keep us healthy. But the right kind of supplementation can give us a safety net, some extra resilience to combat the physical and chemical stressors that surround us. At the very least, they give us a little insurance that our bodies are going to work right, and last us a good, long time.
This is why I like supplements that are based on whole foods and high quality herbs. That’s not how most supplements are made. Look at the ingredient comparison at the end of this post, for an illustration of what I mean. The one on the right is going to cost more, but it’s going to work a whole lot better. I use a number of different brands in my practice, because one size doesn’t fit all. But they all have one ESSENTIAL thing in common: they are high quality, rigorously tested, safe, and EFFECTIVE.
That’s the bottom line. If you’re going to take any supplements at all, make sure they’re not doing you more harm than good, or wasting your time and money.
If you decide you want more information, please reach out; I’m happy to help, and I’m only an email away: