Do I Need Supplements?

A very common question that comes up a lot is - "Do I need to take supplements?" Why can't I just get all my nutrients from foods?"

I am a big proponent of obtaining the majority of our nutrients from foods, because they contain a synergistic combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals - which generally enhance the absorption and utilization by the body. But there are a number of reasons that we might not be getting all of the nutrients that we need on a daily basis - leading to nutrient deficiencies.

10 Causes of Nutrient Deficiencies:

  1. Highly Processed Diet. One reason for nutrient deficiencies is simply that we simply might not be eating enough nutritious foods. The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be too high in packaged, processed and fast foods which is likely to be lacking in key nutrients. And to make things worse - processed foods also tend to deplete nutrients within the body, because the body uses them up trying to metabolize foods that are high in sugar, trans fats, chemicals and preservatives! Also - processed foods are generally made with poor quality fats that lead to inflammation. So they are a triple-whammy!

  2. Poor soil quality. Even if you get the most stellar diet full of plant-based foods; because soils are increasingly becoming depleted of minerals, much of our food is becoming more depleted as well. Buying organic certainly helps, as organic food tends to be grown in better soil, and your body won't have to deal with all the pesticides either.

  3. Low stomach acid or digestive issues. Stomach acid is needed to properly break down our food so the nutrients can be absorbed. If you have low stomach acid, you might not be effectively breaking down and absorbing the nutrients you take in. Low stomach acid can occur from taking antacids and PPIs, and also generally becomes even more prevalent as we age. Other digestive issues like food intolerances, bacterial overgrowth, infection, or another gut issues can inhibit the proper absorption and utilization of nutrients.

  4. Anti-Nutrients. Some compounds in foods prevent the body from absorbing nutrients, these are called anti-nutrients. For example, phytic acids which are in grains, nuts, and soy; bind to and prevent the uptake of important minerals like zinc and magnesium. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting can in many cases reduce or eliminate phytic acids.

  5. Missing Key Co-factors. Certain nutrients require other key nutrients in order to be properly absorbed and utlilized. For example, in order to get calcium into the bone, you also need key co-factors like vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K and trace minerals. In fact, taking calcium alone can be harmful - as poorly absorbed calcium can lead to calcifications of the breast and arteries.

  6. Prescription medications. Prescription medications can lead to a myriad of vitamin, mineral and hormone deficiencies, read the book Drug Muggers by Suzy Cohen, RPh to learn which medications deplete which nutrients, and how to replenish them.

  7. Avoiding food groups. Whether it is due to picky eating, religious reasons, food intolerances, or for personal or health reasons - people might need to, or choose to, avoid certain food groups. This can potentially lead to nutrient deficiencies. Certain nutrients, like B12 are only readily available in animal products. So vegan diets - which exclude all animal products - can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B12. So it is important for anyone avoiding food groups to understand what nutrients they need to supplement in order to replenish key nutrients that could be missing from your diet.

  8. Genetic factors. Certain genetic factors can lead to nutrient deficiencies (such as having a methylation defect like the MTHFR) due to a reduced ability to convert certain nutrients into their useable form. This can even lead to an increased risks for many conditions and diseases. If you want to know if you might have a genetic defect such as under-methylation, or a reduced ability to handle free radicals, you might want to consider having some genetic tests done. For example, poor methylators should take the active methyl-forms of certin B vitamins (such as methylcobalamin B12, not cynacobalamin) and folic acid (methylfolate, not folic acid). There is a genetic test for methylation, talk to your doctor if you want the test. This PureGenomics™ Multivitamin contains high quality activated bioavailable vitamins, and is designed for adults over age 18 with methylation issues.

  9. Low Fat Diet, fat absorption issues. Did you know that in order to absorb fat soluble vitamins, that you need to have some fat with them as a carrier? So even if you are drinking lots of green juice, if you are not getting enough healthy fat with it, a lot of the fat-soluble nutrients are not being absorbed. So make sure you are getting healthy fat every day, and if you have issues digesting fats (i.e.: gallbladder trouble or removal) consider taking a digestive enzyme with bile salts to assist in the digestion and absorption of fat and fat soluble vitamins.

  10. Sunscreen. Vitamin D is absolutely essential for a healthy immune system. But because the sun is the best source of vitamin D, avoiding the sun or loading up on the sunscreen every day can lead to deficiencies in this important nutrient. Dermatologists should not only recommend sunscreen, but also test for Vitamin D levels.

How Can You Tell if You Have Deficiencies? Do I need to take supplements long term?

  • There may or may not be symptoms at all, but nutrient deficiencies can show up in many different ways - ranging from fatigue, weight gain, migraine headaches, neurological symptoms (like tingling and numbness), skin issues (like dry skin, "chicken skin," or rashes); focus or memory issues, mental health issues like depression, lowered immunity, elevated homeocystene, weight gain or loss, loss of appetite, loss of taste or smell, and much more. When a symptom arises from a nutrient deficiency, taking a supplement to correct it makes sense. Sometimes, nutritional deficiencies can become severe, and even can be misdiagnosed as a "disease" (such as B12 deficiences that can mimic dementia, MS, and other conditions).

  • If you do decide to supplement, you might still have questions - which nutrients do I need, and how much should I take? If you want to know exactly what nutrients you are deficient in, in order to more effectively target your supplementation - consider getting the SpectraCell Micronutrient test - which tests white blood cells to measure the functional levels of 35 nutritional components including vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids.

  • Some supplements we might use for a short period to support the body to recover from a particular issue (such as during cold and flu season - read 8 Natural Colds and Flu Prevention Tips), or if we are dealing with an issue that we are hoping to resolve like adrenal fatigue, or digestion trouble, etc). Other supplements we will want to take daily/long-term to support general overall health and prevent deficienices, disease and illness. Below are 5 supplements that pretty much everyone can benefit from.

The Top 5 Supplements (Pretty Much) Everyone Needs:

1. Magnesium: "The calming mineral"

I put magnesium in the #1 spot - because almost everyone is deficient. It is estimated that over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium which is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, nerve health, bone building, and heart health. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in serotonin production, protein building, and the metabolism of adenosine triphoshate (ATP). Magnesium helps rid the body of toxins and acid residues, and is also needed for the synthesis of vitamin D and absorption of calcium.

Magnesium is a nutrient that could save your life - literally! In emergency rooms they give magnesium to people who have suffered a heart attack, because studies have shown that IV magnesium after a heart attack offers protection to the heart muscle and could lower the risk of dying from a heart event.

One of the most important minerals for our heart health, magnesium is also emerging as an important mineral for cancer prevention. A study from Sweden reported that women with the highest magnesium intake had a 40% lower risk of developing cancer than those with the lowest intake of the mineral.

Heavy alcohol consumption depletes magnesium, which could be one reason that drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day raises our risk of breast cancer and heart attack.

Magnesium is also important for our bone health. About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones. It is also required for synthesis of vitamin D, which plays an important role in bone building.

Magnesium is important for our metabolism - as it has been found in studies to stimulate the release of adiponectin, which is known as a “fat-burning hormone.” So low levels of magnesium could be causing us to hang on to fat longer! Magnesium has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, another important factor in a healthy metabolism.

Low magnesium levels can cause muscle cramping, headaches, chest pain/arrythmias, and much more. Learn more about how magnesium deficiency could be harming your health: Magnesium: An Invisible Deficiency That Could Be Harming Your Health

Food sources of magnesium include leafy greens, seeds (li