Monday, June 28, 2010

Do We Really Need Nutritional Supplements?

There is no simple answer to this question. The common belief is that people who are healthy, exercise regularly, eat nutritious food, do not smoke or abuse alcohol, do not need any supplementation. It is believed that their daily nutritional needs are met and there is no need for additional supplementation. Another line of thought, however, advocates the need of supplementation independently of the lifestyle and nutritional preferences. Some of the writers and researches, especially in the field of gerontology and aging, as well as the specialists in orthomolecular medicine* take nutritional supplementation one step further. They suggest that so called aggressive supplementation combined with healthy diet is the only way to deliver optimal amounts of nutrients. The doses of nutrients often exceed the generally accepted daily allowances and supplementation goes beyond the regular multivitamin and mineral formulas.

Are we malnourished?

In order to function optimally we need nutrients that constitute the building blocks of our bodies and sustain all the processes that keep us alive. A well balanced diet consisting of nutritious foods is the most important way to deliver all the nutrients that we require to stay healthy and fit. Unfortunately, many people do not receive the minimum dietary requirement with the foods they consume on daily basis. They become malnourished. Long-term nutritional deficiencies have adverse consequences on their health and may be the cause of serious chronic ailments.

There are many reasons why the food we consume daily may not provide us with all the nutrients we need to stay healthy and energetic. An average person does not receive the suggested RDA amount of nutrients from food. Nutritional value of fruit and vegetable depends on the soil on which they grow. Due to commercial farming practices the soil is often depleted of its mineral content. Harvest, transportation, and food processing may be responsible for some loss of nutrients as well. Very often the produce is harvested in an unripe state and transported over long distances. Such practices are responsible for the diminished nutrient content in our produce. Nutritional value of commercially raised animals, commercially produced eggs and dairy differs from the values that were measured only fifty years ago, but our nutritional needs may have increased over the years due to pollution and the stressful lifestyles we are leading.

What are nutritional supplements?

Nutritional supplements are preparations intended to deliver nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. They can come in form of tablets, capsules, powder, or in a liquid form and are to be ingested. They are meant to replenish what is missing in one's diet and are either considered to be foods or drugs depending on the regulations of a particular country. The dosage of nutrients vary from preparation to preparation and while some offer a minimum necessary for the overall well being, other offer mega-doses that exceed the daily RDA allowance. There are also supplements containing nutrients for which there is no established daily dose.

What is RDA?

RDA or Recommended Dietary Allowance is the amount of certain nutrients that a healthy individual should consume daily in order to maintain good health and decrease the risk of developing chronic disease. There are allowances for vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber. The individual need for nutrients may vary greatly depending on age, gender, personal disease history, and lifestyle factors such as veganism, medication, alcoholism, drug abuse, or smoking.

How to choose the right nutritional supplement?

Choosing a nutritional supplement may be very difficult unless we know what our needs and deficiencies are. Most of the commonly available and inexpensive nutritional supplements contain synthetically manufactured nutrients. They contain fillers and artificial coloring and may be full of allergens. The more expensive, state of the art nutritional supplements are made of extracts derived from plants and provide nutrients in higher concentrations. Nutrients that come together with their co-factors are more bio-available and effective. Such supplements are formulated for maximum absorption and use the pharmaceutical grade active nutritional ingredients. They do not contain allergens such as lactose, soy, yeast, or gluten, and are free of toxic contaminants.

The most commonly used caking agents, fillers, or flow agents such as magnesium stearate often interfere with the nutrient absorption making the low-dose supplements inefficient if not completely useless. Magnesium stearate, for instance, not only decreases absorption of nutrients, it may also be toxic and is suspected of suppressing the immune system. However, finding nutritional supplements that are free of magnesium stearate is not very easy as even the best ones on the market contain this agent which is made from hydrogenated cottonseed oil and commonly used as a flow agent to facilitate the manufacturing process.

If you decide to use a nutritional supplements, it is often best to consult a certified health care professional. If you have an existing medical condition or a medical history, it may be necessary to perform blood tests in order to find out your deficiencies or contra-indications. Take particular care when purchasing your supplement that you know and understand any added ingredient and its toxicity or allergenic potential. You do not want to take anything that may cause adverse reactions. Moreover, it is important to know whether your supplement interacts with any medication you are currently taking.


Supplements are very useful and necessary to alleviate any nutritional deficiencies, but they should never be taken in place of proper nutrition. Active lifestyle and healthy eating habits are absolutely necessary for optimal health. But unless we grow, harvest, and prepare our food ourselves, we must be aware that our nutritional needs may not be met on daily basis. High quality supplements may have be taken additionally to enhance our well being and deliver what is missing on our plates. The natural aging process is also responsible for some nutrient deficiencies. As we age, we may not be able to metabolize and absorb all the nutrients that we need. Supplementation can help us maintain the equilibrium and slow down the degenerative processes. As Dr. Linus Pauling postulated in 1960, "Optimum nutrition and correct nutritional supplementation is the medicine of tomorrow." Today this statement is more relevant than ever.

By Dominique Allmon

*Orthomolecular medicine is a complementary therapy form that seeks to prevent or treat diseases with high doses of nutrients that are either taken as dietary supplements or in form of food. The phrase was coined by Dr. Linus Pauling 

*This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease. Please, consult your health care provider before commencing any supplementation as herbs and vitamins may interfere with prescription drugs.

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Do We Really Need Nutritional Supplements? by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.