With around 90000 different dietary supplements on the shelves, of supermarkets, health food stores and pretty anywhere else with a vitamin aisle, navigating the field of these products can be confusing.
In order to help you make educated choices about when, how and what to supplement, let’s start with….
What are supplements?
Supplements come in many different shapes and forms including capsules, pills, liquids and powders. They are a complement to an already healthy lifestyle. They are not a stand-alone treatment as they don’t work in isolation.
However, do they work?
Why people take supplement and what the Science says
A lack of variety in our diets, and the consumption of ultra-processed foods leaves our bodies nutritionally depleted as well as highly inflamed.
A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2004 highlighted the decline in the mineral and vitamin content in today’s fruits & vegetables. This is thought to be linked to modern farming practices. Supplements can help to replenish your bodies nutrient stores.
Magnesium insufficiency is a common problem throughout the world (1). Low levels of Magnesium is thought to be a contributor of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Supplementing with Magnesium may improve cardiovascular health and blood sugar regulation, alongside exercise performance (2) and lower inflammation (3).Studies have shown that magnesium may help in the prevention and treatment of migraines. (4)(5).
Depending on where you live, sunlight exposure can be scarce. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with immune system impairment, bone mineral deficiency, and inflammation. To avoid Vitamin D deficiency, supplementation is recommended during the colder months of the year.
Research into Probiotics shows some promising results in regards to restoring a healthy microbiome (6). Although, probiotics can be considered more as tourists passing through, rather than becoming permanent residents of your gut, they provide means to reestablishing a healthy microbiome.
Despite those promising studies, not all supplements have vigorous research backing up their health claims. It is therefore key to be critical, to read up on the most up to date research or to ask your healthcare provider to ensure that your body receives optimal nutrition.
Things to consider before buying supplements
The absorption of supplements like Iron or Zinc can be negatively influenced by certain foods. So make sure to read the supplement label or refer to your healthcare provider for specific intake recommendations.
Quality is Key
Unfortunately, supplement companies are often not well regulated. A study of 121 products revealed high levels of heavy metal contamination including arsenic, mercury and lead. (7) Thus, checking production standards of the brands you want to buy from is key. When choosing a brand establish the following:
- Do they use third party testing?
- Are their ingredients non-genetically modified?
- Does the company perform regular quality control of their products?
Safety and Side effects
Although you can buy supplements over the counter, it does not necessarily make them safe. Supplements when given at high dosage can be toxic. Make sure to adhere to the recommended intake levels unless differently advised by your healthcare professional.
If you are pregnant or nursing, be cautious about taking. Many supplements have not been sufficiently tested for safety in pregnant women or nursing mothers. Always consult a trained healthcare professions before starting on a supplement regime.
Drug and Supplement Interactions
Supplements can interact with commonly prescribed medications, by either increasing or decreasing their efficacy. Below are a few examples:
- St. Johns Wort can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills, antidepressants and transplant drugs
- Vitamin K can reduce the ability of the blood thinner warfarin to prevent blood from clotting
Always check with your healthcare provider about any supplement-drug interactions prior to starting on a new supplement.
How do we at Central & Stanley Wellness determine the supplements you need?
The Functional Medicine Team at Central & Stanley Wellness will be able to recommend you the right supplements after taking an in depth medical history, and performing a nutrition-focused physical assessment.
Standard blood work can already give an insight into your mineral and vitamin status. If further testing is required, an in depth metabolic profile, stool tests or urine tests may be recommended.
Supplements, however, do not replace a healthy lifestyle, but can provide a complement to other interventions.
Supplements are a great way of supporting and promoting health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, supplement quality is vital, as just because a product is sold over the counter does not make it safe. Working with an experienced healthcare provider will help to determine which supplements you need, alongside a change in diet and lifestyle. Supplements should never be used as a standalone therapy, but more as a complement to healthy lifestyle habits.
As functional medicine trained practitioners here at Central & Stanley Wellness, we will always aim to identify the root cause of your current health concern. We work alongside a highly trained and skilled team of nutritionists, manual therapists and psychologists to provide you with a 360 degree approach to wellbeing, to help you regain control over your health and return to wellness.