Should you take supplements?

by Monique Jhingon
Should I take supplements

Probably, yes. Unless you live in a pollution free environment with rich soil and clean spring water, eat a diverse, wholesome and nutrient dense organic, local and seasonal diet, get plenty of sunshine and movement, have a stress free life, and you are in perfect health with a strong digestion and a well balanced microbiome. While these circumstances are technically possible, in reality they are hard to achieve.

The mismatch between our genetic requirements and our dietary habits, lifestyle and environmental factors has, for most of us, created a nutritional gap that may be tough to fill with diet lifestyle changes alone.

High levels of stress, existing health conditions, toxic exposure, a lifelong diet of refined foods, caffeine or alcohol can contribute to a higher demand for certain nutrients. A compromised digestion or an imbalanced microbiome can interfere with your ability to absorb nutrients. On the supply side: food these days has less nutritional value as a result of depleted soil, food transportation and storage methods and modern farming practices. If this paints a sad picture (hang on, I will provide some answers!), it is too important to ignore. Nutritional deficiencies are not always immediately obvious. A shortage of nutrients may go under the radar for a long time even as it can have serious implications on longterm health and the risk for developing chronic illness:

Clean food

In 2015, Bruce Ames, a brilliant US based scientist came up with the Triage theory, in which he proposes that the nutrients that we take in through our diet or otherwise are first directed towards metabolic functions that are critical to short-term survival and reproduction. What is left is then used for more longer-term health functions. This essentially means that when there is a shortage of nutrients, even if minor, your longterm health or longevity may suffer. In his interview with Rhonda Patrick, PhD, which you can find on Youtube, Bruce Ames uses vitamin K as an example to explain this: vitamin K plays an essential role in blood clotting, which is essential to stop the bleeding when you get a cut: an important survival mechanism. Another role of vitamin K involves calcium metabolism: in binding with excess calcium it prevents calcium from hardening the arterial walls thereby it can help to reduce the risk for heart disease.

When there is a vitamin K deficiency, the body will first make sure that it is directed towards blood clotting at the expense of its other functions and this may thus affect your risk for cardiovascular disease. While this a simplified example, it does make a point. As Bruce Ames says: the body’s primary objective is survival and reproduction and whether you live beyond your reproductive age is not its immediate concern. But it should be yours. So while all of this may point at a general need to supplement your diet, there are a few important factors to consider before running to the supplement store:

First of all, you are genetically adapted to get your nutrition through food. There is an obvious difference between the synergistic effects of nutrients as they exist in whole foods and taking a supplement that contains isolated nutrients. They just don’t work the same way. Your first and foremost goal should therefore be to reduce the nutritional gap as much as possible by striving to eat the best possible diet and the highest quality of nutrient dense food, alongside managing lifestyle factors and optimising your digestion and microbiome health. ( Have a look at how I do that on my website.)

Once you have built a strong and solid foundation you can then examine your individual deficiencies, which can, in some instances be identified through testing (a standard lab test can throw up some very useful information, or you can go a step further with organic acid testing) and by looking at your unique health history, environment, lifestyle factors and current symptoms.This may point at a need for extra support in the area of immune function, digestive health, gut barrier healing, or antioxidant support. Some of this support can be found by boosting your intake of foods that contain high amounts of the required nutrients and sometimes you may need to do some targeted supplementation.The key takeaway is that you want to pay attention not only to your body’s signals but also to the various environmental factors that may be influencing your long-term nutrient status, to prioritise a healthy nutrient dense diet and to remain open to a possible need for supplementation.

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