Understanding Supplements and How They Support Health Goals
By Dr. Gabrielle Francis
Nutritional Supplements are products that are manufactured from either food or synthetic sources, which are designed to provide the body with nutrients to promote health and well-being. There are an endless array of Supplements and it is a huge market in the USA and around the world. Choosing supplements can be overwhelming and confusing. With today’s access to information, most consumers are relying on Dr. Google, and Dr. Amazon to provide them with direction on what they should be using. Often, I will ask my patients why they are taking a certain supplement and they tell me that AMAZON recommended it. Amazon recommends it only to sell you something! Not because AMAZON knows what is best for you. Understanding some basic principles and strategies can demystify the process and help makes decisions about the best choices for your Wellness Program.
SUPPLEMENTS as FOOD REPLACMENTS:
Generally, this is the safest category of Products given that they are coming from Reputable companies that source their ingredients from Natural and Organic sources. This is the category of products that provides FOOD to your Body such as Protein Powders, Green Foods, Omega 3 Oils, Probiotics, Collagen Powders, Protein Bars, and Juices. These products provide us with food that feed our body and may be used at time as meal replacements or enhancements. If the product is from natural and organic ingredients, then the use of this in generally safe and can be used long term to provide nutrients that we normally could get from food in a more convenient and easier to access package.
SUPPLEMENTS as FOOD ENHANCEMENTS:
Vitamins, Minerals, Amino Acids and Omega Fatty Acids are Essential Nutrients that our bodies need to be able to operate properly. They are nutrients that are not made in the body and must be provided by food. Our Modern Diets and Lifestyles are not always able to provide the body with all of our basic Nutrients requirements. Modern farming methods deplete the soil of these vital nutrients making our foods less nutritious. Therefore, Supplementing the diet with Nutritional Products is a great and helps to complete our daily nutrient needs. The best approaches would be to take a Full Spectrum Multivitamins and Full Spectrum Mineral Daily from natural and organic sources. Daily Omega 3 Oils and Probiotics are also excellent. Daily use of these products is safe for long term use and is considered an Enhancement to a healthy diet.
SUPPLEMENTS for BUILDING and REPAIR:
There are occasions one may be advised to take an individual supplement to restore balance or repair a deficiency that was discovered by your doctor. For example, a blood result may show that you are low in iron, Vitamin B12, or Vitamin D. In these cases, the Supplements can be taken individually to restore the balance and levels in your body. Choosing high quality, reputable brands is essential. There is usually, a beginning and end to this therapy. So, for example if your vitamin B12 is low, you may supplement it for several months and then get rested. Once the values are normal, you can discontinue the supplement and maintain your levels from eating high B12 food sources.
SUPPLEMENTS for SYMPTOMS:
Herbal supplements, Homeopathic Supplements, Flower Essences, and Essential Oils are the products most often used to treat symptoms may be interfering with your wellbeing. In general, this is a natural and safe alternative to many Over the Counter medications. I like to call this category “Natural Band-Aids”. Examples of these uses include: Taking “Rescue Remedy” for stress, taking “Cascara Sagrada” for constipation, using “Arnica” for bruising, or using “Lavender Essential Oil” for Insomnia. These types of therapies are generally safe when used short term for symptoms and are not intended to be used all the time or when the symptom is not present. They do not get to the root of the problem, but they may offer some relief short term.
SUPPLEMENTS with PHARMACY EFFECTS:
Herbal Remedies come from Plants and they have active ingredients in them that may have pharmacological effects in our bodies. It is important to understand that most Drugs are derived from active ingredients in Plants. With the drugs, these compounds are isolated, manufactured synthetically in labs, and magnified. In the Plant, the ingredients are lower doses and have other components that may balance the activity of the active ingredients. An example is White Willow Bark for pain and inflammation. White Willow Bark has the active ingredients, Salicylic Acid, which is used to make Aspirin. Aspirin is pure Salicylic Acid in a very high dose, and it may reduce pain and inflammation, however, it can also cause GI bleeding if taken too long. The White Willow Bark has low doses of Salicylic Acid and help to reduce pain, but it does not work as fast as aspirin. On the other hand, the other ingredients in the plant balance it so that you do not have the negative side effects that the Drug has. In general, the use of Herbal Supplements pharmacologically should be used only when needed and is best if recommended by a Naturopathic Doctor or Provider that is trained in this method.
Understanding the ways that Nutritional Supplements may be used for Health and Wellness Goals is essential for determining whether a product is best for long term or short-term use. Products that provide Food and General Diet Enhancements are wonderful for long term use and do not require specific recommendations. However, when using Supplements for Building and Repair, Symptoms, and Pharmacy Effects, it is advised that you educate yourself or work with a Health Care Provider that can support you.