Read time: 6-8 minutes
Let’s cut straight to the chase. If you want to look hot and feel fantastic then I believe that some form of supplementation is necessary for you. Given the fact that I have links to Poliquin supplements in my sidebar, I realise that this is not much of a revelation, but perhaps what I have to say next will be. Which is this – I absolutely do NOT believe supplementation should be necessary if you eat well. For example. You’ve probably heard it argued that we don’t need to take supplements because we should be able to get all of our nutrients from food. Very true. But there’s just one teeny problem. It’s not going to happen. Let me explain.
If you were living a couple of hundred years ago, then maybe this would be possible. Assuming, of course, that you were wealthy enough to access good food, knew what it was anyway, and enjoyed only a healthy amount of stress in your life. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? The thing is, a few years back I poo-poohed the idea of supplements (even protein powder) to all and sundry. “It’s a scam”, I said. “Companies just want to make money from you, and there’s really no benefit. As long as you eat well (organic of course), you’ll be fine”.
I take it back. And here’s why.
eating well is a good start – not a health cure
I believe that even the most optimal nutrition choices fall short of meeting our required vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, and enzyme needs. These days I actually find it quite shocking that some health practitioners still that a healthy diet alone can be even adequate for nutritional fulfillment, let alone ideal. There are two main reasons for this: nutrient depletion due to a stressful life, and quality of food. I’ll expand.
Is Your World Perfect? Mine Sure Isn’t!
It’s true that nature has given us everything we need, and in a perfect world we wouldn’t need to take supplements. But this ain’t no perfect world, is it? And therein lies the rub. Anyone who tells you that you can get not only all the nutrition your body needs from your food, but also enough to replace nutrition lost through stress, poor food choices, lack of sleep and so on, has no idea about being healthy in the modern world.
You face stress every day of your life. For sure, your body is designed to cope with stress and in fact overcoming challenge is a very positive thing, but how about all of this:
- lack of sleep or poor quality sleep
- processed foods
- unwittingly eating foods that you may be intolerant to
- exposure to plastics
- exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
- relationship anxieties
- everyday worries about life, money, safety, happiness, peace and so on
- living outside of your innate value system
- medication stress
- spiritual or emotional stress
- work stress
- information stress: knowing how to cut through the info overload that is our healthy system today and figure out what’s right for you!
So how is all this relevant? Well, stress depletes nutrients. It’s that simple. Any overt and ongoing form of stress (whether it’s a little stress about a lot of things, or a lot of stress about one or two things) requires extra energy. Energy comes from nutrition. And the nutrition you get from food – even from a great diet – is not enough to combat that which is robbed from you when your life is unnaturally high in stress. And the thing is, even if you absolutely love and feel secure in your life, there are elements of modern-world stress that you simply cannot avoid.
stress and nutrient depletion
Here are just a few things you may be lacking due to stress, and a little on how that could be affecting you.
- Hydrochloric acid (HCL). HCL is what your stomach should produce every time you eat. It helps you digest and assimilate your food. Stress of any kind, and in particular unhealthy food choices, robs your body of HCL. This means that although you may be shelling out for quality organic food, you may not be digesting it fully.
- Magnesium. Charles Poliquin has recently written a brilliant blog on magnesium and fat loss for women. It’s equally relevant to men. You should check it out here. Magnesium has a lot to do with quality of sleep and your ability to rest and recover effectively.
- Methylators (B6, B9, which is folate, B12). Methylators are depleted when you suffer emotional stress, when you take The Pill or indeed any medication, and you may even be genetically poor at methylation (around 65% of people are). Poor methylation makes it hard to detoxify, which means hard to lose fat. It is also correlated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and every type of cancer, and plays a large part in emotional stability and mental acuity.
- Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3’s are crucial to every element of your health, and help to combat every possible type of ailment you can think of. An excess of Omega 6 in your diet (which is common amongst Westerner’s) can mean that you are automatically low in Omega 3. Most people don’t eat enough of these essential fats anyway, which is why they must be taken in supplement for for as long as you’d like to be healthy. You can read more about Omega 3 and it’s effect on fat metabolism here.
There are literally scores and scores of other nutrients that you lose through stress. Some of the key ones include vitamin c, vitamin e, and zinc. A lack of these – or indeed any – vital nutrients is a sure-fire recipe for health disaster and disorder.
But seriously – can’t I get all of these from healthy foods?
The short answer is yes, of course. You can get all of those nutrients (except HCL which your body produces itself) from eating good foods. But first things first. Let’s be honest about how many meals a week are actually bang-on. By that I mean they’re completely unprocessed, 100% organic or bio-dynamic, and actually have the right macro-nutrient breakdown (proteins, fats, carbs) for your body’s needs. Even if most of your meals do fit that category (and well done to you!), do you eat enough? Too much? Do you eat too fast? Are you drinking too much water with your meal and affecting your digestion? Are you dehydrated? Do you use too many stimulants? You see what I’m saying, don’t you?
but, but, but …
There are still so many health practitioners teaching that you don’t need any form of supplementation, and there are some very convincing arguments out there. Here are a few of the ones I’ve heard regularly, and my take.
- Supplements are prescribed like drugs and are created by the same drug companies. Well, yes, that’s true in some cases, and is one reason I personally only use practitioner lines from companies that specialise in supplements not drugs. But whilst I’m not one to be pro-drug-companies, my first response would be – and? Does that make them inherently bad or unnecessary? Yes, someone somewhere is going to make money when you buy supplements. And food. And, of course, when you pay for medical treatment. Let’s all accept that and get over it.
- There is no such thing as wonder cure all or super food that is better than other foods. E.g. cancer is not a superfood deficiency. To me this argument, which I read recently on a naturopathic website, just makes no sense. Of course there are foods that are better than others. I agree that the blanket term ‘superfood’ can be confusing, and indeed many foods are super and not necessarily labeled as such, but does that mean all foods are equal? The only way I could begin to accept that idea is if we completely eliminated all foods from our diets that are, in fact, not food (packaged, processed, stripped of natural fat etc).
- Even if organic supplements they are processed food products in a pill. True. Life isn’t perfect. Get over it. And really; is an organic food supplement (I do recommend organic supplements) any more processed than making your own organic almond and cacao cake? Or gravy? Or soup? We all use processing to an extent; it’s how we use it that is important. The reality of being healthy in a modern world is that we have to admit failure in some instances. I’m not saying your own failure, but rather the failure of the world we live in to keep up with your innate nutritional requirements.
- Supplements are sold on the belief that our soil is too depleted of nutrients. So who are we going to support the farmer that takes care of our soil or the supplement company? Why not both?
- Synthetic supplements (often used to fortify flour for bread, for example) are not how we are supposed to get our nutrition. This is an important point about supplements. Synthetic vitamins and minerals, in my opinion, have no place in a healthy pantry. The most common offender are cereals and other grain products. Eat real food instead, and add your healthy organic supplements to that base, rather than to a base of junk food posing as healthy food.
- Vitamins and minerals or single nutrients do not exist on their own in nature. They require cofactors for absorption. There is no such a thing as a vitamin C fruit or B3 plant. This is also true, and is a great argument for using only quality practitioner supplements that have been blended based on your body’s actual requirements, are reputable enough to use only the active ingredient form of a particular nutrient rather than the typically cheaper versions you find on the shelf, and are able to be fully digested and assimilated by your body.
a word on quality
If you’ve been buying your supplements off the shelf then I’d suggest you switch to a practitioner brand such as Poliquin, Metagenics, or Usana (although I find it quite pricey comparatively). If it comes down to off the shelf or nothing, I’d choose nothing.
London personal trainer and BioSignature Coach Nick Mitchell has a great article on his site which further sums up how to recognise and choose quality supplements. You can view it here.
Personally I’ve heard too many instances in which companies have marketed a cheap concoction of shadow nutrients on the actions of far superior and active ingredients used in scientific research. Shopping with a brand you trust eliminates this problem. When you buy off the shelf you face issues of chemical toxicity, of synthetic ingredients such as petroleum coal tar for B vitamins rather than food-based, of GM (genetically modified) binders and additives, and of natural ingredients being so highly processed and refined that they can no longer be considered healthy.
where should you start?
If you haven’t used supplements before, or have used them but aren’t really sure if they worked or which ones you should take anyway, then it can be an overwhelming world to consider. I wouldn’t suggest rushing out and buying one of everything! The best way to introduce supplements, or any food and lifestyle change, is one or two steps at a time. That way you can experience the change they make and allow your body to adjust.
Here is what I’d suggest to start you off:
- A good multi-vitamin for all round nutrition. With iron for women, and iron-free for men.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – your body can’t make them and they’re essential to healthy and metabolism.
- A B-complex such as Poliquin Methylator. This will ensure proper detoxification.
- Magnesium in the evenings for recovery and quality sleep.
- Zinc – a foundation mineral, meaning that every other nutrient does its job more effectively when zinc is present. Zinc also has a lot to do with hormone production and metabolism.
My recommendation would be to introduce them one at a time, waiting 4-7 days before adding the next, and observing changes.If you’d like to know more about which supplements are right for your body and how to more comprehensively try them out then you may like to consider a BioSignature assessment.
Whew! A lengthy post today, but it’s one that I’ve been wanting to cover for some time now. I do find these research based posts take me a lot longer to write than my typical posts,and I hope I haven’t lost my usual flow. I’d be interested to hear your feedback – please comment below. Have you tried supplements? What has or hasn’t worked for you? And do you have any questions or points that I missed?
Thanks for reading!