Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Supplementation

Very soon I am going to want to do a few posts on how to tell if you are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals and how best to correct those deficiencies through good nutrition and herbal therapy. I thought it might be helpful to talk about vitamin supplementation in general first though to give you a little background. If you have walked into any drugstore or health food store all the little bottles lining the shelves with every vitamin, mineral, and enzyme know to man can be a little overwhelming to say the least. What is the best supplement for vitamin C, folic acid, iron, or lactase??

Nutrients such as vitamins and minerals do not exist in a vacuum in our bodies. They all work with other nutrients and perform complex chemical reactions to build new tissue, heal our bodies and keep organ systems functioning. My daughter recently drew a picture of the inside of the human body based on her perception. She drew a stomach with an elevator that went up to the mouth. When the stomach was full the elevator stopped working and there you have it. Very funny! Sometimes I think the supplement industry would have us believe that our bodies are just that fragmented. As if the body has various storage units for vitamins and minerals and when say our magnesium unit is empty; we just drop in a magnesium tablet and there you go. Rudolph Ballentine, MD says in his book Diet and Nutrition: A Holistic Approach that "We have created a bizarre situation in which our food is fragmented and sold to us in bits and pieces so that we are faced with the impossible task of trying to reassemble what amounts to a biochemical Humpty Dumpty." The real story is that in order to assimilate one nutrient several other nutrients are needed. Let me give you an example. Did you know that magnesium is much more effective when taken with vitamin C? Oranges, lemons, grapefruits and green leafy vegetables are all rich in vitamin C and magnesium. Zinc is much more effective when in the presence of phosphorus and foods such as sunflower seeds, brazil nuts and peanuts are rich in both. You see where I'm going with this...just taking a single nutrient supplement does not ensure proper absorption and use of that nutrient in the same way that eating a whole food does.

Through my study of nutrition and naturopathy, I would first recommend eating eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods. If you are experiencing symptoms that correspond with a deficiency of a vitamin or mineral, first research what foods are rich in that vitamin or mineral. Next, take a look at herbs and see if there is one that is particularly high in that nutrient. Herbs can be made into tea, added to smoothies, or sprinkled on a salad. Lastly, look for supplements in a health food store that are whole food supplements or made from herbal sources. I like to follow a good, better, best philosophy when making any changes for the benefit of your health. In this circumstance, good would be changing from synthetic vitamins (what is that stuff?) to a natural vitamin. Better would be changing to a bottled whole food or herbal supplement. Just read the label and see what the main ingredients are. Best would be eating high quality food or herbs rich in the nutrients that you need.

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