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Why should I take a supplement?

Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

July 1, 2021

updated 4 Dec 2023

“I don’t really like taking supplements!” is something I often hear from my clients when I suggest a specific supplement that can help improve how they feel.

I totally get it:

I don’t like taking medication either if I can avoid it.

I don’t like taking supplements if I know I can get the same from real food.

I do believe real foods is the best source of all nutrients.

However, these are just some of the reasons when supplements have a place:

  • It is incredibly hard to get many nutrients through food sources alone.
  • Some “supplements” are actually closer to being a food source than some things that are declared to be “food”.
  • We do not consume as many calories anymore as we used to when we were more active. It is estimated that during the 18th/19th century our ancestors ate about twice the amount of calories per day, and they would therefore have had more nutrients in their diet.
  • Certain diets can deplete nutrients, a low-fat diet can lower the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, E, D.
  • Many supplements are of therapeutic quality in concentrated amounts that you could not get from a food source.
  • The nutrient content of many vegetables has decreased with the depletion of the nutrients in the soil.
  • There are many reasons why you might have a higher requirement of a specific nutrient that is very personal to your health history or your DNA.
  • Some medication or lifestyle factors deplete your body with certain nutrients. For example, acid-reducing medication can lead to lower B12 and other nutrients which can lead to tiredness. Statins block the pathway of CoQ10 production in the body, and taking this supplement can help prevent potential side effects such as muscle soreness and tiredness that are common. It’s important not to stop taking the prescribed medication but rather adding the nutrients they deplete.
  • The recommended daily allowance that you often find on supplements is the amount you need to take in order to avoid disease rather than to promote full health.
What to watch out for when buying supplements
  1. Make sure that the person who recommends you the supplement knows exactly what the supplement does in your body, and also makes you aware of potential side effect and contra-indications. Health Stores and Health practitioners are qualified to recommend supplements.
  2. Make sure that the supplement company is a well reputable company with the backing of research of their products. There are many direct-marketing supplement products out that make big claims. Often the ingredients that they are using might have a proven track record, but the amount in their specific supplement might not be sufficient to be of therapeutic effect.
  3. Compare likes with likes. Some products might seem more expensive at first glance, but the amount of the active ingredient in it might be higher or you might only need to take 1 capsule per day, whereas the cheaper one might only contain less active ingredients and you might need to take 6 capsule or tablets per day to get the same amount.
  4. Make sure the ingredient is bio-available. You could be spending a fortune on a substance that your body can’t properly absorb! There is a huge range of supplements that are made from food sources and in most cases, these are readily available to the body. In some cases, it’s the form of the specific vitamin or mineral comes it that makes it more available, or there are co-factors included that help with absorption. Again, it is important to make sure that the person who recommends you a supplement, tells you all about this.
  5. Some minerals, especially Magnesium, come in different forms such as Magnesium Citrate, Mg Glycinate, Mg Oxide, Mg Malate, etc etc. Each has different properties and different effects on the body. Some forms are better for digestion, some better for your heart, some better for sleep, etc. Make sure you are getting the one that is best for you!
  6. Some supplements have loads of fillers in them that might actually be detrimental to your health, these could be various starches or sugars and might appear innocent, but could cause issues in the long run, or are simply not necessary and reduce the amount of the active ingredient (making it less expensive to produce and you pay the difference!)
  7. Avoid highly advertised supplements that make ridiculous-sounding claims – especially if they claim to “cure” or “heal” loads of health issues.
When I recommend a supplement

I take a lot of supplements myself even though I think I am following a healthy diet. I would not recommend any supplements that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with taking myself. I would always recommend food sources first.

However, in some cases, I can clearly see from talking to the client that a certain nutrient might be missing or that a certain supplement will immediately improve their wellbeing.

The right supplement can fast-track the success of your reaching your health goal!

For example, Mary is a working mum with two teenage kids, she is absolutely exhausted when she comes home from work and is starving. She won’t have the energy to start cooking from scratch. However, with a good multi, possibly with some CoQ10 and high in B-vitamins, she can immediately improve her energy levels. That then will give her the energy to start cooking from scratch and eating more fresh vegetables will give her more energy so that she won’t need to take the multi anymore or maybe just less of it.

Another example is John, who has had an injury recently and is carrying extra weight. It is clear that there is a lot of inflammation going on, so I can support him with anti-inflammatory supplements that help bring the inflammation and the pain down. This in turn allows him again to go out more walking and standing in the kitchen feels easier. That gets him to cook more from scratch which then makes him feel better. But with the inflammation going on, he wouldn’t have been able to do that, and probably would have given up.

Jane is a lady in her menopause who says I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and who just feels she cannot give up having something sweet after dinner and with her tea. She can eat a very healthy diet all day otherwise. As she is showing signs of insulin resistance (precursor to diabetes), such as weight gain around the middle, sugar cravings and afternoon slumps, it is vital that she balances her blood sugars. However, telling her all about what insulin does to her body and the dangers of unbalanced blood sugar, is simply not enough to help her stop eating sugar. She knows that the more sugar she eats, the more she craves it, but still can’t stop it.

Taking a supplement that helps balance her blood sugar such as chromium or Garcinia will make it is so much easier for her to stop the cravings and going for the sweet stuff. And when you don’t crave that chocolate cake, you actually don’t miss it! You don’t feel deprived.

A supplement I need to take regularly is Vitamin D, despite being an “outdoor” person. I was always surprised why my Vitamin D levels were relatively low as I am outdoors a lot, but a DNA test revealed that I am not good at converting sunlight to Vitamin D, and therefore my only option to have sufficient of this hugely important vitamin is to supplement.

Many people might have certain genetic pre-dispositions that could easily be solved if known by supplementing with the right nutrient or supporting certain organs. Epigenetics teaches us that just because we have a certain gene, we don’t necessarily need to get a certain disease. And the reason, why your father might have had a heart condition could have been due to a methylation factor, which could easily have been solved by the correct B-vitamin supplementation.

I am taking herbs in capsules that have well-established health benefits for sleep and relaxation. I don’t consider these as “supplements” but rather as a natural food source, especially, if I can’t forage for these myself.

I am taking a daily dose of my Aloe Gel as I am a firm believer that it helps restore my gut lining and helps improve my energy levels.

It surprises me how many people have no problem eating substances that are highly processed or refined and stripped or devoid of any nutritional value and call these “foods”, and yet at the same time say that they don’t want to take a supplement.

Yes, it is a billion-dollar industry, and yes, there are a lot of false claims out there and you could be spending tons of money on false promises.

That’s why I feel it is so important to ask someone who qualified and trained in recommending supplements, or at least someone, who is going to do the research to find you a supplement that best suits you.

As a healthcare practitioner, I will always aim to find ways to increase your nutrient intake through food, however, in many cases, supplements to have their place.

If you have any questions about supplements or my programmes and how I can help you achieve better health and energy in your life, please book a free discovery chat to find out more.

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