Supplements and Health
Ideally one should be obtaining all of one’s nutrients from food. However there are times when this may be difficult. There are three main reasons why one may opt to take a supplement.
1. Over time there has developed a deficiency in one or more nutrients, or the diet has become too restrictive
2. There may be occasions when supplements are used therapeutically to support the body through a particular health issue.
3. Used as a preventative measure. For example the use of folic acid during pregnancy to promote the development of a healthy foetus.
On all supplements a Recommended Daily Amount is indicated. This is a reflection of what is required for the average adult, acknowledging that an excess could result in toxicity. However that may not reflect dosage from a therapeutic perspective.
Seeking advice from a healthcare practitioner can be helpful in choosing the right supplements to take and its safe dosage. Not everyone is the same and what is a therapeutic dose for one individual may be ineffective with another, or too high. Critically it is important to know why that individual is deficient of that nutrient. It might be that the diet is adequate but for some reason there is a failure to assimilate that nutrient. An example of this would be Vitamin B12, where the deficiency is as a result of a lack of Intrinsic factor in the body which is required for B12 to be assimilated.
A qualified practitioner will take a number of factors into account when prescribing any supplement.
- How well that supplement is absorbed into the body and used.
- When the best time of day and way to take that supplement. For example Vitamins B and C should be taken with food. Vitamins B earlier in the day as they can disrupt sleeping patterns. The fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K are also best taken with food and require some fats in the diet to aid absorption. It is also worth bearing in mind that fat soluble vitamins are stored within the body. Amino acids are best taken with carbohydrates or on an empty stomach. Minerals are generally better taken with food. However Zinc should be taken on an empty stomach, and before bed. Calcium is better absorbed at night time.
- An important aspect of any supplement is their interactions. If someone is on any medication, care must be taken that the supplement does not adversely effect that medication. Caffeine, for example, increases urinary excretions. Therefore taking supplements at the same time should be avoided. Excess fibre may also slow down absorption of a potentially beneficial substance. Some supplements may compete for absorption, for example iron and zinc.
The use of supplements can be beneficial at times, but it is better, whenever possible, to obtain micronutrients them through food, as the foods will also contain other beneficial properties which act synergistically.
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