Nutritional Supplements – Should You Take Them and Does Brand Name Matter?

Michael SallustioArticlesLeave a Comment

Ideally, all vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients should be obtained from whole foods without having to take concentrated amounts of these substances in pill or capsule form. This was possible 100 or even 50 years ago when our foods were grown on fertile soils, were unrefined an unprocessed, and contained all the nutrients nature intended them to contain.

But today our soils are depleted, our foods are loaded with residues of pesticides and other toxic chemicals (including hormones and antibiotics fed to livestock), and more of our foods are processed and refined. These practices drastically lower the nutritional value of virtually all foods by destroying essential vitamins, minerals and enzymes our bodies need to assimilate and absorb these nutrients. These deficiencies in our foods lead to deficiencies in our bodies. Even organic and biodynamic farming cannot compensate for our decades of agricultural and environmental abuses.

The same environmental pollutants that deplete our foods are depleting our bodies through the air we breathe and the water we drink and bathe with. These pollutants are altering our body chemistries and compromising our immune systems. To add to the challenge, the demands placed on our bodies by the environment and lifestyles we have created have had a negative impact on our mental stress levels. And chronic or prolonged mental stress leads to increased physical stress.

In order for us to achieve and maintain good health, our bodies must be in a state of balance or homeostasis. The various factors described above including nutritionally inferior foods, environmental pollutants, and increased mental and physical stress, all contribute to a state of imbalance and inefficiency indicative of nutritional deficiencies. The goal of a truly holistic approach is to bring the body back into balance by identifying and correcting these deficiencies through diet and supplementation so that the body can regain the ability to heal itself and perform optimally. This differs from a western or allopathic approach which is to correct or treat specific symptoms or conditions.

Although many of the nutrients we determine to be deficient may be obtained from eating natural, whole, unprocessed foods, many others must be obtained from nutritional supplements which come in the forms of tablets, capsules, liquids and powders. Therefore, supplementation is essential to the success of any nutritional lifestyle change. For people attempting to improve their health through exercise, the need for supplementation is even greater because the body is being asked to perform at a higher level and even moderate exercise produces a certain amount of free radicals within the body.

For those who are reluctant to begin “popping pills”, look at the likely alternative. Would you rather voluntarily take natural supplements now to address any existing imbalances and to prevent others from manifesting themselves or be faced later on with having to take the little red and blue pills for your hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, arthritis, or other degenerative or life-threatening condition? Besides, have you ever considered how many different chemicals you ingest every day from consuming processed and refined foods? Incidentally, those little red and blue pills (pharmaceuticals) contain plenty of chemicals and toxins themselves. Pharmaceuticals are not intended for prevention, they are intended to correct a condition or disorder that has usually manifested itself as a result of a lack of preventive efforts.

The complication with supplementation is knowing which ones to take. After receiving guidance from a qualified nutritional consultant as to which supplements you should be taking, the next question is which brands are best. Let’s first acknowledge that the temptation is to buy the least expensive brands because after all, vitamin C is vitamin C, right?

Just like foods, all supplements are not created equally. Unfortunately, in the nutritional supplement industry you usually get what you pay for. There are some exceptions to the rule, but generally the supplement industry is so competitive that manufacturers cannot afford to overprice their product. Product prices are generally based on how much it costs to research, manufacture and market the product. The reason the pharmaceutical industry has received so much bad press lately is because the trend there is to spend more and more money on marketing and less on research and quality ingredients.

This is beginning to happen in the nutritional supplement industry as well. Too many corners are cut in the effort to rack up margins and many over the counter supplements are of very low quality, contain unbalanced formulations or individual ingredients which are poorly absorbed because the makers opt for the cheapest form. Many supplements contain cheap fillers or fillers of doubtful quality and quite spurious colorants, some of which carry with them harmful or uncomfortable side effects. Therefore, the higher quality brands are usually the ones that contain the highest quality ingredients and don’t spend as much money on marketing their products in the mainstream. The highest quality supplement manufacturers are typically distributed through health care professionals in order to cut down on marketing expenses and distribute the supplements more responsibly.

What makes one supplement better than another also has a great deal to do with the quality of the ingredients and how these ingredients are extracted from their source and then bound together in a tablet or capsule. The raw materials should be all-natural and organic when possible. The extraction process should be as minimally invasive as possible so as to preserve the integrity of the substance. Ingredients that can be extracted through an enzymatic or low-heat micro-filtration process retain more of their naturally beneficial qualities. High heat or chemically processed substances have usually been stripped of these good qualities. Minimally invasive processing increases the body’s absorption and assimilation of the supplement for optimum effectiveness.

Tabletting refers to the process by which the ingredients are bound together to make a tablet. The tabletting process can also have a profound effect on how the supplement is absorbed and assimilated. Perhaps the most important aspect of this process is the carrier substances used in the supplements. Carriers are substances used in supplements to help your body assimilate and absorb the nutrients within the supplement. What is interesting is that the carriers used in the supplements can be more powerful than the actual vitamins and minerals contained in the supplement. In fact, many supplement manufacturers use fillers and synthetic compounds in their products for economy or aesthetic reasons. The quality and integrity of the carriers and of the tabletting process varies dramatically among manufacturers.

Another significant concern with nutritional supplements is truth-in-labeling. Does the supplement contain the type and amount of substances as reported on the label by its manufacturer? The only way to truly know the answer to this question with regard to any specific supplement is to subject it to expensive laboratory testing. Because nutritional supplements are not regulated by any governmental body, the more legitimate and responsible manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to voluntarily submit their products to independent lab testing. Some manufacturers use pharmaceutical grade measurement standards when making their products. This means that the ingredients present in the supplement are within 1%-2% of what is reported on the product label in quantity and name.

Hopefully, this has given you a greater understanding and appreciation of why nutritional supplementation is so important and why it is essential to use only the highest quality supplements money can buy. Nutritional supplementation is an essential and necessary part of any nutritional lifestyle change. You may never be able to achieve that state of balance and optimum health without them. If you have any questions or concerns with regard to your supplement recommendations, do not hesitate to discuss them with your nutritional consultant.

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