Supplements & Vitamins
What are supplements? Supplements are referred to as either a dietary supplement, a food supplement or a nutritional supplement. Prepared supplements are intended to supplement the diet and provide missing or insufficient nutrients and include vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids or essential fatty acids. They are available in a variety of forms including tablets, capsules, liquids and powders.
How to choose a supplement? Most importantly, always read the label! The supplement label will disclose the source of the supplement (synthetic or natural), its suggested use, non-medicinal ingredients (e.g., gelatin, glycerin, etc.), and also list what it does not include (e.g., preservatives, artificial colors, yeast, dairy, sugar, flavoring, wheat, corn, etc.) in order for the consumer to avoid potential allergens or sensitivities. As a general rule, consider what form you prefer. Some people find it difficult to swallow tablets. In that case, capsules, powders and liquids may be preferable. Tablets contain fillers, bindings and coatings to keep them stable.
They can be difficult to digest and therefore one may not be well absorbed by the body, and are generally the least preferred option. Capsules are easier to swallow and are generally more easily digested and absorbed. Capsules can also be opened, with the contents sprinkled on food as another option. Most capsules are made from an animal-based gelatin, and will therefore not be appropriate for vegetarians. Powders and liquid forms are often used for children, infants or those who have weak digestion or difficulty swallowing tablets or capsules. As with all supplements, review the label to confirm whether they contain any artificial colorings or sweeteners. When in doubt, consult the staff at your local reputable nutrition store or a certified practitioner to discuss more specific concerns. How much of the supplement should I take on a daily basis? The label of any nutritional supplement will provide clear instructions on a recommended daily dose, how often to take the supplement, and also whether it should be taken with or without food.
Alternatively, you can follow the directions of a qualified health practitioner. What is the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)? The RDI is a daily dietary intake amount of a nutrient considered sufficient, at the time they were determined, to meet the requirements of approximately 97-98% of all healthy individuals in each life stage and sex. The Daily Value (DV) printed on all food labels in the U.S., Canada and Australia uses the RDI as its basis. The RDI is based on the previous Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) originally created in 1941. The RDA was originally developed during World War II to provide a list of recommendations of a standard daily nutrient allowance. These standards formed the basis of nutrition recommendations for the armed forces, civilians and other populations for the purposes of food relief and also took into account nutritional intake and food availability at the time due to food rationing during the war. The Food and Nutrition Board reviewed the RDA every five to ten years, and in the early 1950s, began to also include servings per food group to make it easier for people to understand how to receive their RDA by nutrient. The RDA became part of a broader set of dietary guidelines in 1997 called the Dietary Reference Intake, used by both the U.S. and Canada. The RDI continues to be the basis of nutritional labels. Supplements vs. Whole Foods One of the most frequently asked questions is, Who should be taking supplements? As a general rule, try to obtain your full range of vitamins and minerals through a balanced whole foods-based diet. That may not always be possible if you are attempting to address an imbalance in your body, or if your body needs additional support.
Questions to consider in determining whether supplementation is appropriate for you:
- Are you under frequent emotional, physical or environmental stress?
- Are you recovering from an illness or injury?
- Are you on a restricted or unbalanced diet?
- Do you have difficulties digesting? These questions are a meant as a guideline only. For any serious health issues, please consult a qualified health care practitioner or your family doctor.
Vitamins and Minerals Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients and are essential for growth, vitality, digestion, elimination and resistance to disease. In other words, they are an essential component of our health. Both cannot be manufactured by our bodies for the most part, with the exception of some B vitamins, and must be ingested either through diet or supplements. They are naturally found in abundance in plant and animal sources. Mineral and vitamin supplements generally should be taken with food. Vitamins Vitamins are found in plants and animal foods. They are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble and are further categorized by letters, groups and individual chemical names. Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body to a large degree, are sensitive to heat and easily lost during cooking, so they are regularly needed in our diet. The main water-soluble vitamins are vitamins B and C. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K and can be stored in the body tissues.
Therefore, we are able to function for longer periods of time without obtaining them from dietary sources. As a result, it is easier to reach toxic levels due to high dosage supplementation. Toxicity is more common with vitamins A, D and K and less frequently with vitamin E, as it is used frequently by the body as an antioxidant. Overview of Different Vitamins Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant, meaning it helps prevent the creation of free radicals that may cause cellular damage and disease. Other benefits of vitamin C are its ability to boost the immune system and its key role in the creation of collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle and blood vessels. Therefore, it may be beneficial in recovery from illness and wound healing. Vitamin C also aids in the utilization of folic acid and iron absorption.
It works best when synergistically combined with bioflavonoids. Vitamin B1 (Thiamin or Thiamine): Vitamin B1 plays a key role in the production of energy, mainly in glucose metabolism. It also plays a key role in the health of nerves and the nervous system, enhances circulation and assists in the production of stomach acid, which is important for healthy digestion. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Vitamin B2 is essential for energy production and healthy cell function and growth. It is also important for proper eye function and is commonly used to treat visual problems and cataracts.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Vitamin B3 is beneficial for the nervous system and digestive system health. It is also essential for energy production, stimulates circulation and is known to support blood formation and skin health. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Vitamin B5 is best known as the “anti-stress” vitamin used to relieve fatigue and stress through its support of the adrenal glands. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Vitamin B6 is one of the most utilized and valued of the B vitamins. B6 is highly utilized during pregnancy in maintaining the mother’s hormonal and fluid balance and also for the development of the baby’s nervous system. There has also been widespread use of B6 in the treatment of morning sickness and PMS. However, it also acts as a natural diuretic, and as a result, high dosages should be avoided by breastfeeding mothers. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamine): This water-soluble vitamin is essential for the health of the whole nervous system and red blood cells. Unlike other water-soluble vitamins, B12 is stored in the liver, kidney and body tissues. It is also known as the “energy vitamin” as it often increases energy levels by stimulating the utilization of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Some populations may be at risk for a B12 deficiency including the elderly, as they often have poor digestion, and strict vegetarians and vegans who do not have an appropriate dietary or supplemental intake. Folic Acid (Folate): This water-soluble vitamin works synergistically with B12 and has a fundamental role in the production and growth of all cells, especially red blood cells. Folic acid is necessary for healthy brain function, and along with B12, is frequently used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Folic acid is of particular importance to women of child-bearing age due to its role in DNA synthesis, healthy cellular activity and fetal nerve development. Biotin: This water-soluble vitamin helps in metabolizing carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It normalizes fat metabolism and is frequently used in fat reduction programs and to help reduce blood sugar. It is also used in the treatment of dermatitis, eczema, hair loss and muscle pain. Vitamin A/Beta Carotene: This fat-soluble vitamin comes in two forms: retinol obtained from animal sources and beta carotene, which is a water-soluble precursor converted to vitamin A by the liver. Vitamin A is necessary for growth, bones, teeth, hair and skin and is most well known for its benefits to the eyes.
Vitamin A is beneficial in the treatment of night blindness and maintaining the overall health of the cornea and eye covering. Vitamin D: It is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, as our body can produce vitamin D by absorbing sunlight through the skin. This fat-soluble vitamin supports the absorption of calcium and magnesium, and is also associated with the health of bones and teeth, and may also be beneficial in the prevention of osteoporosis. Vitamin E: The primary function of this fat-soluble vitamin is as an antioxidant – fighting the damaging free radicals that may otherwise harm the body. Vitamin E has also been shown to neutralize free radicals generated during surgery. It helps to stabilize cell membranes and protect tissues sensitive to oxidative damage such as skin, eyes, liver, breasts and testes. It is also well known for its anti-aging benefits due to its role in the production of collagen and cell turnover, both of which fight wrinkles and fine lines. Vitamin K: This fat-soluble vitamin is important for normal blood clotting and should not be taken orally routinely without monitoring its effect, especially as it competes with anticoagulant medications. When applied topically, Vitamin K may help to reduce bruising and dark circles under the eyes. Minerals Although our body can manufacture some vitamins, we cannot produce minerals. All minerals come from the earth and are taken up by plants from the soil. Therefore our requirements for minerals must be ingested either through diet or supplements. Minerals are the basic parts of all cells and most specifically blood, nerve and muscle cells, bones, teeth and all soft tissues. Minerals are involved in several key functions including structural support of teeth and bones, regulation of fluid, nerve transmission, muscle contraction, blood and tissue formation.
Overview of Different Minerals Calcium: Calcium is well known for the essential role it plays in the development and maintenance of bones and teeth and the prevention of osteoporosis. It is also vital to healthy heart and muscle function, nerve conductivity, blood clotting, and in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure. Magnesium: Magnesium is involved in greater than 300 reactions in the body, many of which contribute to producing energy and healthy cardiovascular function. Magnesium partners with calcium for the healthy function of heart and muscles. While calcium stimulates muscle contraction, magnesium relaxes them. It is for this reason that it is considered the “anti-stress” mineral, as it functions to relax skeletal muscle and to smooth muscles of blood vessels and the gastrointestinal tract. It’s also used in the treatment of hypertension, menstrual cramps, anxiety, insomnia, depression and muscle cramps. Potassium: Potassium, along with chloride and sodium, are all known as electrolytes and are important to nerve transmission and muscle contraction such as our heartbeat. Inadequate levels of potassium may lead to muscle twitches and irregular heart beat. Therefore, maintaining proper potassium levels is important. While a high potassium level is uncommon, a low level can occur under acute conditions that create a diuretic effect, such as excessive sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, fasting, trauma or the consumption of laxatives, alcohol, coffee and sugar. In these cases, potassium replenishment should occur as soon as possible.
Consult a health care professional for any cases occurring for an extended period of time. Sodium: Sodium is one of the main electrolytes, along with potassium and chloride. Similar to potassium, sodium can be lost through excessive sweating due to physical activity, diarrhea or vomiting. Adequate sodium is critical to ensuring the body is properly hydrated. High sodium levels can cause hypertension. A sodium deficiency is rare, as most people obtain more sodium than generally required through processed foods. Phosphorous: Phosphorous is involved in many functions, including the formation of bones and teeth. It also supports muscle contraction, including heartbeat regularity and nerve contraction. Deficiency of this mineral is not common unless high doses of calcium supplements or antacids are taken, as phosphorous is readily available in most diets. Zinc: Zinc is necessary for tissue and cell formation and is therefore crucial for wound healing, skin elasticity and repair. Other functions of zinc are for immune function support, stomach acid manufacturing and the conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A. Deficiency of zinc can occur due to prolonged use of the birth control pill, high sexual activity for males (as ejaculate contains large quantities of zinc) and high alcohol intake. Athletes and strict vegetarians may also have low zinc levels. The most visible sign of zinc deficiency is white spots on the nails. Selenium: Selenium is best known for its antioxidant function, in synergy with vitamin E, in fighting free radicals that may otherwise damage our bodies. This antioxidant effect may therefore help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Iron: A key function of iron is the formation of hemogloblin and its role as an oxygen carrier. This function is what gives us strength.
Signs of iron deficiency, or anemia, include weakness, fatigue or loss of stamina. Iron deficiency is a common deficiency, and most often occurs in young adult women due to loss of blood during menstruation, low dietary intake, low stomach acid or increased caffeine intake, which can diminish absorption. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can also lead to anemia due to the increased iron requirements during those times. Others who are vulnerable include infants, adolescents, people on diets, or premenopausal women. Vegetarians are also at risk due to their dietary iron sources. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is generally found in meats, whereas non-heme iron sources are from non-animal sources and are not as easily absorbed. Manganese: Manganese plays a role in the growth and development of healthy bone structure and healthy joints. Manganese deficiency cause weak ligaments, or a “clicking” of the joints due to the addition of calcium by the body to the joints to firm them up. Those with low levels of manganese may also be prone to athletic injuries, strained knees or elbows. Large amounts of calcium and/or phosphorous can interfere with manganese absorption. Therefore individuals consuming high levels of milk, meat or soda beverages may require additional manganese. Copper: Copper is an important catalyst in the formation of hemoglobin, which is what transports the oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, so it is often used in the treatment of anemia and fatigue. Along with vitamin C, it also helps to form collagen and may help with impaired collagen formation. Iodine: Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones and is required for normal thyroid function. Symptoms of slow metabolism, fatigue, weight gain, dry hair, feelings of coldness and decreased sexual function are some of the symptoms of a thyroid that is not functioning properly. Most people are able to obtain plenty of iodine in our diets, as iodine is added to table salt. An iodine deficiency may occur in a diet low in salt or processed foods. Chromium: Chromium is essential in the production of insulin and blood sugar regulation. Chromium deficiency due to diet or poor absorption has been linked to adult onset diabetes and atherosclerosis. Chromium supplementation has also been found to promote muscle gain and a resulting increase in the percentage of lean body weight. Other Nutrients and Supplements Bioflavonoids: Bioflavonoids are known as potent antioxidants, and are helpful in the absorption of vitamin C, therefore boosting the immune system. The most well-known function of bioflavonoids is their ability to increase the strength of capillaries, preventing hemorrhage and rupture that may lead to easy bruising, bleeding gums and duodenal bleeding ulcers. Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone): CoQ10 is the critical to the production of energy in our cells. Our bodies have trouble generating energy without CoQ10. Our hearts have twice the CoQ10 concentration of any other organ in our body. For this reason, CoQ10 is most often supplemented for those with heart problems such as angina, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure and mitral valve prolapse. CoQ10 is often supplemented with high-cholesterol drugs, as these drugs block the body’s production of CoQ10. Probiotics: Probiotics are supplements taken for digestive support that contain friendly bacteria beneficial to the digestive tract in large numbers. These products are often taken to repopulate the colon with friendly bacteria and improve digestion after the use of steroids, antibiotics, or prolonged use of caffeine, stress or the birth control pill.