Are Nutritional Supplements Worth Taking?

Are Nutritional Supplements Worth Taking?

Or just a waste of money?

Even though there seems to be no end to the hot debate between those who believe strongly in the value of micro-nutrients and supplements and those who feel there is no benefit to be had, there simply can be no doubt that under the right conditions, supplements can be highly beneficial. I say that categorically and not without plenty of consideration.

My own uncomplicated truth goes like this …

Science has confirmed that drying certain foods (like berries for instance) and powdering them not only maintains nutrient bio-availability but can often actually increase potency and density of certain compounds (especially antioxidants.) This happens for a number of chemical reasons with certain plants (not all), but suffice it to say that this means in at least some cases, powdering a food does not adversely affect its nutrient value, density or availability. That's at the heart of the entire supplement industry, and it is a fact I have confirmed on my own with plenty of experimentation.

So how can you know if the extracted nutrients are available?

The received value of a micro-nutrient for any individual will be influenced by a myriad of external and internal factors, like the environmental growing conditions of the plant, internal body chemistry, nutrient deficiencies or imbalances, physiological state, and even psychological state (see placebo.)  To study and understand the beneficial effects of a micro-nutrient, we must first understand the conditions of the individual consuming it. It does not help to study someone for the effect of a nutrient if they have plenty already.

Too often, studies published showing insignificant benefits fail to address this in preparation, making the results worth little. Moreover, looking at the typical research group, a large percentage is done with people who are not representative of the world at large. Studies of well-fed white-collar westerners will provide totally different result sets than those done of people whose diet is poorer and inadequate. And finally, many studies are observational and often taken out of context to support a biased point of view.

The truth is that the only study that really matters is the one you conduct for yourself. Start with your doctor, get a blood workup and have your nutrient levels tested. Now you know your state of affairs, you can determine whether or not your nutrition needs modification and make a plan for getting it. If you can balance a deficiency by adjusting the foods you eat each day, then that is ideal. But if this is problematic for any number of possible reasons -- you need too much of a certain nutrient to get from meals alone, or you cannot obtain the right food locally, or your body cannot absorb certain food properly, etc -- then you look for the required nutrition in a supplement form.

Make sure to find the right quality and right manufacturing process, take the supplement for as long as necessary to achieve balance and optimal health, and continue to get check ups to properly ascertain if it has worked for you. You do not need someone telling you what will or will not work for you, especially based on all sorts of biases. You can discover the truth for yourself. The truth for me is clear. Supplements I have taken judiciously have been of immense value to my health.

All that being said, I am not advocating using supplements where diet can be modified. If you can eat fatty fish a few times a week, then there is no reason to take a fish oil supplement. Get your nutrients from your food where you can. But if for some reason you cannot eat fish, then a high-quality fish oil may very well be the ticket for you. You just need to be the arbiter of your own ongoing study.

I also do not advocate multi-vitamins because unless your diet is completely inadequate, you are not likely to benefit from randomly consuming a broad range of nutrients. There are obviously some exceptions, like pregnant and breast-feeding women, infants, the elderly, people addicted to drugs or alcohol, suffering from a particular disease, recovering from a prolonged illness or injury, or strict vegetarians. But for most of us, the typical multi supplement is really a shotgun approach that makes little sense. Taking too much of everything to compensate for a possible deficiency is just foolish, especially when most multi-vitamin pills are full of cheap, synthetic isolates, and taking too much of some can be toxic.

But letting others tell you there is no benefit in micro-nutrient supplements at all is just as foolish. Figure out precisely what you need from your food and what you cannot get from meals, get from high-quality, non-GMO, organic whole-food supplements. You might consider whole food multivitamins if you need one, but they are not as potent, so you have to be willing to take a lot of tablets, and they are not cheap, and there is still no evidence that they are absorbed better.

So, to sum it up, yes, the situation is complex and full of variables, and ultimately, each person is a case unto themselves. But you cannot ignore the 1000s of years of traditional use of botanicals in dried form (not to mention the studies that do support the benefits) simply because some studies lacked payoff, or because there are a plethora of snake-oil salesman who sell worthless products to gullible people.

Related Posts: 
Some Truth About Synthetic vs Whole Food Vitamins
The Importance of Being Alkaline - Know Your pH ! 
For the Love of Food, What We Eat Can Heal

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


    • Avatar
      Nov 28, 2014

      I completely agree. I have been taking a regimen of supplements for decades now and I absolutely know they make a big difference to my health. You just need to be smart and make good choices.

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