What’s the scoop, do I really need supplements?
A vitamin, by definition, is a substance that will cause a disease if the body does not have enough of it or if the body cannot utilize what it does have. Vitamins do not produce energy on their own. Once a substance is found to meet these guidelines, it will be called a vitamin.
A vitamin will help in food metabolism and assist in releasing energy from digested food. The amount needed for good health is relatively small, so vitamins are considered micronutrients, as opposed to macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Vitamins will also assist in enzyme functions in the body, so you may hear them referred to as coenzymes. Nothing in the body can occur properly unless we have an enzyme in the chemical interaction.
We are born with a certain amount of basic enzyme stores and as we age, the body will use those stores to create two types of specific enzymes. Digestive enzymes, which are used to break down and digest food, and metabolic enzymes, which are used for every chemical reaction in the body. Should you deplete your enzyme stores, bodily functions will begin to malfunction or worse yet, cease all together.
Most chronic diseases can be linked in some way to enzymes and the fact they are depleted or not functioning properly due to coenzyme problems. Things that will deplete enzymes stores are stress, excessive physical exertion, fever, aging, and poor diet.
Cooking your food, whether it is a piece of meat or a carrot, will cause the body to tap into its enzyme stores to help digest the food. If your diet consists of raw foods, they will contain their own enzymes to help digest themselves and not use up your stored enzymes. In fact they will actually help replace enzyme stores that you have used up over the years. Of course, it is not recommended to eat raw animal products, but raw fruits and veggies are always the food of choice. Raw fruits and veggies will also contain the vitamins you require in a form that is easily absorbed. The form of the vitamins will be in a natural state and mixed with other vitamins and minerals that work in a symbiotic relationship to be more effective than isolated vitamins you would find in a pill.
Supplements and the RDA
RDA stands for Recommended Daily Allowance, which is the minimum amount of a vitamin required to prevent a disease from occurring in the general population. It is not what is required to obtain and maintain optimum health. In order to have vibrant health, you must consider the ODA, or Optimum Daily Allowance. Taking too little of a vitamin can cause problems, however taking too much of a vitamin can cause a condition called hypervitaminosis, or too much vitamins. The symptoms of too little or too much of a vitamin are often exactly the same. The cut off point is often a very fine line. For example, up to 100 mg. of zinc is shown to help strengthen the immune system, but over 100 mg. of zinc may actually harm the immune system. B vitamins, when taken in an isolated form, have been shown to deplete other B vitamins. This is a very strong argument for using whole food supplements, which are supplements made from whole foods. They contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that work synergistically to create a stronger vitamin function. One example is concerning Vitamin C and bioflavonoids. In order for bioflavonoids to work properly they must be taken along with Vitamin C. Bioflavonoids appear to be helpful in fighting cancer and other diseases. Whole foods means foods that are in their natural state and are not altered. Examples are foods such as a raw apple, carrot, lettuce, nuts, seeds, etc. These foods also contain nutrients that we have not discovered yet that will be proven necessary for optimum health and will work with other nutrients to allow all of the nutrients to be more effective. Whole food supplements also minimize the risk of hypervitaminosis. In a world of pollution, diets consisting of more and more cooked foods, and stress as well as our calorie needs decreasing due to a more sedentary lifestyle, it is often difficult to get enough high quality foods to meet our Optimum Daily Allowance. Many experts recommend a supplement to get all you need for good health. The question is which supplement is best and is synthetic just as good as natural?
Synthetic vs. Natural Supplements
Synthetic vitamins are vitamins produced in a laboratory from either natural or chemical sources and have undergone a conversion or chemical extraction. If you are suffering from a deficiency, synthetic vitamins will help in correcting that deficiency, but you will not get all the other benefits of vitamins found in a whole food source. There is also a risk of getting too much of the isolated vitamin. Manufacturers must use larger amounts of synthetic vitamins than natural vitamins in order to get similar responses.
Natural vitamins are vitamins which are derived from vegetable, mineral or animal sources without any conversion or chemical alteration. This assures that the nutritional integrity remains in tact. However, even natural vitamins are isolated and may not work as well as they would if they were in a whole food supplement. A frequently asked question with whole food supplements is why is there not a listing of vitamin and mineral content on the bottle. Whole food supplements are made with whole foods and the nutritional value of whole foods varies due to when and where the foods are produced. If an apple is used in a whole food supplement and another apple is also used that is grown on a different tree and is picked at a different time of year, the nutritional value will be different. On the bottle a truly whole food supplement the amount of each vitamin will not be listed. This is not necessarily a bad thing due to the fact that if you are eating a diet high in whole foods and are taking a whole food supplement, you should be getting all the nutrients you need in a form that is optimum for good health.
Whether the vitamin is synthetic or natural, all vitamins on the market must comply with the molecular structure of vitamins described in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, which is the national standard of all supplement manufacturers.
What is a mineral?
Minerals are inorganic, meaning they do not contain carbon, and are not of animal or vegetable origin. They are required by the body in small amounts and have various functions. Minerals are not absorbed very well in their natural state so often times manufacturers will bind them to proteins in order for them to be absorbed better. This process is called chelation and it is when an inorganic mineral is bound to an organic (meaning containing carbon) substance. Minerals found in whole foods are most times naturally chelated and are easily absorbed. Calcium is an example of a mineral. A caution concerning calcium is that in one study of 70 different brands of calcium supplements on the market showed that a majority of them contained lead levels above the recommended levels. It is wise to avoid calcium supplements that contain natural oyster shells, dolomite and bone meal products. Not all of these will contain high levels of lead, however there are better choices. Studies have shown that if your diet consists of mainly fruit, vegetables, grains and nuts and you avoid high acid foods including alcohol, meat, sugar, dairy, coffee, sodas, and artificial sweeteners, you will not need a calcium supplement. The reason behind this is the seven foods listed above are acids and your body uses calcium and other minerals to neutralize the acids. We do not need more calcium if we are eating a good, whole food diet. We just need less dangerous acid.
So, do I need a supplement?
If your diet consists of a plant based menu and you avoid alcohol, meat, sugar, dairy, coffee, sodas, and artificial sweeteners, and at least 60% of your diet is raw, you probably do not need a supplement. However, it is a good idea to add to your diet a whole food supplement in order to reach your Optimum Daily Allowance. Be sure your supplement has no artificial colors, additives or fillers. It should contain whole foods and nothing else. Good Eating!