First, some definitions. We include "superfoods" which appear
in the "flag" portion at the top of our Dynamic
Nutrition Pryramid as "supplements." Superfoods include such foods
liver oil, bee pollen, certain sea vegetables, organic cooking herbs
and sea salt, fresh or
dried fish eggs (or roe), and vegetable drinks either fresh, fermented,
or powdered and
In our modern world even organ meats, once a staple in traditional diets, could be considered "superfoods". These kinds of foods are defined as supplements because they not only usually need to be sought out specially but also because they are not normally included in the standard modern diet. Most especially because of modern growing conditions, superfoods are very useful, even essential, for maintaining optimal health even with the best diet/lifestyle situations and many of these superfoods can be gradually worked into most diets to great advantage over time.
Next in our list of
supplements are what most people
think of when they think of supplements: vitamins, minerals, enzymes,
amino acids, herbs and herb combinations.
Finally supplements can include glandulars, essential oils, homeopathics, organic personal care products and natural hormone products. Essential oils, homeopathics, glandulars and natural hormone products are all targeted remedies used for specific situations. Specific vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and enzymes can also be used as "targeted remedies" when used in the proper ways for specific purposes. Echinacea and vitamin C are a widely recognized "target remedies" for colds, and vitamin E can be considered a "target remedy" when taken as a remedy to prevent heart disease.
While target remedies of
good quality can be extremely
effective when well selected and used appropriately, they will do
little or nothing to rebuild or even help maintain optimal levels of
health throughout the body. Added
to this sometimes confusing array are the daily onslaughts of newly
discovered nutrients, the latest being glyconutrients,
that we are
told we cannot be without.
But beyond the hype and allure of the "quick fix/magic bullet" promised by "targeted remedies" and the latest elixir, we have found unequivocally that improved food choices along with a well thought-out, high quality, foundational and personally appropriate supplement program can in fact help immeasurably in any effort to rebuild and maintain better overall health throughout life. The research on this is so voluminous that the question is not whether to take supplements, but rather, which supplements should be taken, how much should be taken and when.
Without question the single most important factor when selecting supplements is, as it is with food, QUALITY. We found this out the hard way.
This is why we have come to rely on specific products from a select number of relatively small, independently owned and managed companies we find to be reliable, consistant and dedicated to deliver products vastly superior to most, and often any of what is found in the marketplace today. While these products and companies do apply the stricter pharmaceutical Good Manufacturing Practices to their products, we do not endorse products simply on the industry-generated "GMP Seal of approval".
A good supplement program takes into account a variety of factors, including current level of health, lifestyle factors, dietary habits, specific health complaints, current medications, overall health goals, and finally age, weight and sex. It also tries to address not only the cause of disease (as opposed to just the symptoms) but also ways in which to build up all body systems. Anyone with enough time and persistence can develop a workable supplement program for themselves, but we have found the most efficient, most cost effective (over the long term) and the most effective program is one that begins with a good "foundation" as pictured in our Dynamic Nutrition Pyramid.
This foundation begins with a gradual move towards improved food and lifestyle choices and adds in a personally appropriate high potency, high quality mulitvitamin/mineral formula. A high quality, high potency personally appropriate multivitamin/mineral plan mimics as closely as possible those nutrients which we should (under ideal conditions) be getting in our foods. Thus it shores up what is - or long has been - lacking in the first rung of your personal foundation, and helps to decrease over time the need to resort to "rescue medicine" or supplements we call "targeted remedies." In fact, reduced reliance on "rescue medicine" and "targeted remedies" is one of the ways you can measure the overall success of your personal program. Another would be to use signs and signals of declining health and signs of insulin/blood sugar imbalance as additional guides.
Supplements have an extraordinarily impressive record of
safety, especially when compared to pharmaceuticals. Consider for
example that common, over-the-counter meds now account for over 10,000
deaths PER YEAR in the U.S. ALONE!
By way of contrast, check here for some information on The Safety of Supplements.
AND check here for efficacy of supplements, as presented by Andrew Saul, PhD to the government of Canada, House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, regarding natural health product safety (Ottawa, May 12, 2005).
This being said, there are reasons why a person might not get the benefit they should or could out of the supplements they are taking. And there ARE problems, including some potentially serious, associated with indiscriminate supplementation.
These disappointing results and/or problems can result from:
- Too little or too much of key ingredients, rendering the product sub-optimal and/or unbalanced
- Contamination, or "spiking" with foreign substances or "extenders", including dangerous or illegal ingredients and even drugs
- Mislabeling - including failure to disclose all ingredients
- Poor disintegration of product, which can result in product being eliminated from the body without breaking down
- The long-term overuse of particular nutrients, especially iron and synthetic forms of the fat soluble vitamins
- Use of non-bioavailable forms of nutrients - or use of the wrong nutrient
- In the case of herbs, use of the wrong parts of the plant, mis-identification of the plant, improper handling and processing
- The use of supplements (herbs and vitamins) in the wrong form, balance or amount
- The use of unneccessary or questionable supplements (herbs and vitamins)
- The use of supplements (herbs and vitamins) that may interact with or reduce the need for certain medications without the knowledge and cooperation of the attending physician
- Inferior quality supplements (herbs and vitamins)
Our favorites are currently out of print: Superfitness Beyond Vitamins: The Bible of Super Supplements by Michael Rosenbaum, M.D. and Dominic Bosco, and also The New Supernutrition by Richard Passwater, Ph.D. It would in our opinion be worth the effort to seek out copies of these two books.
As a good crosscheck: The Right Dose by Patricia Hausman, M.S. (somewhat dated but still useful, read the intro)
Also see the following:
The New Nutrition by Michael Colgan. M.D.
Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, compiled by the Burton Goldberg Group, appropriate sections
The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book by Shari Lieberman, Ph.D. and Nancy Bruning
Earl Mindell's New Vitamin Bible, revised edition by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D
A Beginner's Introduction to Vitamins by Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
Dr. Atkin's Vita-Nutrient Solution by Robert Atkins, M.D. (a bit complex and directed to the already ill, but still useful)