By Dietitian Jill Place
I don’t know how long I’ve wanted to write an article about “Why Supplements?”. Probably a long time … but I’ve been doing supplements for so friggin’ long that working with them is as habitual as flexing a muscle.
Y’see … I was often the only dietitian in the room … or maybe there were two … almost 30 years ago when I met Jeffrey Bland, one of the fathers of Functional (I now call it Root Cause) Medicine and realized the value of supplements to heal. We’re still friendly to this day …
And I was once … at a Certified Clinical Nutritionist conference … hailed by an eager young dietitian who said … “I know you … YOU’RE FAMOUS!” My reply ” … only in certain circles”.
I’ve also been hailed as a visionary and a trailblazer once upon a time too. I guess that was true.
But me … I was just compelled to follow a deep path and passion … I had no real proof but always felt down to my gut (pun intended) that supplements could make you well. Better than well …
So here are some of the reasons we need supplements today …
Depletion of Soil Nutrients
Modern agricultural practices use water, fuel and topsoil at rates that will make us run out of them all too soon. Not to mention the assault to our environment by pesticides, chemicals, and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) among others.
Because of these things, we’re removing vital nutrients from the soil at an alarming rate. And that’s one of the largest threats to the long-term environmental sustainability of our planet. As well as the sustainability of ourselves.
For example, between 1963 and 2000, cauliflower had lost almost one-half of its vitamin C, thiamine and riboflavin, and most of the calcium in commercial pineapples had disappeared. The story was the same for all 25 fruits and vegetables analyzed in one study.
In another study, it was found that you must eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A your grandparents got from a single orange. All of this is because the mineral-depleted soil can’t help plants make the nutrients … vitamins and minerals … that they’re able to.
We also have to admit that …
We’re Eating Crappy Food
My sis and 1 grew up on real food. Mom went to the Kosher butcher at least 3 times a week. Veggies came from the farm stand (my area was just transitioning from family farms to suburban tracts) and the milkman delivered full-fat dairy to our stoop every morning (frozen milk would poke through the paper cap on wintry days).
I even remember picking juicy strawberries on a lovely old couple’s estate down the block from where we lived … all we could carry. Food was real then.
Now … the line at the local burger stand on my way back from work tonight was at least 6 blocks long. Americans eat 60 pounds of added sugar annually, and kids eat even more …. over 65 pounds. Not to mention all the processed stuff (food with added chemicals to increase … among other things … color, flavor, and shelf life).
I remember when TV dinners were an oddity. Now processed food is a diet staple for most of us.
People don’t have the time or inclination to cook. And why should they when pizza is just an app away?
These days, people look for low price and quantity rather than quality. We’re also addicted to the seductive fat and sugar in processed food … check out the movie, Super Size Me, if you don’t believe me.
So much that good, nutritious food tastes bland and boring to the average American. The truth is … most of the food we eat is crap and it causes inflammation which lowers nutrient absorption.
And there ain’t much in there anyway. So you’re not getting what you need … finally … to make your body … and your mind … work well.
It’s Not What You Take … It’s What You Absorb
It always cracks me up when people think that they’re getting exactly the same amount of nutrients listed on a supplement label. In reality, even a healthy body absorbs only a fraction of them.
Absorption … also … gets worse if you have a chronic illness, a leaky gut, or as you age. If you’re taking medications, they deplete essential nutrients even further.
For example, calcium carbonate … the most prescribed calcium supplement. Research has shown that it absorbs at around 30% but many other factors … such as those above … reduce absorption. Also, most forms of calcium are inorganic and rock-derived … and the body isn’t designed to absorb rock!
On the other hand, plant-based calcium and a bone-derived calcium are much better, have other nutrients that support bone growth, and can actually lay down bone. I’ve been taking Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite (MCHC or MCHA) for years and have no osteoporosis in my 70’s.
The Need for Increased Nutrients
Aging and taking medicine aren’t the only reason why you need more of certain nutrients. Stress plays a huge part in creating deficiencies. And most of us are stressed 24-7 these days.
During stress, your digestion slows down as your energy is diverted to places … like your legs … to prepare your body for fight-and-flight. So you won’t be able to digest your food properly.
Stress also quickly depletes whatever nutrient reserves you have, and most of us … because of eating crappy food and experiencing constant chaos … have little if any to spare. Not to mention those midnight sugar binges in a desperate effort to raise your blood sugar and feel better.
The body uses a lot of vitamin C (used to create stress hormones), magnesium, zinc, and the B vitamins (dubbed “the stress vitamins”) to boost energy, heart rate, and other vital functions. Not only that, stress causes a need for certain nonessential amino acids (the end product of protein digestion); the body usually makes enough but … in these stressful times … we need all we can get.
There’s Tons of Supplement Research … But it’s Pooh-Poohed
When I started learning about supplements over 25 years ago, I saw firsthand that most doctors were very resistant to the idea of supplements. And this was not only because they only knew one thing … medicine … that could only be dispensed by them.
It’s also because they support Big Pharma … and Big Pharma supports them. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
But … when I first started going to Jeffrey Bland lectures … I began to realize that there was another way to look at research. He took studies from traditional medical journals like The Lancet and JAMA and reinterpreted them in Functional Medicine terms.
I began to see a new way to look at health. One that made total sense to me. With TOTAL research to back it up.
But every Functional Medicine, supplement, or herbal study I read ends with “more research needs to be done” … even though some list 50-plus references. Content was taken down from my Facebook Good Gut Group because I dared to mention the word “supplement”.
The Bottom Supplement Line …
The bottom line is that there’s tons of research out there … if only it’s interpreted in a Functional Medicine way. Also, doctors know nothing about nutrition and are downright scared of supplements for many reasons … but I won’t name them here for fear of even further censure.
But … for example … doctors have been recommending multivitamins since the 1970’s. But … in the last five years … studies have come out pooh-poohing their use.
My colleagues and I got big laughs from these studies. As they researched the one-a-day kind that has poorly-absorbed types vitamins and minerals. As doctors don’t know the difference … they’re still prescribing inorganic iron and calcium that really don’t work!
I’m going to leave you with two final thoughts. Number one … a quarter to a half of patients don’t tell their doctors that they’re taking supplements for fear that they WILL pooh-pooh their use … a BIG disconnect.
And number two … doctors are always saying … GET ALL YOUR VITAMINS AND MINERALS FROM FOOD! But with the current state of eating in this country (as I described above) … who does that? Another … even bigger … disconnect!
So where does that leave us? With another article coming next week … How Supplements?