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Confused by Supplements? Read on to Hear a Nutritional Therapist's Perspective


Picture of some herbs, supplements, pills and some ground flax seeds

To Supplement or Not?

Ideally we would want to source all our nutrients through diet. But this can sometimes be challenging due to many factors, diet, health, genetics, quality of food, likes and dislikes, where we live, and access to certain foods.


As a Nutritional Therapist, I regularly encounter people who take supplements without fully understanding their content or potential impact. This is often driven by a vague understanding, popular fads, or the notion that if a supplement works for someone else, it must work for them too. Nowadays, influencers or celebrities often promote the latest “miracle” supplement, which can lead to a surge in its popularity often using emotive language. The supplement industry can also be influenced by trends and social media.


However, the effectiveness of these supplements is not a one-size-fits-all. What works for one person might not work for another, due to differences in diet, lifestyle, genetics and individual health needs. In some cases, the negatives may outweigh the potential benefits.


My Own Personal Approach

I try as much as possible to use a food first approach to source my nutrients but at the same time I know that there are certain deficiencies that even I need additional support with. But I do this using my nutritional therapy knowledge and have various test results that I use as a baseline to understand my needs based on my health and in the last year few years, my menopausal changes. Sometimes I am my own test case.

 

Common Nutrient Deficiencies & Challenges

Without proper understanding and guidance, there can be the risk of interactions and imbalances when taking multiple supplements. For instance, high doses of certain vitamins and minerals can be harmful, and combining supplements can sometimes negate their benefits or cause adverse effects.


There are often certain nutrients that most people might struggle with. I have detailed a few as an example, and also included how lifestyle and health status could also impact nutrient status.


  • Vitamin D: Due to limited sunlight exposure in the UK, vitamin D deficiency is prevalent and even more so for people with darker skin. But genetic variations can also influence vitamin D status. Supplementing with vitamin D can help maintain bone health, support the immune system and inflammation.

  • Iron: Women, particularly those of childbearing age, and / or those with heavy menstrual flow, often experience iron deficiency. Iron supplements can be beneficial, but it’s crucial to take them under professional guidance to avoid overdose.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These are essential for heart health, cognitive function and inflammation, yet many people don’t get enough from their diet. Fish oil supplements can be a good source, but the quality, purity of the product, as well as the specific type of omega-3 are important considerations.

  • Folate and Folic Acid: Folate is a natural B-vitamin found in leafy greens and other foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form used in supplements and fortified foods. Folic acid supplements have been known to be beneficial, especially during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects. However, some individuals who have genetic variations could end up burning through the a key enzyme (DHFR) and as a result affect folate metabolism. For these individuals, unmetabolised folic acid can build up in the body and potentially cause health issues, such as increased cancer risk or impaired immune function. Therefore, it's important to consider genetic, symptoms as well other diet and lifestyle factors when choosing folate supplements.

  • Vegan Diet: A vegan diet can provide many health benefits, but it also comes with the risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Common deficiencies among vegans include vitamin B12, iron, calcium, iodine, zinc, and potentially omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin B12 in particular is found almost exclusively in animal products, so supplementation is often necessary. Iron from plant sources is less easily absorbed by the body compared to iron from animal sources. Complete protein sources can also be challenging. Therefore, to ensure adequate intake of these nutrients careful dietary planning and appropriate supplementation is crucial for maintaining overall health on a vegan diet.

  • Impaired Digestion: For individuals with digestive issues, or those taking proton pump inhibitors, (PPIs), for acid reflux, digestion could be compromised and so certain nutrient deficiencies can become common, for example vitamin B12 or iron.  


Understanding the individual, their story, their background, diet, lifestyle, and genetics is crucial to determine if there are any supplemental needs that cannot be addressed by diet alone.


Balancing the Positives and Negatives

When considering supplements, it’s essential to balance the potential benefits with the risks -


Positives:

  • Correcting deficiencies: Supplements can address specific nutrient deficiencies.

  • Convenience: They offer a convenient way to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

  • Targeted health benefits: Certain supplements like omega-3s or short term therapeutic doses of specific supplements can be used to support certain symptoms or health conditions.


Negatives:

  • Over-reliance: Relying on supplements instead of a balanced diet can lead to nutritional imbalances.

  • Quality and regulation: The supplement market is so vast and there can be quality issues along with the different set of regulations compared to pharmaceuticals.

  • Additives: Following on from the quality, there can be several additives or excipients included, so make sure to read the labels.

  • Health risks: High doses and interactions with medications can pose health risks.

  • Cost: Supplements can be expensive and sometimes unnecessary.

  • Misleading marketing: Exagg erated health claims or limited population studies can mislead consumers.


Educating and Personalising Supplement Use

When it comes to supplement use, a well-rounded approach is essential. Firstly, regulatory awareness is crucial. Choosing reputable brands that follow good manufacturing practices and offer third-party testing for quality assurance can ensure that the supplements you take are both safe and effective.


An educational approach is also vital. Understanding the importance of whole food nutrients and maintaining a balanced diet is key. Supplements should complement, not replace, healthy eating habits. This ensures that you get a broad spectrum of nutrients from natural food sources, which are often more bioavailable and beneficial.


Personalisation is another critical factor. Everyone has their own unique health status, dietary habits, and specific needs. What works for one person might not work for another, making personalised advice crucial. By considering these individual differences, a tailored supplement plan can be developed to meet specific nutritional requirements effectively.


Lastly, adopting a holistic view of health is important. A comprehensive wellness plan should include not just supplements, but also a focus on diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management. This integrative approach ensures that all aspects of health are addressed, promoting overall well-being and optimising the benefits of any supplements taken.


The Benefits of Seeing a Nutritional Therapist

Supplements can be overwhelming and there can be a need but it is often worth seeking guidance. As a Nutritional Therapist, I can support you in understanding your unique needs and what your body might require. Whether you're currently taking supplements or considering them, I can review your regimen and help figure out how to better support your health and well-being.

 

So, if you’re unsure about which supplements to take or whether you need them at all, let’s work together. I offer personalised consultations to review your dietary habits, current supplements, and overall health goals. We may need to include some functional testing to get a clearer picture. I help you join the dots, and together, we can create a tailored plan that ensures you’re getting the right nutrients in the right amounts. Contact me today to schedule your consultation and take the first step toward a healthier, more balanced life.


Special Offer: I have a special Summer 2024 Reset Offer, limited to the month of June, where you can book in for only £79. Message me directly for this special offer.

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