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Do You Need Supplements?

Many people view dietary supplements as either a waste of money, ineffective or completely unnecessary. In this article, I will show that this view is completely wrong and outdated. Supplements have a very valuable place in our modern-day lives. After reading this guide you should never ask yourself ‘are supplements necessary’.

In fact, I will never forget the day when my physiology professor said: “I believe that unless you are an elite athlete, supplements are completely unnecessary as you should be able to get everything you need from a “balanced diet”. At the time, I was a confirmed supplement taker (I still am) and I remember being shocked by this statement because whilst I respected the professor, I could see that his ‘belief’ was unfounded, unsubstantiated and being soaked up by the minds of the other students in that ‘sheep-like’ trance state that many achieve at the end of a hard lecture.

After hearing his unsubstantiated claim, I decided that I needed some sort of scientifically verifiable counter-argument so that I could prove to myself and to others that supplements ARE needed and are effective.

Now there are many different types of supplements but I’m going to break them down into two main categories for the sake of simplicity:

Category A

This means any concentrated and/or refined versions of things found in the human body naturally or used by the body to function properly. What we might term ‘essential’ supplements because the body cannot manufacture them itself and must have an outside source.

These include all vitamins, minerals, amino acids, pro-biotics, Co-enzyme Q10, l-carnitine, etc. There is NO argument that these things are EFFECTIVE. If they were not effective then the human body would not already use them and need them. As to whether they are ‘needed’ as a supplement, (as opposed to simply obtaining them from our diet), let me offer the following argument(s):

  1. Although the ‘perfectly balanced diet’ does exist, I don’t know a SINGLE person in the real world who has the time, knowledge, patience and money to be able to practice it. Therefore, the use of supplements allows us to live ‘in the real world’ and still get everything we need in terms of vitamins and minerals.
  2. Scientific studies PROVE that the average western diet is deficient in omega 3 essential fatty acids (amongst other things like magnesium, etc). The word ‘essential’ means that the body cannot manufacture them so must take them from an outside source. Your brain is roughly 90% omega 3, so clearly its a very important nutrient. A good source of omega-3 is oily fish. Would you rather:
  • Purchase (at considerable expense) multiple portions of oily fish and store them, cook and eat them. Bear in mind that the sea (where oily fish comes from generally) is possibly the most polluted environment on the planet.
  • Purchase high-strength omega 3 capsules (a years’ supply probably costs less than a kilo of quality oily fish) which you can easily store in a cupboard and take daily.
  • Personally, I don’t care which choice you make, but logically, the correct choice is B – the supplement.

    And so it is with many supplements Vs whole foods. Would you choose vitamin C pills over a crate of Seville oranges (with their teeth-rotting acid and sugar and financial cost)? How about calcium supplementation for a lactose-intolerant person (or someone who – like me – chooses to eliminate dairy from their diet for health reasons). Fancy consuming plates and plates of dark green leafy veg? No? This is when supplements become necessary.

    OBVIOUSLYwe should all try to get the bulk of our vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients from a diet of fresh, varied, unprocessed foods, BUT in the real world, I myself am 100% convinced that supplementation is the practical solution to those of us who have to work, raise children, enjoy our lives, etc.

    Aside from the considerations listed above, let’s not forget that the planet only has finite resources. If we all ate huge amounts of oily fish and oranges (for example) there would not be enough for the rest of the population to enjoy.

    So there is really no effective counter-argument to the idea that we should all consider supplementation with category A type supplements. Since many people will be deficient in one or more essential nutrients and since it would be either impractical, unsustainable or too expensive to get them from foodstuffs, then the only logical solution is to utilise supplements.

    Category B

    These are supplements that one can obtain from natural food sources but that does not generally exist within the human body unless we eat foods containing them. But which have proven beneficial effects on health.

    A good example of this might be resveratrol – that powerful anti-oxidant that is found in the skin of red grapes. Or anthocyanins, which give blueberries their rich colour and healthful effects.

    Personally, I don’t supplement with either of these things, but that’s because I eat blueberries on a regular basis. As to whether one ‘needs’ these things, I think the answer is ‘not really’. Whether mega-dosing of things like resveratrol or anti-oxidants from blueberries or Acai berries or whatever, can lead to greater health, well, there is no scientific proof – yet. However just because something has yet to be proven, does not mean that eventually, it won’t be.

    So if you choose to add these sorts of supplements to your dietary intake, then who am I to stop you? It’s highly unlikely that you will damage yourself and if it brings you a degree of peace of mind or even a ‘placebo effect’ then, in my opinion, you are justified in spending your money.

    Ultimately whether you take category B-type supplements is up to you. There are convincing arguments both for and against. Personally, I feel that if you perceive benefit from taking them then why not take them? Just because a man in a white coat says you should (or should not) take this type of supplement doesn’t mean a thing – as long as the supplement is non-toxic of course.

    Category C

    Highly concentrated/standardised extracts of certain plants or plant-based material that would only be possible because of modern refining processes etc and modern research into their effects.
    This is the most controversial class of supplements because often they have the least science and research behind them and often people, trying to sell these types of supplements make overblown, unsubstantiated claims about their efficacy. Be that as it may, let’s not forget that the humble aspirin (a drug) comes from the bark of a tree. Many powerful medications were first extracted from plants before being synthesised in a lab.

    So, just because something comes from a plant-based source, don’t for a minute think that it must be ‘useless’. It could be highly effective – or it could be toxic. However, the FDA and the MHRA are effective watchdogs when it comes to preventing toxic and/or harmful substance from being mis-sold as ‘beneficial to health’. Yes they can sometimes be a bit overprotective, but ‘better safe than sorry’ in my opinion.

    The main problem with this sort of category of supplement is that because it is available in nature, it cannot be patented, so there is no real financial reason for pharmaceutical companies to invest the huge sums of money it takes to fully research and test a particular substance/supplement, since there is no patent protection.

    What this means is that many potentially effective supplements, like Garcinia Cambogia (for example) will never get fully researched and therefore be ‘proven’ (by men in white coats) to work.

    The people who use it might find it to be incredibly effective, but the scientists will probably scoff at anything that has not been scientifically tested. And since they won’t pay for it to be tested, it will never get that ‘scientific approval’. It’s a catch 22 situation that often leaves you, the interested party, totally confused as to the legitimacy of a particular supplement.

    Overview

    In summary: Whilst some supplements are very necessary for weight loss, others are arguably completely ‘unnecessary’ (from a strictly physiological perspective) yet still effective – for example, Garcinia Cambogia. Some supplements are complete rubbish (ie.they don’t perform as claimed), and some may even be toxic (in large doses).

    As a consumer, it behoves you to know and understand what it is that you are putting into your body and to what effect. However here at Healthy Diet Advisor, we recognise just what a minefield it can be, sorting through what you ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ take, for each particular goal you have, whether it be health or performance-related. This is why we take so much time and effort to try and ‘decode’ the plethora of overwhelming information out there and turn it into a sensible synopsis for you.

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