What you need to know:
- If I were to consider the importance of supplementation to achieving a better health and physique, I would rank it last compared to other nutritional aspects.
- Some supplements may still have their place in our modern society/lifestyle and have a positive impact on our health.
- All supplements are not created equal. You need to be able to distinguish between companies incentivised purely by profit and those companies that go the extra mile. These provide you with the best ingredients and compounds in their supplements (spoiler… these aren’t cheap!).
Supplements alone will not get you to your desired results. In other words there is no need to overcomplicate things with fat burners, health supplements and other “magic pills” if you aren’t sticking to the basics.
As a reminder, you may need to tackle other aspects of your nutrition and lifestyle before going into supplements. It’s all context dependent!
Therefore think about prioritising and setting up the right strategies to achieve your goals. Strategies that will provide you with the most bang for your buck: Calorie intake, Macronutrient ratios, food quality, stress management and sleep being a few examples.
Now that we have set the context, let’s dive into it!
Does it mean that supplements are not important?
Far from it! Whilst the popular saying, “Our food is meant to contain all the nutrients your body needs to function optimally”, was probably true about a hundred years ago, it is unlikely to be true nowadays. This is due to:
- The development of intensive agriculture. Our soil is often low in nutrients due to a lack of crop rotation.
- Our bodies ability to deal with toxins. The contraceptive pill, antibiotics, pesticides, and some drugs like Ibuprofen all have an impact on our digestion.
- High fructose corn syrup and trans fat, found in processed foods, which also decrease nutrient absorption.
- Higher stress levels. When your body is in a chronic fight or flight mode, the last thing it will do is digest and absorb food effectively.
- Our food contains less nutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients).
- The feeling of hunger can be increased and could lead to overeating (because our bodies is not being nourished adequately).
- Your body can become very inflamed, increasing the risk for long term health problems.
In this case, supplementing your diet can be the best option to ensure your body is being nourished properly.
Here are my top picks when it comes to supplements:
1) Fish oil
- Fish oil has a strong effect on reducing blood triglycerides.
- It can support mental wellbeing and has a notable effect on depression.
- Rich in omega 3, it can have a positive impact on your metabolic rate.
- It can increase markers of anabolism (you can build muscle more easily).
- It decreases inflammation.
Eating fish every day will not have the same benefits as fish oil as fish meat contains many more toxins than a good quality fish oil.
Flax seed oil as well is rich in plant-based omega 3, however it does not significantly reduce markers of inflammation in comparison to fish oil.
- Are you not eating enough fruits and vegetables?
- Is your food intake not varied enough?
- Are your stress levels generally high?
If you have answered yes to one or more of these questions, chances are you aren’t getting and absorbing adequate levels of vitamins and minerals.
Now it may be better for you to get a blood test done if you suspect any deficiency or suboptimal levels before supplementing. However, ideal scenarios don’t always happen and as the study called “Vitamins for Chronic Disease Prevention in Adults” published in 2002 suggests it: Taking a multivitamin is an inexpensive way to prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis by providing adequate amounts of folate, vitamins B12, B6 and vitamin D.
In addition, vitamins and minerals are also involved in fat and carbohydrate metabolism. A great way to help you increase your energy levels and lose body fat more effectively.
Consumer Help: Look for minerals chelated with an amino acid such as taurate, glycinate, orotate, arginate, lysinate, citrates and avoid minerals salt such as oxide, carbonate and sulphate for better absorption.
3) Vitamin D3:
Some foods such as oily fishes (salmon, mackerel, sardines) naturally contain Vitamin D. However, they will only provide 10% of your body’s daily Vitamin D requirement if you follow general dietary guidelines.
The 90% remaining has to be produced from cholesterol, provided there is an adequate amount of UV light from sun exposure. In other words, this chemical reaction will occur depending on:
- The UV index (which must be higher than 3 and is generally not all year long in most countries in the world).
- Your age (you become less and less able to produce Vitamin D from sun exposure as you get older).
- Your skin color (the darker your skin tone, the harder it will be to absorb Vitamin D from the sunlight).
- The Use of sun screen (unless it is under SPF15).
- Being exposed to the sun through a window and of course wearing clothes will decrease your Vitamin D production.
This explains why it has been reported that between 30 and 50 percent of the population do not meet the sufficient level of Vitamin D3.
If you are not supplementing yet, you might be missing an opportunity to significantly increase your health. Therefore I urge you to do a blood test to find out more about your vitamin D need levels.
Consumer Help: Always choose Vitamin D3 as it is 2 to 3 times more bioavailable than Vitamin D2. A supplement containing Vitamin K2 will also help with its absorption.
Supplements: Be aware!
Obviously not all supplements are created equal and while some of them are cheaper than others, the question you should ask yourself is: Why?
The supplement industry is vast and while supplements are theoretically created to optimise health, manufacturers sometimes use bad quality compounds to reduce the price of their supplements. Couple this with great marketing campaigns and confusion can cripple up for the customers.
Unsure about it all?
Head over to consumerlab.com.
They have made it their goal to identify the best quality health and nutritional products through independent testing.
In conclusion, keep in mind that cheap supplements are already too expensive.
Unsure about the effect of supplements on the human body? I highly recommend having a look at examine.com.
A very useful website where you can find unbiased dissection of every supplement on the market (based only on studies done on humans).
Fletcher RH1, Fairfield KM. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: clinical applications. JAMA. 2002 Jun 19;287(23):3127-9.
John H. Lee ,James H. O’Keefe , et al. Vitamin D Deficiency : An Important, Common, and Easily Treatable Cardiovascular Risk Factor? Cardiovasc Res. 2009 Feb 1;81(2):319-27. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvn310. Epub 2008 Nov 17.
Duda MK, O’Shea KM et al. Fish oil, but not flaxseed oil, decreases inflammation and prevents pressure overload-induced cardiac dysfunction.
Houghton L. The case against ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) as a vitamin supplement. Am J Clin Nutr 2006 ;84(4) :694-697.