Choosing the Right Supplements part 2: Do Supplements Work?

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Following from her article last month discussing her top 3 recommended supplements, Ola talks about factors such as gut health and their impact on the absorption of nutrients.  Including a recipe for a delicious smoothie to provide your gut with the nutrients it needs to heal.

The quality of the supplements and the health of your gut as well as interactions with other medications and nutrients can affect whether the supplements you are taking actually work.

Unfortunately, the natural health industry is in some respects just as bad as the pharmaceutical industry in its tendency to manipulate consumers.  Thanks to clever marketing (always legal but seldom ethical), supplements are hugely overused in our society and many of us are guilty of falling for the quick fixes they promise. Nutrients are advertised as natural and safe, but, as with pharmaceuticals, when not used correctly they can have negative effects.

Taking supplements alone is not going to prevent disease, and they are not a substitute for eating a balanced diet and looking after your body. Nutrition isn’t a quick fix: although some symptoms can be alleviated immediately, repairing the body happens over time.  

There are a few things to consider before taking any supplement

You don’t have to spend a fortune, but I would highly recommend buying supplements from a specialist health food store, many of which will have a trained nutrition expert to speak to; unfortunately, the salesperson at high street health shops such as Holland & Barrett can’t necessarily be relied on.  If you find health food stores too pricey, you can thank them kindly for their advice and are almost guaranteed to find a cheaper supplier online.

Quality Counts

The nutrients from poor quality supplements may not even make it to the site of absorption - mainly your intestines, or gut lining. Different nutrients are absorbed at various sections of the intestine, which is 1.5km long. This means the supplements have your stomach and parts of your gut, with all their attendant digestive acids and enzymes, to pass through first.  Good quality supplements have a special enteric coating protecting the nutrients ensuring that they get to where they are going.

Dosage

For general wellness, it will be sufficient and advisable to stick to the recommended dosage. If you are trying to address a specific condition then the therapeutic dose may differ, and it is best to get advice from your health practitioner. Personally, when I am taking supplements I like a probiotic that contains 10-20 billion live organisms, a fish oil containing at least 800 EPA per day and 2000IU of Vitamin D based on whether I have had sun exposure, which means as much as possible outside of the summer months.

Interactions with other nutrients/medications

Supplements provide nutrients in much higher dosages than are present in foods, and if you are taking any pharmaceutical medication it is wise to speak to your GP or health practitioner before taking them. In the same vein, taking single nutrients rather than multivitamins over the counter is a bad idea, as multivitamins contain specifically calibrated amounts of various nutrients some may be present at 150% of the recommended daily intake (RDI), with others only at 15%. This is because nutrients interact with each other, and if you take too much of one it can actually inhibit the absorption of the other. 

We are all unique and have different imbalances we need to address.  If you find it impossible to eat a balanced diet regularly I would recommend sticking to a multivitamin formulation unless you have a prescription for single nutrients from a GP or qualified health practitioner.

The health of your gut lining

Almost all types of illnesses have a link to your gut and the bacteria that call it home, so it is a great thing to focus on repairing it perhaps even before addressing what might be a more superficial issue that you’re hoping to solve with supplements.

The health of your gut determines whether nutrients you consume, be they through your diet or by taking supplements, are absorbed in the first place. If the lining of your gut is damaged, it is possible that it may not even absorb a good quality supplement at the right dosage effectively.

As mentioned in Part I of this article many symptoms are a way your body is trying to tell you that it needs help from you before illness develops.  

Some symptoms that poor gut health may cause are:

Poor immunity

Joint pain

Digestive complaints such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.

Headaches

Fatigue

Skin problems, such as rashes, acne and eczema

Depression and anxiety

In addition, strong links to illnesses such as IBS, IBD, Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis have been made and a recent study concluded that treating leaky gut in women with recurrent pregnancy losses may prevent further miscarriages. 

We’ve come to think of inflammation as a bad thing we need to prevent; when indeed it is just the process of your immune cells coming to the rescue.  The problem is when they are required to do so constantly, it can cause damage to healthy cells as well, which then leads to problems.

Improving the health of your gut

As previously mentioned, a ‘food and mood’ diary is an effective way to work out how the food you eat makes you feel.  A good way to give your gut a bit of a ‘refresh’ is to then remove any offending foods that may be causing any uncomfortable symptoms, for a couple of weeks.  At the same time, you can replace these with more nutrient dense alternatives trying to ensure you are providing your gut lining with the nutrients it needs to heal and supplement with a good quality probiotic. It is likely you will notice a difference in your digestive health, as well as your energy levels and mood.

Some of these offenders might be alcohol, fatty foods, dairy, gluten, eggs, caffeine, sugar, etc, but this will be different for everyone.  During that time you can up your intake of vegetables, gluten-free whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and healthy oils.

If you feel your symptoms have improved significantly during that time then you can try to reintroduce the foods you have been avoiding one at a time and see if they are better tolerated.  I would stick to one food for about 4-5 days before adding the next.

For many of us, this ‘refresh’ of our digestive system will be sufficient but if you feel your symptoms have not improved then it may need further investigation and it would be good to see a health practitioner for further advice.

Stress is also a major factor so take some time to chill out!  Almost everything (except a toddler), can pretty much wait.

Love, peace and nourishment

Ola

Recipe:  Chia Berry Breakfast Smoothie

This simple and easy to make breakfast smoothie is absolutely delicious, filling and contains all the nutrients your gut lining dreams of.  Chia seeds are high in fibre and protein and have the perfect balance of omega 6 and 3 ratios making them a great source of omega 3 for vegans and vegetarians.  Dark coloured berries contain antioxidants and phytonutrients to help in the repair process. Make it your own, apart from the chia seeds you can play around with the ingredients.

The recipe provides 3 servings.

Ingredients:

250ml unsweetened pomegranate juice

50g chia seeds

2 Tbs tahini

225g berries of your choice

6 chopped dates (or more if you have a sweet tooth)

A pinch of cinnamon

Method:

Soak chia seeds in pomegranate juice for 30 minutes (I leave mine overnight)

Add all ingredients to blender until smooth, and enjoy!
 

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Ola is passionate about making nutrition simple and accessible to everyone.  She is particularly interested in helping vulnerable population groups transform their relationship with food and simplify the information overload about nutrition.  She offers wellness support within her community and also provides online nutrition counselling. More about her and her current offerings can be found at www.nutritional-intelligence.com; on Facebook or Instagram