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What role do supplements play in achieving optimum health?

Supplements … should you take them?

There are a countless sources of information and/or advertising telling us that in order to achieve and maintain optimum health we need to consider adding a supplement or more to our daily routine.

I have no doubt many of you have read this information and some of you have made the decision to take a supplement.

Can I ask, do you know whether the supplement you have chosen will help you achieve and/or sustain optimum health and wellbeing?  If you have answered yes, how do you know this, do you have clarity over the specific measures you can use to  confirm this?

If you answered no, do you know if you should continue to use the supplement?

A guideline for supplementation

I invite you to read on to understand my perspective on these questions and the use of supplements.

Firstly, I offer the following guidelines for you to use when considering supplementation.

  • Food should always be your first choice when seeking nutrition.
  • Seek advice from an appropriately qualified practitioner such as a nutritionist to confirm supplementation is required.
  • Use quality practitioner supplements so you can be comfortable that dosages are appropriate and the nutrient and/or nutrient combinations are correct.
  • Understand your overall health to have context as to why supplementation is being recommended.
  • Understand the role the supplement will play in promoting, improving or sustaining your health and wellbeing.
  • Seek clarity of the measures that will be used to confirm the supplements you use are effective over time in promoting, improving or sustaining your health and wellbeing.
  • Have clarity as to what nutrient, in what combination, in what quantity and for what time period is necessary.

Although I practice on the basis that food is the first choice, I do believe there are instances when supplementation is required, particularly where symptom relief is required.

In practice, I will use supplements in a range of circumstances. To:

  • redress fatigue
  • promote hormone imbalance
  • improve concentration and memory
  • provide relief to digestive symptoms
  • improve sleep
  • redress musculosketal issues
  • provide nutritional support to symptoms resulting from a health challenge
  • to assist ladies to prepare for pregnancy
  • promote even mood
  • alleviate allergy and food intolerance symptoms
  • promote healthy ageing

However in making a decision for my clients that a supplement is required, I take into account the following factors.

Not all supplements are equal

Substances in supplements come in various chemical forms. Some chemical forms are much more bioavailable to the body than others.

Therapeutic value can require specific dosages or combinations of nutrients. Nutrients need to be in the ‘right’ therapeutic quantities or be accompanied by other nutrients in the ‘right’ quantities to offer therapeutic value.

You need to receive the supplement in the right form i.e. in powder, capsule, tablet or liquid to maximise potential therapeutic effect.

Less can be often more. Research and practitioner experience is essential in understanding how much of a supplement is required. It does not follow that because 20mg of a nutrient in supplement form can have a therapeutic benefit that 100mg will have five times more therapeutic value. A one to one relationship rarely applies and there is generally a point when the therapeutic value falls away or plateaus.

More may be toxic or result in unwanted side effects. Dosage of large amounts of specific nutrients in supplement form or for extended periods of time can cause unwanted side effects or toxicity in the body.
Timing and sequence in supplement use is important. For example, it may necessary to improve gut function before recommending the use of particular supplements, not doing so may undermine therapeutic effect.

Be wary of self-prescribing and seek advice

So what about self-prescription? I would caution you to reconsider self-prescription. Much of the information available to the general public is given as sound bites, out of context or to promote the sale of a product. It is given without any understanding of your health, your health history, the symptoms for which you seek relief or the health objectives you would like to achieve. It is essential nutritional and lifestyle recommendations are specific to your needs, we are all different and we all have different needs.

My final message remains unchanged. Seek to eat a variety of fresh food daily, get outside in the sunshine, enjoy regular exercise, find activities in life you derive pleasure and enjoy a balance of time in your own company and with your family and friends. And of course, only take what you need for food, no more and no less.

Take care, stay safe.

ciao Jan