Supplements… Why?

January 3, 2019
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When I meet with patients to discuss hormone optimization and wellness, I often recommend supplementation of specific nutrients after review of their lab results and symptoms.  Some may wonder “Why do I need to take supplements?” or “Why can’t I get all my necessary nutrients from food?”.  These are valid questions!  Multiple factors can contribute to this need for supplementation, as discussed below.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest factors is poor food quality.  As our soil becomes depleted from over-farming, erosion or lack of soil fortification, or farmers use higher-yield crops, our food quality suffers.  A comprehensive study on the topic by researchers at the University of Texas was published in 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition1. This study reported that over the last 50-70 years, nutrient content in 43 different vegetables and fruits in the US declined by 5-40%. A similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980 found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19%; Iron 22%; and potassium 14%2.  These studies are somewhat dated, but many researchers agree that the data is still applicable today.  A second factor contributing to the need for supplementation is poor food choices.  Most of us implicitly know how to eat healthfully, but it is easy to get derailed from following through with our best intentions.  Stress, financial issues, fatigue, overscheduling resulting in less time to shop/cook are a few factors that contribute to this, and numerous other reasons play a role.  Certain health conditions can also contribute to the need for supplementation.  For example, pernicious anemia is a condition in which the digestive tract is not able to absorb Vitamin B12.  Genetic factors, such as MTHFR gene mutations that reduce the ability of the body to activate folic acid to a usable form by the human body, are another example.  Alcohol excess and certain medications also can reduce the body’s nutrient levels.  Chronic use of alcohol often causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, reducing the intake of nutrients.  Common medications such as diuretics, beta-blockers, cholesterol-reducing drugs, acid blockers, blood sugar reducers, and antibiotics can deplete the body of certain nutrients with long-term use.  Given that approximately 23% of the US population is taking more than 3 prescription medications (CDC data, 2011-2014), it is very important to consider the nutritional implications of pharmaceutical agents.  Stress, environmental toxicity, smoking, and other miscellaneous factors certainly increase nutrient needs as well.

As you can see, there are many diverse reasons that supplementation is often warranted.  When choosing supplements, it is very important to choose a quality product that contains the appropriate types and levels of nutrients.  We will dive into this more in future blog posts and also will discuss the role of individual nutrients in maintaining optimal health and wellness.  Stay tuned!

References:

1R Davis, Donald & D Epp, Melvin & D Riordan, Hugh. (2004). Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 23. 669-82.

2Mayer, Anne-Marie. (1997). Historical changes in the mineral content of fruits and vegetables. British Food Journal. 99. 207-211.