Do You Need Dietary Supplements?

I hate popping pills. Often I’ll convince myself that surely I get enough nutrients and antioxidants from kale and chocolate alone. Sadly, this is not always the case. My life in Hong Kong can be exhausting and depleting, and sometimes boosting my diet with a supplement simply does the trick. Not convinced? Try it for yourself and let me know how you feel. I love how Dr. Mark Hyman outlines the reasons why we need to include nutritional supplements in our diets from a “zoomed out perspective”. 

“Can I get all the nutrients I need from food?” a patient will occasionally ask. On the surface, this makes sense. After all, if you are eating a holistic, fresh, unprocessed foods diet, shouldn’t you be able to get an abundant supply of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients?

Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy. Even with a perfect diet, the combination of many things–depleted soils, the storage and transportation of our food, genetic alterations of traditional heirloom species, and the increased stress and subsequent nutritional demands resulting from a toxic environment–make it impossible for us to get the vitamins and minerals we need solely from the foods we eat. Simply put, the evidence shows we cannot get away from the need for nutritional supplements.

Simply put, the evidence shows we cannot get away from the need for nutritional supplements.

Doctors used to think you got all your vitamins and minerals from food. Any extra nutrients were excreted, or worse, became toxic. But the tide is shifting. Doctors now prescribe over one billion dollars in fish oil supplements. Most cardiologists recommend folate, fish oil, and coenzyme Q10. Gastroenterologists recommend probiotics. Obstetricians have always recommended prenatal vitamins.

Emerging scientific evidence shows the importance of nutrients as essential helpers in our biochemistry and metabolism. They are the oil that greases the wheels of our metabolism. And large-scale deficiencies of nutrients in our population–including omega-3 fats, vitamin D, folate, zinc, magnesium, and iron–have been well documented in extensive government-sponsored research.

4 Reasons We Are Nutrient-Depleted

There are myriad reasons most of us are nutrient malnourished; anything from eroding topsoil causing a depleted mineral supply to a toxic environment and the abundance of junk food could be to blame. If I had to narrow nutrient depletion down to four primary reasons, these would be my picks:

  • We evolved eating wild foods that contained dramatically higher levels of all vitamins, minerals, and essential fats.
  • Because of depleted soils, industrial farming, and hybridization techniques, the animals and vegetables we eat have fewer nutrients.
  • Processed, factory-made foods have no nutrients.
  • The total burden of environmental toxins, lack of sunlight, and chronic stress leads to higher nutrient needs.

These are among the reasons why everyone needs a good multivitamin, fish oil, and vitamin D at the very least. I also recommend probiotics because modern life, diet, and antibiotics, as well as other drugs, damage our gut ecosystem, which is so important in keeping us healthy and thin.

Nutrient Deficiencies and “Diabesity”

Paradoxical though it may seem, obesity and malnutrition often go hand in hand. Processed, high-sugar, high-calorie foods contain almost no nutrients, yet require even more vitamins and minerals to metabolize them. It’s a double whammy.

Obesity and diabetes both stem from malnutrition. Experts have described diabetes as starvation in the midst of plenty. The sugar can’t get into the cells. Your metabolism is sluggish, and the cells don’t communicate as a finely tuned team.

Nutrients are an essential part of getting back into balance and correcting the core problem, which is insulin resistance.

There are two ways in which supplements work:

  • They make your cells more sensitive to insulin and more effective at metabolizing sugar and fats.
  • Special fibers (that I will discuss in a minute) can slow the absorption of sugars and fats into the bloodstream.

This leads to a faster metabolism, more balanced blood sugar levels, improved cholesterol, less inflammation, fewer cravings, weight loss, and more energy.

If you have diabesity–and keep in mind most people do to some degree–I recommend additional nutrients to reset and correct metabolic imbalances, improve insulin function, balance blood sugar, and reduce inflammation. First, let’s delve a little further into this perplexing topic.

Why are Nutrient Studies so Confusing?

I’m sure you are confused by conflicting studies about supplements. One day folic acid is good, the next it is found to cause cancer. One day vitamin D is a lifesaver, the next it is found to be not at all helpful.

This media whiplash is enough to make you give up altogether. The problem with these studies is that they treat nutrients as drugs, where researchers give one nutrient alone and see what happens.

But nutrients work as a team. Broccoli is great for you and can help prevent and cure many diseases, but if all you ate was broccoli, you would get sick and die.  You need to eat a well rounded diet to stay healthy.  Similarly, nutrients work synergistically to maintain the proper balance in your body.

Potential Problems with Choosing Supplements

You know what you are getting when your pharmacist fills your prescription. The government makes sure of it. Over-the-counter supplements are not controlled in this same way. Manufacturers often cut corners and this can become problematic for the average consumer.

The issues you might experience with over-the-counter supplements that you buy at your local drugstore or warehouse store include:

  • The form of the nutrient may be cheap and poorly absorbed or used by the body.
  • The dosage on the label may not match the dose in the pill.
  • It may be filled with additives, colors, fillers, and allergens.
  • The raw materials (especially herbs) may not be tested for toxins, such as mercury or lead, or may not be consistent from batch to batch.
  • The factory in which it is produced may not follow good manufacturing standards, leading to inconsistent quality.

I use supplements in my practice as a cornerstone of healing and repair, so I have investigated supplement makers, toured factories, and studied independent analyses of their finished products. I have learned there are a few companies I can rely on, many of which you can find in my online store.

Whether you follow my product recommendations or not, be sure to pick quality supplements and ones that contain nutrients and compounds that research has shown to be helpful in the treatment of diabesity and insulin resistance.

Think of them as part of your diet. You want the best-quality food and the best-quality supplements you are able to afford. Guidance from a trained dietitian, nutritionist, or nutritionally oriented physician or health care practitioner can be helpful in selecting the products that are right for you.

If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read my book – The Blood Sugar Solution, which provides a comprehensive nutrient plan that discusses the benefits of each supplement. To get you started, I will discuss how the supplements I recommend benefit you and then tell you my basic plan. Read on…