SUPPLEMENTS – WHAT SHOULD I TAKE?
By, Dr. Jon Repole, DC, NC, HHP, CPT, CFMP
So the looming question in this blog post is simply – If I eat what I consider a healthy, balanced diet, is it necessary for me to take supplements?
The answer may not be so straight forward...
Within the scientific community there DOES exist a multitude of scientific studies AGAINST the use of supplements. Some of the arguments in this camp come from both old and new studies that correlate supplementation with deleterious health effects. For example, the Physicians’ Health Study II, showed correlations of Vitamin E supplementation with increased hemorrhagic stroke. While another study showed correlations of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) consumption with increased heart disease. I think, however, a more common-sense argument in this “AGAINST SUPPLEMENTATION CAMP” would simply be the fact that the longest lived populations (the so called “Blue Zones” where there are purported increased numbers of centenarians when compared to similar populations of equal size) did, in fact, not take any supplements.
On the other side of the “FOR SUPPLEMENTATION CAMP”, the reasons are many:
- The vast majority of people are not eating a healthy nutrient-dense diet.
- We are neither thinking nor acting like the longest lived peoples (whole foods plant-based diet, work=spiritual life, strong familial ties, zero processed foods, etc.)
- Due to mono-cropping and large scale agricultural practices (along with the subsequent disappearance of the small, “local”, organic farmer) we have a catastrophic issue with soil depletion. For example, when crops are repeatedly grown on the same plot of land, the soil loses nutrients faster than they can be replaced.
- Water depletion of minerals. Virtually all of our water is “processed” – through trusted, and highly effective filtering apparatuses. While it takes out the impurities and harmful elements it does so at the expense of taking the good stuff along with it – such as the minerals.
- Our current environment is bombarding our body’s “organs of elimination”, thus, requiring more nutrient reserves to keep up with the demand for detoxification and elimination.
- Scientific research studies showing positive correlations and protection for certain conditions and disease states.
- Development of B12 deficiencies (especially for those following a whole foods plant-based diet) due to intensive sanitation and “hygiene” practices in regards to harvesting.
For the reasons listed above, I recommend a common-sense approach to taking supplements which I will outline below.
To start with, we have to first address the “negative” studies on supplementation intake. Every one of the so called negative studies, uses SYNTHETIC supplementation as their “drug” of choice. For the purposes of this article, I am advocating the use of whole food supplements as opposed to the synthetic variety. For example, some calcium supplements are made from chalk, and almost all Vitamin D supplements are made from the wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of factory farmed sheep. In general, isolated synthetic vitamins or supplements are re-created in a lab through a reductionist model such that the “isolated” parts of the whole are concentrated (sound familiar – Rx medication?). In nature, nutrients are found as synergistic complexes. Whole food supplements, on the other hand, are made from concentrated whole foods. The whole includes a variety of enzymes, co-factors, antioxidants, trace minerals and the like – working in a holistic fashion. For example, there is no Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) tree on the planet – but we do find vitamin C in oranges. Thus, when choosing your supplements – purchase them from whole food sources and look to the ingredients to see and identify NAMES OF PLANTS.
With that said here is my general foundational supplementation practices (assuming one is eating a healthy, varied whole foods plant-based diet):
WHOLE FOOD MULTIVITAMIN
Dosage: At least 5+ times a week
ALGAE-BASED ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (OMEGA 3 & 6) THAT INCLUDES DHA AND EPA
Dosage: At least 3+ times a week. Dosing can should increase depending on your intake of omega 3 rich foods (flax, hemp, chia, algae and green leafy vegetables), as well as inflammatory or skin-related issues, increased pain, and decreased mental acuity or cognitive challenges.
Note: It is important to choose algae-based supplements to avoid the negative oxidizing effects of fish oil capsules. Also, rules of reasonableness and common sense dictate that getting your nutrients from primary sources (the algae) is better than getting them from secondary sources (the fish eating the algae). Lastly, I advocate direct EPA and DHA supplementation simply because the conversion rates (in the body) of short chain fatty acids (such as the fats found in hemp and flax) to the long chain varieties (DHA and EPA) are 5-10% for EPA and around 2-5% for DHA. This number drops significantly when you have health-related challenges, however.
PROBIOTICS OR SO CALLED "GOOD BUGS"
Dosage: At least 3+ times a week. Dosing can increase, depending on your appetite for and inclusion of healthy fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, plant-based yogurts, miso, etc.) as well as immune deficiencies problems, sugar cravings, yeast/candida symptoms (such as white coated tongue or urinary tract infections) and GI-related concerns.
Dosage: At least 3+ times a week. Dosing can increase during times of stress and energy withdrawals.
ANTIOXIDANT AND OTHER SUPER FOODS/NUTRIENTS
Types (Can rotate different "types" of supplements every 3-4 months): Antioxidant blends, Green Powder Blends, Super Food Blends, etc.
Dosing: 3+ times a week and can increase dosing especially if you are not eating a nutrient-dense diet.
Note: The best way to obtain these “super nutrients” is, of course, FROM THE DIET via green smoothies, fresh juices, salads, and sprouts.
Dosing: Take when you “cheat” with processed foods or OVEREAT (such as going out to eat, holidays, etc.).
Consider the use of one or more of the following (to be taken PRN or as needed) when you have an active immune challenge: Astragalus, Medicinal Mushrooms, Whole C Complex, Goldenseal, and Echinacea
Consider the use of Adaptogenic herbs (to be taken PRN or as needed) to help with healthy hormonal support such as: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Licorice (don’t take if you have high blood pressure), and Maca (this is a root vegetable)
I recommend patients follow a whole foods plant-based diet. However, there are times when people begin to say that they feel like they NEED more protein from animal-based sources. So if this sounds like YOU - before you succumb to these desires, consider that it is likely due to one or more of the following factors:
- Psychological rather than physiological
- Simple need for increased calories
- Cultural indoctrination
- Need for extra snacks throughout the day
- Need for concentrated plant-based sources of protein such as: extra servings of beans, nuts, seeds, use of tempeh, spirulina, homemade raw protein bars, etc.
- Better meal planning
I advocate getting your protein needs from FOOD, however, if you choose to use a protein powder make sure to purchase a whole foods plant-based formula and rotate the types of proteins (soy, hemp, chia, rice, etc.) you use as to prevent food sensitivities and “allergies”
Lastly, the use of iron, vitamin D3, B12, intensified hormonal support, specific detoxification support, etc. should be evaluated once or twice a year by your holistic health practitioner by running simple urine, blood and saliva panels to help with customization and to AVOID “guessing” and OVERDOSING! Most of the "supplements" in this category could fall into the "isolated" nutrient category as listed above - so it is best to have guidance.