Nutritional Supplements: Why Do We Need Them?

By November 10, 2011 November 27th, 2015 Multivitamins, Supplements

It’s a confusing time for many people when it comes to nutritional supplements, especially with recent news stories questioning their value. Nonetheless, over 53% of Americans currently take them─an increase of 11% in the last 20 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most widely used supplements are multi-vitamin/mineral formulas, consumed by 39% of U.S. adults.

Some experts feel we should be able to obtain all the vitamins and minerals we need through food alone, which is a commendable theory, but is it working? Sadly, most Americans fall woefully short on key nutrients. If you consume a generous daily quantity of fresh, whole fruits, vegetables, fish and other lean protein, healthy fats, nuts, and whole grains, you’re obviously ahead of the game. The problem is, most people don’t.

Now, factor in the reduced nutrient content of our soil, and the way that food processing, canning, freezing, storing and cooking further deplete vitamins and minerals. Then, consider the stresses of modern life, as well as pollution, pesticides, medications, caffeine, and alcohol─all of which increase our need for crucial nutrients. Clearly, even the most diligent among us may fail to obtain protective daily levels of essential nutrients through diet alone─a fact now clearly validated by the medical community.

The American Medical Association made a major case for supplements in 2002 with a study emphasizing that suboptimal vitamin intake─above levels causing classic vitamin deficiency─is a risk factor for chronic diseases and is common in the general population. At minimum, too little vitamin D promotes osteoporosis, poor intake of folic acid, vitamins B-6 and B-12 can invite cardiovascular disease, neural tube defects, and colon and breast cancer, and insufficient levels of vitamins A, E, and C may increase the risk of numerous chronic diseases.

The study featured in JAMA─the Journal of the American Medical Association─concluded that: “Most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone. Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.”1

So, which nutritional supplements are most important─and why?

Multi-vitamins/minerals

While chronic nutrient deficiencies are common in our culture and have serious health consequences, insufficient daily nutrient intake is also a viable concern, as the JAMA study noted. One example is falling short on B vitamins, which are depleted by stress and alcohol. This can lead to elevated blood levels of homocysteine─a risk factor for coronary heart disease and diabetes. It’s a smart move to reinforce your daily menu with a comprehensive multi-vitamin/mineral formula. Why not maintain protective levels of all essential nutrients, however you can?

Antioxidants

If we don’t consume large amounts of fresh produce on a daily basis, we fail to obtain enough antioxidants for vital cellular protection─often to our peril. Why? Because antioxidants run a frontline defense in your body against the unavoidable free radicals that adversely affect your health. By neutralizing their harmful effects, daily antioxidants through foods and supplements can slash your risk of many serious health issues, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune system decline, brain dysfunction, and cataracts.2 Target Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and the “universal antioxidant”─alpha lipoic acid.

Fish Oil

Fish oil contains two valuable essential fatty acids (EFAs) commonly referred to as EPA and DHA which our bodies can’t make, rather they must be supplied by diet and/or fish oil capsules. If you eat at least 3.5 ounces of wild salmon, sardines, or mackerel daily, you’ll net about a gram of these vital EFAs. Unfortunately, few Americans do so. Not only is fish oil important for heart and brain health─including Alzheimer’s prevention─it can also cut your risk of fatal coronary heart disease by 36%.3 In fact, as little as 200 mg. of DHA per day was shown to reduce sudden death from heart attack by 50%.4 Fish oil supplementation is highly recommended for everyone. Aim for 1 to 3 grams daily.

While we’re all free to choose our lifestyle, optimal health is an ideal goal and nutritional supplementation can help. Strive for wellness now, reap the benefits of healthy longevity down the line. Scaling the Eiffel Tower at age 100? Bring it on!

References
1 JAMA. 2002 Jun 19;287(23):3127-9
2 http://www.pnas.org/content/90/17/7915.full.pdf
3 Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jun;87(6):1991S-6S
4 Pharmacol Res. 1999 Sep;40(3):211-25

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