The case for supplements

  • Tue, 10/13/2020 - 15:50
  • The case for supplements
  • by IMI health

Originally printed in AroundDB and adapted for online. 

If you are reading this it's likely that you are already proactive about wellness. Let's assume you eat your fruit and vegetables, watch your sugar and alcohol intake, stay well hydrated and get plenty of sleep. Why then, do you need to concern yourself with nutritional supplements?

Opening the discussion, Graeme Bradshaw draws attention to The First Hong Kong Total Diet Study Report No. 9, which revealed that, despite many of our best efforts, the Hong Kong diet leaves a lot to be desired. 

"The report shows that not only are we insufficient in vitamins, but only 3% of us consume the recommended WHO intake of calcium, just 20% get enough iron and only 35% enough magnesium," Graeme says. "We are also low on zinc, manganese and potassium, with only 30% of us displaying internationally accepted levels."[1]

A quick Google search will reveal the long-term effects of vitamin and mineral deficiency. Consider that insufficient calcium intake alone is associated with a long list of medical disorders, affecting our bone health, heart and influencing weight gain. 

But the question is, why is your diet not delivering enough nutrients? For the answer to that, you have to look beyond your own kitchen and consider the bigger picture. 

"Getting your nutrition from only conventionally grown food fails to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to operate disease free," says Graeme. "Modern farming methods deplete the soil of minerals without replacing them. All vegetables need minerals, and if the soil isn't replenished with a mineral-rich fertiliser, then the plants, as well as the farm animals that feed off them, become imbalanced."

Long-term food storage, processing and the addition of preservatives also degrades the nutrient content of food. One solution would be to only eat fresh, organic food, which contains 30% more minerals and 80% more antioxidants than conventionally grown food, but for many, this is not practical, or financially possible.

What's more, to obtain optimum levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium, you'd need to eat five servings of fresh, organic vegetables a day, along with whole grains, nuts and seeds. "That is quadrupling the amounts of vegetables and seeds eaten on average," says Graeme. "Who could really do that in their health quest? It's possible, but not likely."

The fact that most foods don't yield sufficient nutrients is compounded because, nowadays, to stay healthy, we need more nutrients than ever before. The modern food supply is contaminated with pesticides, herbicides and chemicals, and we also have to contend with environmental pollutants in the water and air, such as carbon monoxide, lead and mercury. This constant attack on our metabolism and immune system increases our demand for vitamins and minerals. 

While there's no single 'cure-all' supplement, Graeme recommends - and takes- four core supplements daily. The first is a multivitamin. The second is omega 3, which boosts the cardiovascular system and is an essential for concentration, balanced moods and supple skin. The third is a probiotic to boost the immune and digestive systems. 

The fourth supplement Graeme swears by is curcumin (turmeric extract). "This universally beneficial antioxidant protects the heart, brain, joints and all the key organs that we want to be functioning well as we age," he says.

Growing children need a daily multivitamin to support healthy brain and bone formation, and they also benefit from a daily dose of omega 3, and a probiotic. "With children, the goal is to target any imbalances while working on improving their knowledge about good nutrition," Graeme says. 

"Be aware that not a lot happens immediately on a supplement programme; a few symptoms drop away and you feel better more often- and that's about it," he adds. "It's more about what doesn't happen- disease."

Do a little online research and you can get a rough idea of which supplements you need. Smokers will reach for the vitamin C. Women who menstruate heavily will turn to iron. However, Graeme warns against taking a DIY approach. 

"You are best to have regular blood checks that monitor your nutrient levels so you know exactly which supplements to take," he says. "Also, blood tests may reveal excess levels, which can be harmful. For instance, overloading on iron can lead to liver and heart problems."

Graeme advises that you consult a qualified naturopath- not a dietician. "Dieticians are good at constructing certain diets, but their training tells them you can get all the nutrients you need from an average diet," he says. "The fact is this is not true, as the 2014 Hong Kong study shows."

Importantly too, not all supplements are created equal, so it's wise to seek advice. "I see a lot of people who have made bad choices," Graeme says. "They've either bought cheap, ineffective brands, or the wrong supplements for their needs."

It's true that quality supplements don't come cheap, but these days, neither does nutrition-rich food. Maintaining our wellbeing is worth investing in. We only have one body, one life, and to get the most out of it, we should give our bodies the support they deserve. 


[1] Centre for Food Safety, Hong Kong Total Diet Study Report No. 9: Minerals, 2014.