Beach Metro Community News
Our changing world
There has been much controversy as to whether or not nutritional supplements such as vitamins and minerals are necessary and even safe to consume. Although many people already take nutritional supplements in the hopes of maintaining optimal health or to prevent/treat illness, there is still much confusion as to what they should be taking and in what amounts.
Although vitamin-mineral supplements can be a good adjunct to the regular diet, they should not be a substitute for healthy eating. Ideally, we should try to get most of our nutrients from the food that we eat; however, this is not always possible.
The foods we are consuming today are not as nutrient-dense as the foods our ancestors ate hundreds of years ago. This is due to agricultural industry practices, food processing, and an increasing number of chemicals (flavour enhancers, preservatives, etc.) added to our food supply. Also, the nutrients contained in our fruits and vegetables come from the soil in which it is grown. Unfortunately, most of Canada’s soil is lacking in adequate minerals, such as iodine, selenium, iron, zinc, and chromium. Furthermore, freezing, thawing, microwaving, and cooking our food also diminishes what little of the nutrients that are present in the food.
Nutrient deficiency is a growing problem
Many studies have shown that most North Americans consume a diet inadequate in nutrient value. While most people may be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, they may not realize it because their symptoms may not be very severe.
For example, vitamin C is a nutrient that we cannot produce on our own, so we must depend on the diet or other external sources for this vital nutrient. Vitamin C can be depleted in people who are under extreme or prolonged stress and also in people who smoke and therefore, their requirements for Vitamin C would be greater. A deficiency in Vitamin C can lead to: easy bruising, bleeding gums, joint pains, excessive hair loss, and fatigue.
Vegetarians can also be deficient in Vitamin B12, iron and/or zinc, which are usually more prevalent in red meat. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to serious consequences. In this case, supplementation of these nutrients may be necessary.
It is also now widely known that folic acid deficiency can result in a birth defect called spina bifida. Most women do not consume the required amount of folic acid in the diet in order to prevent this neural tube defect and therefore supplementation with this vitamin is recommended in women of child-bearing age who could become pregnant.
Certain factors contribute to increased nutrient depletion
Stress, lack of exercise, poor food choices, sleep deprivation, environmental chemicals, alcohol/caffeine consumption, smoking, and medications further increase our body’s demand for certain nutrients. As we encounter more of these factors, our need for nutrients also increases. This is where supplementation may also be beneficial, as we could never achieve the therapeutic amounts required from just our diet alone.
Although certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, and E and the minerals, have an increased potential for toxicity, they are very safe, if used in the appropriate dosages and in the proper circumstances. Remember, that anything can be toxic when taken in excessive amounts – even water.
In summary, although nutritional supplements may be beneficial, every person is different with respect to their needs. What may be appropriate for one person may not be for another. It is important to be assessed by a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner who can guide you in choosing the right nutritional supplement(s) for your situation. Dietary supplements should be treated like prescription medications. Blindly self-prescribing, without consideration of toxicity levels, individual nutrient needs, and contraindications or interactions with medications, can lead to harmful consequences, rather than the benefits that one is seeking.
Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.