While nothing can replace a healthy, wholesome diet, food supplements offer the benefits of a concentrated source of nutrients that a normal plate of food alone cannot provide. No longer are supplements simply compensation for an inadequate diet. Many people are regularly supplementing their diets to ensure an adequate supply of essential nutrients to maintain basic health. Supplements help protect against toxins and prevent cell damage. They are used to fight disease and combat early aging. When used in addition to a healthy diet and regular exercise, supplements can help you reach an optimal state of health.
Deficiencies Treated with Nutritional Supplements
Today, many people take supplements to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need, whether they are eating well or not. While blatant deficiencies like scurvy (lack of vitamin C) or beriberi (lack of vitamin B1) are rare, mild deficiencies are common and can lead to vague symptoms of fatigue, lack of initiative and poor concentration. Unfortunately, the usual blood tests are not sensitive enough to show mild nutrient deficiencies, even when a person does not feel well.
A number of causes contribute to these mild deficiencies. Erratic eating habits are one of the most common culprits in today’s hectic lifestyle. Poor digestion inhibits the assimilation of nutrients. Many people suffer from poor digestion with only the mildest of symptoms. Digestion and assimilation tend to decline as we age, causing us to be deficient in many essential nutrients as a result.
Processing, cooking and preserving food leads to nutrient depletion. The quality of the foods we buy is often poor. Many fruits and vegetables are genetically bred to improve yields, to look appealing and to withstand a long transport. Taste and nutritional value are secondary. Nutrient-depleted soil is also unable to provide fruits and vegetables with the high amounts of vitamins and minerals they contained in the pre-industrial age. It is estimated that the food of primitive societies contained four times more minerals than modern food.
Food supplements also compensate for individual nutrient requirements. Pregnant women typically need more folic acid, iron and other nutrients. Strict vegetarians often need additional vitamin B12, and possibly calcium, iron and zinc. Older people tend to lack vitamins B6, B12, folic acid and calcium. Menopausal women battling osteoporosis need more minerals to supplement those lost through bone depletion. Fitness enthusiasts also require a variety of nutrients to maintain strength and stamina.
Nutrients Protect The Body
Stress has a tremendous impact on the function of the entire body, affecting heart rate, hormonal output and metabolism. As a result, essential nutrients are used up more quickly than usual. Environmental pollutants in our air, water and food also contribute to an accumulation of toxins which our body must work to eliminate. Supplements provide adequate essential nutrients to protect the body against the impact of toxins and help the body detoxify. Vitamins C and E particularly are known for their protective functions. Studies with these vitamins show they even reduce or counteract carcinogenic effects of smoking, stress and illness which deplete the body of vitamin C. Vitamin E supplies oxygen to the cells, which is vital for cell function. In these ways, supplements maintain health and prevent disease.
At least part of the protective effect of vitamins C and E is attributable to their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage by free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules capable of damaging cells and tissue. The antioxidant fight against free radicals is a continuous one, since free radicals are continually formed in the body. Free radicals are increased by injury, stress, pollution and illness. Since their discovery, they have been implicated as major players in many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Free radicals also accelerate the aging process. The more free radicals are formed, the more antioxidants are needed to neutralize them.
Many people supplement with antioxidants. Sports enthusiasts need more antioxidants because of their tendency to overexert. As we age, we require more antioxidants, and living in polluted environments increases this need as well. Beta-carotene and selenium are two examples of powerful antioxidants. Since no single antioxidant can destroy all the free radicals in the body, using them in combination increases their effectiveness.
Treating yourself successfully with supplements can be an empowering experience. While high doses of supplements are not recommended for self-treatment without guidance from a natural health practitioner, there is a great deal you can do yourself. For infections and allergies, vitamin C can work wonders without producing the drowsiness and other side-effects of many cold or allergy medications. Many people with multiple sclerosis benefit from regular supplementation with evening primrose oil. Taking vitamin B6 one or two weeks before PMS starts will alleviate symptoms for many women. The list goes on. If you would like to treat yourself with supplements for a specific illness or problem you have, refer to the A-Z Conditions section for more information. It takes time for the body to repair itself, but changing to a healthier lifestyle and using nutritional supplements will produce results in a natural way
Reach Your Optimal State of Health
In addition to maintaining proper nutrition and getting regular exercise, many people take supplements to attain an optimal state of health. By ensuring adequate levels of nutrients, many people feel better, have more energy and cope better with everyday stress. Others find they battle fewer infections and many nagging health problems have improved. Athletes use supplements to reach their peak performance levels. Provide your body with what it needs, and it will provide you with energy, health and longevity.
Source: Encyclopedia of Natural Healing by Siegfried Gursche and Zoltan Rona