Nutritional Supplements – Avoid The Usual Errors
Does your Doctor Know? Nutritional Supplements – Avoid The Usual Errors.
On our quest for health we can often buy something that may do more harm than good….in the UK alone it is estimated that the general public spends up to £750 MILLION per year on vitamin and mineral supplements – the equivalent USA figure is a staggering $30 BILLION annually.
A quick search on google, or indeed a walk down a supermarket aisle, can show you that there are literally tens of thousands of different supplements of vitamins, minerals and other supplements available to buy.
However – many medical authorities suggest that taking supplements is not helpful to your health and indeed potentially harmful! There is indeed some truth to this – taking the wrong type or the wrong combinations of supplements is firstly a waste of your money and even more importantly a potential risk to your health including increasing death rates!
There is a world of difference between an isolated synthetic supplement and a correctly formulated, natural state and appropriately combined supplement ….. for more information read on!
Three Simple Rules For Nutritional Supplements
Your body must be able to absorb it from your bowels into the blood stream and into your cells, this is called:
Your cells must be able to beneficially use the supplement for its metabolism, this known as:
Remember! There should not be harmful or toxic consequences in the cells or the rest of your body when you take a nutritional supplement:
3) NON TOXIC
About Bioavailability –
Bioavailability is about absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream and into your cells.
Supplements can have poor absorption because they are not taken in forms that are similar to those found in food – it is worth reminding ourselves about the food chain to help us understand this clearly!!
Animals (including us humans) and plants are clearly different in many ways. Not least in how we get our nutrition.
Plants make their own food from raw material in the soil –their roots allow them to take up “mineral salts” in the soil and utilize them – once these minerals are taken up by the plant there are a whole series of chemical reactions that combine them with various carbohydrates, fats and proteins and become part of the living plant.
Animals get their nutrition from eating plants or other animal that have eaten plants – they do NOT get their nutrition direct from minerals in the soil but from complexes of living substances made by plants.
For example – when iron is added as ferrous sulphate to milled grain, a protein in the grain called phytic acid forms insoluble iron phytates which cannot be absorbed. In contrast, if minerals are added to grain in a food form or as amino-acid chelates, they are protected from the action of phytic acid, and bioavailability is high. This is all a bit confusing, I know! Just read on for clarification.
Please be wary of the word “NATURAL” – you might believe that a product is appropriate because it is labelled “natural ” but this can be extremely misleading.
For example – Food state calcium versus chalk!
If it was suggested to you that the best way to improve your calcium levels would be to eat a piece of chalk then you would no doubt consider this crazy.
Chalk is however natural and indeed the vast majority of supplements – including those prescribed by doctors- are calcium carbonate that is basically chalk!
There are two major problems with this –
Firstly it is simply not very bioavailable as your body struggles to absorb it – you can only absorb about 10% of the calcium carbonate compared to calcium produced in yeast.
Secondly non-foodstate calcium carbonate supplements increase heart and blood vessel disease! This appears to be because it is not in a form that is easily metabolised by your body and gets deposited in your blood vessels.
Clearly logic tells us that bioavailability is an absolute requirement for bioeffectiveness- if a micronutrient is not absorbed – it simply cannot be effective.
Having said that, just because a supplement has high bio-availability this does not guarantee bioeffectiveness – which is about a beneficial metabolic outcome.
Isolated nutrients versus complexed micronutrients:
As we can see from our reminder about the food chain, micronutrients are complexed and bound in plants before they get into our bodies. Additionally, they never occur naturally as an isolated form of only one micronutrient. Micronutrients – unlike pharmaceutical drugs- do not work in isolation but in a complex form of ‘networking’.
Isolated synthetic micronutrients may pass straight into the blood stream unchecked, whilst complex food molecules (fresh food you eat) are directed through a series of metabolic processes which ensure correct healthful outcomes. Food factors linked with the nutrients act as messengers to direct the nutrients to the sites of need. Unless the uptake of nutrients is regulated by the body they may not end up where they are needed and you may also struggle to remove them from your body (excretion).
For example- Mixed tocopheriols/tocotrienols versus synthetic vitamin E
Research suggests that the Vitamin E found in its natural form in foods such as almonds and sunflower seeds can protect you from some illnesses BUT synthetic Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol acetate) supplements do not show the same protective effect.
There is a simple reason for this….
Vitamin E is actually a family of EIGHT fat-soluble vitamins that are active throughout the body. The vitamin E family consists of 4 tocopherols – these are alpha tocopherol, beta tocopherol, gamma tocopherol, and delta tocopherol – and 4 tocotrienols- these members are alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocotrienol.
We now know that each Vitamin E member has unique functions and to take a synthetic form of simply one member (the alpha tocopherol) is clearly inappropriate. To make this worse many synthetic vitamin E supplements use a mirror image form of the naturally occurring alpha tocopherol making it even less useful to your body.
Activated versus inactivated nutrients:
It is important to be aware your body may lack the ability to convert some supplements into an active form particularly as you get older.
For example– Ubiquinol versus Ubiquinone
A very commonly used supplement is Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – a vital compound for many chemical reactions in the body. It is also known as ubiquinol and ubiquinone because it is so widespread i.e. “ubiquitous” in its uses in the body.
The ubiquinone form however needs to be converted to the ubiquinol form to be active in the body.
As you age your body’s ability to make CoQ10 decreases so you are likely to need more and your body’s ability to convert the inactive ubiquinol into the active ubiquinol form also declines.
It is VITAL to supplement with the correct UBIQUINOL form of this supplement to achieve the important health benefits. But unfortunately, many supplements use the inactive ubiquinone form. Look out for this. (Bookmark this page if you need to.)
About Harmful or Toxic side effects-
There are numerous examples where commonly used supplements can be harmful.
Harm may occur because they are simply in a form that has potential toxic consequences or they are in an isolated form inconsistent with how the micronutrient is found in food.
For example- Selenium rich Yeast versus Selenium Selinite/Selinate
Selenium-rich yeast is wholly safe, non-toxic, a potential protector against cancers, antiviral and beneficial to human health. Most supplements of selenium however contain either sodium selenite or sodium selenate.
Not only are these forms ineffective as antioxidants they can be carcinogenic and genotoxic (damage your DNA) – they may contribute to problems in reproduction and development in animals and humans.
In food form the absorption is self-regulating- once the body is replete (i.e. has enough for all of its requirements) then selenium is no longer taken up.
For example – GTF chromium versus Chromium Picolinate
Chromium picolinate is bioavailable as it is well absorbed and also bioeffective -studies show its had good impact on blood sugar control in diabetes …
Chromium picolinate enters living cells via a different mechanism to naturally formed food state chromium. There is evidence that it increases the production of harmful free radicals and has been shown in test tube studies to damage DNA.
GTF chromium produced by yeast has the same beneficial (indeed better) effects but no harmful consequences. Much better all round
For example – Methyl folate versus Folic acid
Methylfolate is the predominant Folate (a group of vitamins known as B9) found in food such as leafy green vegetables and is a form that can be used directly by the body. It is a wholly safe and beneficial nutrient.
Isolated folic acid – the most commonly sold supplemental form and also the form used to fortify foods – does not occur naturally in foods and is very different in structure and function.
The form of folate that can enter the main folate metabolic cycle is tetrahydrofolate (THF) and natural folates are metabolized to THF in the lining of the small intestine.
If your metabolism is working correctly folic acid is converted to Methylfolate BUT it first requires initial chemical reduction and methylation in the liver – conversion to the THF form requires the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase.
The low activity of this enzyme in the human liver when combined with a high intake of folic acid can result in unnatural levels of unmetabolised folic acid entering the systemic circulation.
Excess folic acid may stimulate the growth of established malignant cells. which can eventually lead to cancer. This is because unmetabolised folic acid in the blood is associated with decreased natural killer cell action – these are important cells that prevent cancer forming and growing.
As well as this potential cancer risk if your body is inefficient at methylating – which is common problem sometimes due to genetic changes – then clearly Folic acid is not the most bioeffective way to take Folate.
So how do you avoid these errors?
The various parts of a natural vitamin or mineral complex work together synergistically – synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
If we isolate and separate the groups of chemical compounds in a vitamin or mineral complex then sadly it is converted from a physiological, biochemical, active micronutrient into a disabled, debilitated chemical of little or no value to living cells…..
…… should you wish to undertake a successful journey you would not choose to pull the various constituent parts of a car out of a scrap yard and lay them in a pile on the road – you clearly need a fully put together functioning car with all of its parts connected and working together !!
You can clearly understand that – just like processed foods- processed vitamins and minerals have also been robbed of all of the extra accessory nutrients that they naturally come with.
Like processed foods they can create numerous problems and imbalances in your body if taken at high levels for long periods of time as we can see from the above examples.
Synthetic processed supplements act more like pharmaceutical drugs in your body – forcing themselves down metabolic pathways potentially causing harm. At the very least even if they are not directly harmful they won’t help you as much as high quality food and food-based supplements.
Your can avoid these dangers and maximize the benefit by using…
Food State nutrients or Wholefood nutrients – these are highly complex structures that combine a variety of enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, activators and many other unknown or undiscovered factors all working together synergistically –
Food State nutrients are combined in a variety of appropriate food bases to ensure they come complete with the phytonutrients (plant nutrients) and associated food factors that are necessary for optimal absorption and use in the body.
For example this includes carrot concentrate for beta carotene, citrus pulp for vitamin C, and lactobacillus bulgaricus for B vitamins, as each base would naturally contain levels of the same nutrient.
Wholefood nutrient products are unique in that they are made from hydroponically grown brassica, a member of the broccoli family of vegetables.
This plant is an edible species which has a great capacity to bio-accumulate high levels of minerals to enable good levels to be achieved in small doses of supplementation.
The nutrients are in the same form as in conventional foods – just in much higher levels. As wholefood nutrients, they follow food metabolic pathways and are wholly beneficial!
Take care of you!
Dr David Morris
Family Practitioner and Integrative Medicine Physician