Confused about which supplements to take? You're not alone! Even the most educated and nutrition-savvy individuals find it difficult to determine which supplements are best-suited to meet their nutritional needs.
That's why over 15 years ago David Rahm, M.D. - medical director of The Wellness Center and founder of VitaMedica - developed the Nutritional Supplement Pyramid. Dr. Rahm designed this tool based on the well-known Food Guide Pyramid to ensure a logical approach to nutritional supplementation.
While nutritional supplements are part of a health-promoting lifestyle, as their name implies, they should augment the diet. Nutritional supplements are intended to cover gaps in diet – not to make up for an unhealthy lifestyle.
Before initiating a nutritional supplement program, you should start by examining your lifestyle. It makes no sense to swallow a handful of supplements each day if you're not addressing the quantity and quality of foods you eat; the amount of exercise you engage in; and how well you handle stress.
If you would like more guidance in this area, then explore our Wellness Blog. This section offers the latest health news along with articles on health conditions, nutritious foods, exercise & fitness.
While it would be nice to obtain all of the nutrients needed from the foods we eat, given the modern diet, this can be difficult. Taking a daily multi-vitamin & mineral, is a good way to cover gaps in your diet.
Not convinced that you need a multi? In 2002, two Harvard physicians published a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicating that all Americans should take a daily multi-vitamin. The recommendation was based on research demonstrating that taking a multi-vitamin may help prevent a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease, some cancers and osteoporosis.
Essentially, taking a multi is like taking out an inexpensive insurance policy against one of your most important assets - your health. That's why taking a good quality multi-vitamin & mineral is the first step of a nutritional supplement program.
If you're taking a multi-vitamin & mineral on a daily basis, the next step is to add an Omega-3 supplement. These supplements include flax seed oil - one of the richest sources of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid - and fish oil, an excellent source of two conditionally essential fatty acids, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA). If you want to learn more about the differences between taking a flax seed or fish oil supplement, refer to our Omega-3 Guidelines.
Like vitamins and minerals, Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients that our bodies require and if not obtained from diet need to be supplemented. The best way to obtain these important nutrients is from foods. However, because most of us do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds and consume too much processed, packaged foods, our diets often lack in these important fats.
For those who dislike seafood, this can also be problematic because it would be necessary to eat cold water, fatty fish, such as salmon or mackerel, on a frequent basis. Additionally, because of concerns about ocean pollution and farm-raised fish having lower levels of Omega-3s, supplementation is a wise alternative.
Given the crucial role that Omega-3 fats play in cardiovascular health and brain function, as well as normal growth and development, augmenting the diet with an Omega-3 supplement is important for infants, seniors and everyone in between.
Antioxidants play a protective role against the development of heart disease, cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases by quenching free-radicals. Antioxidants are also believed to slow down the aging process by reducing the body's oxidative load. In other words, antioxidants slow down the "internal rusting" of our bodies as we age.
Many of the antioxidants that occur in nature are found in plants. These so-called phytochemicals or plant chemicals are found in large quantities in fruits and vegetables, especially those colored deep red, blue and purple (raspberries, blueberries, acai berry); but also orange, red, green and white (apricots, bell peppers, collard greens, garlic). The function of these phytochemicals is not to make our food attractive to eat; but to protect the plant from the sun's harmful UV rays. When we ingest these plants, the antioxidant protective benefits of these plant chemicals are conferred upon us.
Eating a wide range of colored fruits and vegetables in the diet ensures that you obtain a broad range of antioxidants. In doing so, a wider number of systems in the body are protected as certain antioxidants work in specific parts of the body. For example the carotenoid lutein helps protect the macula of the eye whereas lycopene helps protect heart tissue. In addition, extensive data suggests that a combination of antioxidants provides greater protection than any single antioxidant.
If you're consuming 4 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables a day, then you probably don't need to augment your diet with a phytonutrient supplement. Unfortunately, most of us are falling short of this goal and recent government studies back this up. According to the State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2009, only 14 percent of adults consume 2+ servings of fruit and 3+ servings of vegetables daily and fewer than 10 percent of adolescents meet this goal. These numbers fall considerably short of the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) goal of 75% as outlined in Healthy People 2010†.
Supplementing the diet with a phytonutrient that includes a wide range of antioxidants ensures that your body obtains these important nutrients to fight chronic disease and aging associated with free-radical damage.
Once the bodies' requirement for the above basic nutrients has been met – vitamins, minerals, Omega-3s and phytonutrients - targeted supplements can be added to address specific health issues. These typically include botanicals but can also include enzymes, amino acids, etc.
As the name implies, accessory nutrients are not essential in the human diet, but when taken, can be useful for solving a variety of health problems. Examples include glucosamine sulfate, which is used by many for mild to moderate symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.
In some instances, accessory nutrients are used to resolve a temporary health issue. For example, St. John's Wort for a bout of mild depression or echinacea for an upper respiratory infection. On other occasions, accessory nutrients are preferred because they are more natural than a medication. For example, moms often prefer that their teenager use VitaMedica's Healthy Skin Formula to address mild to moderate acne as opposed to ingesting an antibiotic or other systemic medication.
By referring to the Nutritional Supplement Pyramid, it encourages you to take a logical approach to nutritional supplementation. Following this approach also ensures that you don't get too much of some nutrients and insufficient amounts of others.
†Healthy People 2010 is a comprehensive set of disease prevention and health promotion objectives for the nation to achieve over the first decade of the new century. Created by scientists both inside and outside of government, it identifies a wide range of public health priorities and specific, measurable objectives. Two overarching goals of Healthy People 2010 are to 1) increase quality and years of healthy life and 2) eliminate health disparities. The government is already working on developing Healthy People 2020 and invites the public to participate in its development.