SUPPLEMENTS: DO YOU REALLY NEED THEM?

Hello everybody! Welcome back to my blog. The purpose of this blog is to help people find their way to a healthier lifestyle. I mostly talk about exercise and its science, which is my area of expertise, but I also talk about nutrition, sleeping habits and many other subjects related to wellbeing and healthy lifestyle.

Today I want to talk about supplementation, when you might need it, and how you should take supplements. Firstly, let’s define what a supplement is. A supplement is a substance or aid added to complete or improve something, in this case the diet, with the aim of achieving a specific, desired goal such as losing or putting on weight, enhancing performance, or simply having a complete and balanced diet.

  1. Types of supplementation.

There are many types of dietary supplementation. The most common ones are vitamins, minerals such as iron or potassium, fish oil, protein from its many different origins (whey, pea, rice, etcetera), probiotics and prebiotics (see below for definitions). These supplements come in different forms like tablets, powders, drinks, lollies, capsules, or bars. Depending on the supplement you want to get, retailers supply them in different varieties. Generally, vitamins and omega 3 come in tablets, capsules or lollies, while protein comes in powder or bars, though it’s easier to find different formats for many supplements these days.

A probiotic is a food or supplement than contains live beneficial bacteria for your gut. You can find probiotics in Greek yogurt, miso, kimchi, and some cheese among others.

A prebiotic is a food or supplement that contains substances that feed and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Some examples of prebiotics are garlic, onions, bananas, oats, just to mention a few.

  1. When do you need them?

Most people are perfectly capable of supplying all the macro and micronutrients with a well-balanced diet. Just eating the right food we should be able to get enough protein, fats, carbohydrates, as well as all the vitamins and minerals.

Some people who might get benefits from supplements are vegetarians and vegans (they might suffer a lack of vitamin B12), elite athletes that want to enhance performance, elderly people, pregnant women (who are strongly recommended to supplement with folic acid always under the GP’s supervision), women in their menopause years, people who might have a lack of iron, people who don’t like fish (they’re not getting the essential omega 3 fatty acids), etcetera. In any of these cases, a doctor’s assessment is needed. In future posts I will dig deeper on the topic of macronutrients and micronutrients necessary for your health and how you can get the from your diet or from different supplements.

The real problem is that we don’t know what is a well-balanced diet, or what is the right food to eat. For that reason, seeking a professional help is necessary when you don’t know what to do. These days there is a lot of (mis)information out there and it’s difficult to figure out what’s good or bad advice.

On top of all that, there are a couple of substances that people are generally deficient in. Nowadays, it’s getting more difficult to get enough vitamin B12 even for people who normally eat meat, vitamin (or perhaps better called hormone) D, and omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil).

The lack of B12 can cause fatigue, lethargy, weakness, headaches, and even depression and anemia. In the past, the livestock used to drink natural water directly from the rivers and other water sources, which contains certain bacteria that synthesises B12. Then humans consume the livestock that has already ingested the B12 from that bacteria. This is the way we used to get out B12. Now, most of the livestock that we consume drink the same filtered water that we drink, meaning that they’re not getting the necessary B12. A supplement of B12 can be, therefore, as important to vegans as it is to omnivores. Salmon, milk, and eggs have a good content of B12 as well, or you can opt for fortified food.

Vitamin (or hormone) D is a complex vitamin that plays an important role in our body. A lack of vitamin D can result in fatigue and tiredness, lower bone density, impaired inmune response, and even depression and anxiety. Even though we can consume vitamin D in our diet, the number one source is the sun. Because we don’t spend enough time outdoors we’re not getting enough sun radiation to synthesise this important vitamin. This does not mean that we can spend hours at the beach getting sunburned. 15-20’ in the morning before the peak hours of sunlight in summer and a bit longer in winter have proved to be enough to get enough vitamin D. I’ll talk about this interesting vitamin more deeply in future posts.

And last but not least, omega 3. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning that our body cannot synthesise it by itself, it needs to be consumed in the diet. Omega 3 is found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, or mackerel. A lack of omega 3 may result in fatigue, brain fatigue, skin problems, depression, or the impact of inflammation. If you want to know more about inflammation, see my post on inflammation in the link below.

Many people aren’t getting enough omega 3, such as vegans or some vegetarians or people who don’t enjoy eating fish, but even the ones who do eat fish may have an imbalance between omega 3 and omega 6, the other essential fatty acids. An impairment between them may result in inflammation and all the consequences that this brings.

A supplement of any of these substances is highly recommended, though the first step is to visit your doctor to get the best advice for you.

  1. How much do you need?

The amount of supplement you need depends on your deficiency. The only way to find out is to get tested. The best thing you can do is to go to your GP and explain them your concerns. There are different symptoms that might be telling you that you have a lack of certain vitamins or minerals, or they might be underlining a major concern. To play it safe, visit your appropriate professional. Having a blood test every now and again even if you feel completely healthy is also recommended. Most Medicare systems include free blood tests. In Australia you can visit your GP and ask them for a referral for a blood test. You might be surprised about the results!

Once you know whether you have a deficiency of a macronutrient or micronutrient your GP will let you know how much you need to supplement. With your doctor’s help, my recommendation to ensure sufficient macro and micronutrient levels is to make lifestyle changes. As I mentioned before, a balance diet should be enough for the average healthy person, as well as doing regular exercise, sleeping well, quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol intake.

  1. Ask a professional!

If you suspect that you’re not getting enough of the mentioned macro and micronutrients, ask your GP. They can assess if there is a further problem, or they can recommend that you to talk to a nutritionist or dietitian. These professionals will tell you whether you actually need any supplement, and how much, how often, when you should have a break, which adjustments you’ll need according to your physical activity, etcetera.

That’s it for today! I really hope that you enjoy learning about supplements. If you like what I do and you want to support this project, follow me on Instagram and Facebook, like the post and comment! Thank you!

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