You must know that there are many reasons why food is not enough, even under the best of circumstances. Weston Price, for example, tells of "primitive" tribes who went to extreme efforts in order to secure rare foods for pregnant women and even prospective fathers. In fact, for thousands of years, both herbs and special foods have been in use by cultures around the world, including most notably, China and India. Today's nutrient-depleted, chemically laden soils have only magnified the many reasons why food is not enough to sustain even marginal levels of health. See also this and this.
So let's begin with some definitions for the term supplements as used on these pages.
We include superfoods as supplements. Superfoods include such foods as cod liver oil, bee pollen, certain sea vegetables, organic cooking herbs and sea salt, fresh or dried, non-pasteurized, non-chemically treated fish eggs (or roe). We can add vegetable drinks, either fresh, fermented, or powdered and organic.
In our modern world even organ meats, once a staple in traditional diets, could be considered superfoods. These kinds of foods are defined as supplements because, with the possible exception of liver, they are not normally included in the standard modern diet. Modern industrial style agriculture makes these superfoods especially useful, even essential, for maintaining optimal health even with the best diet/lifestyle situations. With just a bit of effort, many of these superfoods can be worked into most diets to great advantage.
Next on our list of supplements are what most people think of when they think of supplements: vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, herbs and herb combinations. Sad to say, there are many myths surrounding vitamins and similar micronutrients which the media seems intent on perpetuating by ignoring mountains of documented evidence demonstrating both the need for and exceptional efficacy of supplements. An added problem is that the RDA's are and always have been woefully inadequate to the task of helping average individuals achieve improved health.
The last category of supplements include the oft-forgotten glandulars, essential oils, homeopathics, organic personal care products and natural hormone products. Essential oils, homeopathics, glandulars and natural hormone products are all targeted remedies used for specific situations. Specific vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and enzymes can also be used as targeted remedies when used in the proper ways for specific purposes. Echinacea and vitamin C are a widely recognized target remedies for colds, and vitamin E can be considered a target remedy when taken as a remedy to prevent heart disease.
While target remedies of good quality can be extremely effective when well selected and used appropriately, they will do little or nothing to rebuild or even help maintain optimal levels of health throughout the body. Added to the sometimes confusing array of already available supplements are the near-daily "discoveries" of new, seemingly magical elixirs that we are told we cannot be without.
Keeping oneself firmly focused on the basics will go a long way toward helping to cut through the hype and avoid the allure of propaganda. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we have found that improved food choices along with a well thought-out, high quality, foundational and personally appropriate supplement program can in fact help immeasurably in any effort to rebuild and maintain better overall health throughout life. The research on this is so voluminous that the question is not whether to take supplements, but rather, which supplements should be taken, how much should be taken and when.
The effectiveness of well-selected supplements is so impressive and so well documented that a major takeover of the supplement industry by pharmaceutical companies has been underway for the past several decades. Focus is thus shifting almost imperceptibly away from product effectiveness and toward profits, forcing consumers to pay more for less effective products. This is but one of many reasons why it is critical to recognize that the single most important factor when selecting supplements is, as it is with food, QUALITY and integrity of the supplier. We found all this out the hard way while trying to be prudent and penny wise. We found that we ended up pound foolish instead. We sincerely hope that you can avoid our expensive mistakes.
A good supplement program takes into account a variety of factors, including current level of health, lifestyle factors, dietary habits, specific health complaints, current medications, overall health goals, and finally age, weight and sex. It also tries to address not only the cause of disease (as opposed to just the symptoms) but also ways in which to build up all body systems. Anyone with enough time and persistence can develop a workable supplement program for themselves, but we have found the most efficient, most cost effective (over the long term) and the most effective program is one that begins with a good "foundation" as pictured in our Dynamic Nutrition Pyramid.
This foundation begins with a calculated move towards improved food and lifestyle choices and adds in a personally appropriate high potency, high quality multivitamin/mineral formula. A high quality, high potency personally appropriate multivitamin/mineral plan mimics as closely as possible those nutrients which we should (under ideal conditions) be getting in our foods. Thus it shores up what is - or long has been - lacking in the first rung of your personal foundation, and helps to decrease over time the need to resort to "rescue medicine" or supplements we call targeted remedies. In fact, reduced reliance on "rescue medicine" and targeted remedies is one of the ways you can measure the overall success of your personal program. Another would be to use signs and signals of declining health and signs of insulin/blood sugar imbalance as additional guides.
Supplements have an extraordinarily impressive record of safety, especially when compared to pharmaceuticals, or even bee stings, animal bites and lightning strikes. Consider for example that common, over-the-counter meds now account for over 10,000 deaths PER YEAR in the U.S. ALONE! The safety and efficacy of vitamin and food supplements is nothing short of astonishing.
This being said, there are reasons why a person might not get the benefit they should or could out of the supplements they are taking. And there ARE problems, including some potentially serious, associated with indiscriminate supplementation.
These disappointing results and/or problems can result from:
- Too little or too much of key ingredients, rendering the product sub-optimal and/or unbalanced
- Contamination, or "spiking" with foreign substances or "extenders", including dangerous or illegal ingredients and even drugs
- Mislabeling - including failure to disclose all ingredients
- Poor disintegration of product, which can result in product being eliminated from the body without breaking down
- The long-term overuse of particular nutrients, especially iron and synthetic forms of the fat soluble vitamins
- Use of non-bioavailable forms of nutrients - or use of the wrong nutrient
- In the case of herbs, use of the wrong parts of the plant, mis-identification of the plant, improper handling and processing
- The use of supplements (herbs and vitamins) in the wrong form, balance or amount
- The use of unnecessary or questionable supplements (herbs and vitamins)
- The use of supplements (herbs and vitamins) that may interact with or reduce the need for certain medications without the knowledge and cooperation of the attending physician
- Inferior quality supplements (herbs and vitamins)
Our favorite books are currently out of print: by Michael Rosenbaum, M.D. and Dominic Bosco, and also by Richard Passwater, Ph.D. It would in our opinion be worth the effort to seek out copies of these two books.
As a good crosscheck: by Patricia Hausman, M.S. (somewhat dated but still useful, read the intro)
Also see the following:
by Michael Colgan. M.D.
, compiled by the Burton Goldberg Group, appropriate sections
by Shari Lieberman, Ph.D. and Nancy Bruning
, revised edition by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D
by Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
by Robert Atkins, M.D. (a bit complex and directed to the already ill, but still useful)