5 Reasons to Supplement
Dietary supplements are a $28 billion industry in the United States. That’s a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, proteins and herbs. For the average consumer (and even the savvy medical professional), the choices can be overwhelming. If you’re on a special diet, extra nutritional help is crucial—but which supplements are most important?
Generally, food-sensitive and allergic people must supplement for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Specific nutrients are missing from the diet due to elimination of certain foods.
2. Nutrients are deficient due to medication use or malabsorption.
3. The gut and digestion require additional support.
4. Immune function needs strengthening.
5. A related medical condition would benefit from nutritional bolstering.
Most nutrients have a large variety of food sources so elimination diets don't automatically put people at risk for deficiencies. One exception is the dairy-free, soy-free diet, which can create shortages in calcium and vitamin D. People often tell me they’re getting plenty of calcium because they love broccoli. However, they must eat three servings a day, each the size of their head, to meet the current requirement.
Even without their problem foods, people can usually get what they need if they eat a wide variety of the vegetables, fruits, meats and other whole foods they can tolerate. Picky eating opens the door to deficiencies.
Meds or Malabsorption
A surprising number of medications have nutritional interactions. For example, reflux medications, widely prescribed for symptoms that often turn out to be food intolerance, interfere with the absorption of protein, vitamins D and B-12, zinc, calcium and iron.
Conditions like celiac disease are linked to poor nutrient absorption.
Nutrient deficiency can be difficult to pinpoint until it becomes severe. You don’t notice your energy is flagging, for example, because the deficit evolves very gradually over time. Assume that general nutrient support is needed unless proven otherwise.
Gut and Digestion
Digestive dysfunction is behind many food sensitivities so supporting digestion is the foundation of most supplement programs. The main components are:
- Nutrients to heal the gut lining (such as vitamin A, zinc and L-glutamine).
- Substances to enhance and replenish natural flora (i.e., probiotics and prebiotics).
- Bad-bug exterminators (including yeast killers and natural antibacterial/antivirals).
- Digestives (like enzymes, stomach acid and bile salts).
Allergies are a sign of a misdirected immune system more than a weak one. Nonetheless, the immune system has finite resources and when misappropriated by frequent allergic reactions, the body can become vulnerable to outside attacks and fall ill. Low nutrient intake can contribute to immune weakness.
A common but indirect sign of pollen allergies is frequent ‘colds’ in the spring. (Food reactions are rarely seasonal.) If you get sick—colds, upper respiratory infections, stomach bugs, etc.—more than two or three times per year, your immune system could benefit from proper supplementation.
In addition to food reactions, you may be dealing with a related medical issue, such as osteoporosis, anemia or infertility. Supplements can help improve a wide variety of conditions.
You’re likely wondering how to figure this all out. The average consumer cannot do it alone. Consider your symptoms and the potential application of each of these five areas of concern. Understanding your individual situation can help you pinpoint and prioritize your needs. It can also help you fully partner with your healthcare provider to develop your best strategy for using supplements. Over the next issues, we’ll explore the most relevant supplements in detail.
Licensed nutritionist dietitian Kelly Dorfman, author of What’s Eating Your Child?, has 29 years of clinical experience, developing nutrition and lifestyle strategies to address complex health problems.