It is no secret that the North American diet is failing. For the most part, the population is over fed yet under nourished. The food made readily available to us is often processed and contains unimaginable amounts of added sugar, salt, and fat. In fact up to 70% of what we eat is junk food, and on average, for every person eating a diet that consists of 50% processed food, there is someone else whose diets consists of 90% processed food. Even bread (yes, even the ‘whole-wheat’ seeded kind) includes a mountain of substances, which are not used in natural culinary preparations. This includes dyes, sweeteners, flavor enhancers, preservatives, and emulsifiers. All of these additives are designed to increase the shelf life, and create a flavor and consistency that leaves you addicted and coming back for more.
Thus, we are eating foods everyday that we would never prepare at home. The result of this is that Americans are currently the most obese people in the world. Adult obesity has increased by 60%, doubled for children and tripled for teenagers within the past 20 years (1). Farm policy has always been to provide people with enough food to maintain an active lifestyle. However, this has led to a focus on the quantity of food being produced, over the quality. Cheap, calorie dense, yet nutrient deficient food is in abundance everywhere you look. People are consuming far more than they need but lacking the minimal nutritional requirements.
Despite the abundance of food, many Americans are actually lacking many essential nutrients, including potassium, vitamin D, and calcium, so much so that it is being classified as a public health concern (2). As the population gets larger and more nutrient deficient each year, more and more diseases related to dietary choices begin to emerge. There is increasing evidence that suggests the over-consumption of sugars and fats is linked to the onset of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes (2). Evidence is also showing that the effects of poor diet can manifest physically in unborn children. A study shows that expectant mothers who take a folic acid supplement are up to 40% less likely to birth a child that would later be diagnosed with autism (2).
All of this demonstrates that it is time for a Real Food Revolution. The truth is we are simply not getting enough nutrients from food alone. Nutritional supplements can be effective at supporting daily nutrient needs, but they must also be assisted by an organic whole foods diet. Adding supplements to a poor diet is not adequate for optimizing nutritional intake. The following are 5 supplements that just about everyone would benefit from taking daily.
Chronic inflammation is a present and persistent part of almost every major disease, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, autoimmunity, arthritis, COPD, allergies, obesity and diabetes. Inflammation is the body’s natural way of fighting infection and treating injuries. However, if it goes on for too long or goes wrong, it can be the gateway to chronic disease. Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world. The WHO ranks chronic diseases as the greatest threat to human health. The prevalence of diseases associated with chronic inflammation is anticipated to increase persistently for the next 30 years in the United States (3). Some leading causes of chronic inflammation are; smoking, obesity, chronic stress, poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, toxin exposure, and the excessive consumption of alcohol.
Fish oil is currently one of the most popular dietary supplements. Fish oil is the fat/oil extracted from the flesh of fish. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil provide many health benefits, so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating 1-2 portions of fish per week. Omega-3 fatty acids support heart health, normal brain function, healthy eyes, good skin health, pregnancy, and optimal bone health. However, one of the most important benefits of fish oil, is its ability to reduce inflammation (4).
The reason that I recommend a fish oil supplement over consuming fish regularly is due to the poor quality of fish these days. Our oceans, rivers, and lakes are massively polluted, and this is leading to fish that are contaminated with heavy metals, plastic particles, polychlorinated byphenols (PCBs), and other toxic substances. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that fish-eaters with high levels of PCBs in their blood have difficulty recalling information that they learned just 30 minutes earlier. In 2002, 38 US states issued fish consumption advisories due to toxic levels of PCBs (5).
The decline in fish populations in the wild has led to an increase in farmed fish. Farmed fish are not the answer either, because they are even more toxic than the fish caught in the wild. A 2004 assessment of farmed salmon found that PCB levels were 8 times higher than what are found in wild salmon. The CDC concludes that PCBs contribute to cancer, immunosuppression, neurotoxicity, and reproductive and developmental toxicity. It has also been concluded that fish consumption is the main route for exposure to PCBs (6).
In addition to PCBs, new research warns us about polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) as well. PBDEs are a class of chemicals used often in flame-retardants. Many of them have been banned in the US and Europe, but they are still found in older products and in the environment. Health consequences associated to PBDEs include infertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays, reduced IQ, hormone disruptions, and cancer. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found PBDEs in food fed to farmed salmon (6).
So now that I have drilled in the importance of avoiding wild and farmed fish in your diet, why would I then tell you to take a fish oil supplement? High quality, therapeutic grade supplements follow very strict quality control procedures. Even though the oil is sourced from fish caught in the wild, it is then meticulously filtered to remove all environmental chemicals. In addition to fish oils being clear of contaminants, they are also highly concentrated with omega-3 fatty acids. You get far more omega-3s from consuming fish oil gel caps, then you can get from adding fish into your diet.
Of course it must be emphasized that not all supplements are created equally. There are a LOT of supplements on the market that don’t follow good manufacturing practices (GMP) or hold an NSF certification. My favorite fish oil supplement company is Nordic Naturals. Their ProOmega 2000 product has the highest amount of DHA and EPA per 2 soft gels of any other product found on the market. It may have an expensive price tag to go along with it, but this is due to its high quality and concentration. A bottle of 120 gel caps runs about $75, and would last you 2 months. That means it’s only $38 a month, which is a lot cheaper than trying to eat at least 2 servings of fish a week.
Previously, Vitamin B was believed to be one nutrient. Later, researchers found it actually contained several vitamins, each given its own number. Although closely inter-related in their cellular functioning, each of the 8 vitamins in the B-complex has a completely unique structure from the next, and functions differently in the body (7, 8).
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1): Helps the body process carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Needed by every cell in the body in order to form ATP, the fuel for the body. Also required for every nerve cell to function normally.
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Helps the body process amino acids and fats, activates B6 and folic acid, converts carbohydrates into ATP, acts like an antioxidant, helps the body utilize iron, and regulates thyroid hormones.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3): Involved in extracting energy from carbohydrates, helps the body process alcohol, and regulates cholesterol levels.
- Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5): Involved in the production of ATP, part of the production of acetylcholine (important for nerve function), essential in the production and transportation of fats, helps extract energy from fats, part of the synthesis of vitamin D, lowers bad cholesterol, and activates the adrenal glands.
- Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6): Master vitamin in the processing of amino acids, part of the synthesis of hormones, serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine.
- Biotin (Vitamin B9): Part of the process of metabolizing protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Also involved with helping the body metabolize and regulate glucose.
- Cobalamin (Vitamin B12): Needed for normal nerve cell activity, DNA replication, and the production of the mood-altering molecule SAMe. Works with folic acid and B6 to control homocysteine levels. An excess of homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Folic Acid: Needed for cell replication and growth, and the synthesis of DNA, RNA and proteins.
The best sources of B vitamins include; whole grains, meat, eggs, dairy products, legumes, seeds, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, and fruits. So basically, B vitamins are found in all of the foods that most Americans aren’t eating enough of. On top of that, even if people do consume many of these foods, they aren’t organic, which means they lack the same level of nutrition. When it comes to meat, eggs, and dairy, unless the animals are pasture raised, then B vitamins are not contained in these foods. The B vitamins come from the green plants the animals eat during grazing. Therefore, commercially raised animals that are fed wheat, soy, and corn, do not provide any nutritional value.
In addition to the consumption of low quality food, there are a variety of other factors that contribute to the depletion of B vitamins. A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates requires the use of B vitamins for proper metabolism. Since Americans eat way too many carbohydrates on average, this means that the body needs more B vitamins than normal. Another common addiction is the daily consumption of caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means that drinking it causes the body to flush B vitamins through the system at a faster rate than in would normally. Stress is another factor; it requires the body to cope in many ways, most of which demand more B vitamins. This wouldn’t be that big of deal if it weren’t for the fact that most Americans live in a state of constant chronic stress.
When it comes to supplementing with a B complex, I typically recommend an activated B complex. This means that the forms of B vitamins used are very bioavailable. They are already in the form that the body uses readily. This is important, because a large portion of the population today express gene mutations that make it difficult for the body to activate (methylate) these vitamins on its own.
Vitamin D3 + K2
Vitamin D is another extremely vital nutrient. It helps the body absorb calcium, build and maintain healthy bones, supports muscle function, and plays a crucial role in optimal functioning of the immune system.
Vitamin D, also described as the ‘sun vitamin’, is a steroid hormone synthesized in the skin from a biochemical reaction between cholesterol and UVB sun rays. In recent years, it has become increasingly recognized that vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency is now an epidemic. A variety of studies have show that anywhere between 40% and 80% of the population has suboptimal vitamin D levels. Although rickets disease is still rare in the American population, there is a significant increase in other illnesses that are associated with insufficient vitamin D levels. These include certain cancers, hypertension, obesity, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and a variety of autoimmune disorders (9,10).
The reason that vitamin D is so important in the manifestation of these illnesses is due to it’s involvement with the immune system. Not long ago scientists realized that many of the cells in the immune system possess receptors for vitamin D. It was then discovered that this was due to the fact that vitamin D was capable of shifting the immune system from a state of inflammation to a state of anti-inflammation. Things get far more complicated than this as well, so lets just say that vitamin D is truly one of the most important aspects of a healthy immune system. One study examined over 19,000 people and found that the ones with low vitamin D levels were more likely to get sick regularly (9).
Part of the reason for the increase in deficiency is the result of our modern lifestyle. In the past, technology wasn’t a dominating factor, and kids played outside for entertainment. It was also far more common for jobs to include outdoor activity as apposed to indoor desk duty. Americans are basically overworked and exhausted, and the time spent enjoying the sun is becoming less and less. The scare of skin cancer and wrinkles also results in more people avoiding the sun or using high SPF sunscreens regularly. Since 80% of the body’s vitamin D needs comes from sun exposure, it is clear to see why there is now a deficiency epidemic.
Another reason for the increase in vitamin D deficiency is due to newly discovered gene mutations. In order for vitamin D to be used in the nucleus of cells, it needs to be bound to a protein and transported there. Once in the nucleus, vitamin D needs to then bind to a receptor (VDR) in order to initiate a response. There are genes that code for the transporter protein and the VDR receptor, and when mutations occur in either of them it usually results in decreased vitamin D levels. With more and more people using genome services like 23andMe, we now have increasing data supporting the prevalence of these genetic mutations. The genes mentioned above are only a couple of examples of genes responsible for optimal vitamin D levels (11).
The easiest way to assess your vitamin D level is through laboratory blood work. Traditional lab values claim that deficiency only exists when levels drop below 30 ng/ml. However holistic and functional doctors, such as myself, believe that a deficiency should be considered when levels drop below 50 ng/ml. Majority of the patients I see have levels between 20 ng/ml and 35 ng/ml. This is why I recommend a vitamin D supplement to most people. Adding this supplement into your routine will help you fight off infections, improve your energy, and help you fight or prevent many different health concerns.
The reason for adding K2 into the vitamin D supplement is for proper absorption and utilization of calcium. When most people think of vitamin K, they think of its involvement with clotting. This is not a wrong thought, but it’s actually vitamin K1 that is more involved in clotting in comparison to K2. Vitamin K1 is found in a variety of plants, so we get it through our diet. Vitamin K2 on the other hand is made in the colon by our gut bacteria. There are also a couple of different forms of vitamin K2 as well, but for the purposes of this conversation, we care about menaquinone-7 (MK-7).
MK-7 works synergistically with vitamin D3 to help move calcium into the proper areas of your body such as the bones and the teeth. In addition to directing calcium to the correct areas of the body, MK-7 also makes sure that calcium doesn’t get deposited into the arteries. It is estimated that 80% of the American population is deficient in K2, which opens the door for many chronic diseases. These include osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, kidney stones, and cancer (14). This is why a vitamin D3 supplement should always include K2 in the form of MK-7.
Vitamin C brings a wide variety of health benefits to the human body. It is immune-protective, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant. As an extremely powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can neutralize and even remove environmental pollutants. Studies have shown that healthy young adults with low levels of vitamin C have increased levels of oxidative stress and less antioxidant capacity. As well as the omegas found in fish oil, vitamin C is also a powerful component when it comes to reducing chronic inflammation, which often increases alongside high levels of toxicity. Taking a vitamin C supplement twice a day has been shown to reduce inflammation in diabetic obese and/or hypertensive patients. Ongoing research is also examining the role of vitamin C in the prevention of certain types of cancer, heart disease, and any diseases in which oxidative stress is present (12).
The human body is not capable of making vitamin C, and it also doesn’t store vitamin C. This means that all of the vitamin C in the body comes from the diet. Vitamin C is found in abundance in raw organic fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 adults consume enough fruits and veggies daily (13). That means that 90% of the population is not getting proper nutrition. In addition to this, vitamin C is also very heat sensitive, which means that cooked produce no longer contains vitamin C.
In addition to insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption, our world now results in increased toxin exposure. Environmental pollution, chemical household products, poor quality water, and pesticide crops all result in oxidative damage to our cells. This means that there is a much greater need for antioxidants by the body, and yet most people are getting much less. I feel like people really underestimate the powerful force of vitamin C, and I used to be one of those people. Then I started taking 4 g a day, and it made a significant improvement in my chronic inflammation. Trust me when I say that this affordable and easily attainable nutrient can make a world of difference in your health too. This is why it is another supplement that I recommend to every single one of my patients.
Minerals are highly important to our overall health; they play a critical role in thousands of biochemical processes in the body. Unfortunately, our soil is becoming depleted of minerals, meaning the mineral-richness of produce is decreasing. Some causes of mineral depletion in the body include; soil depletion, low stomach acid, pharmaceutical medications, birth control pills, coffee, alcohol, sugar and soda consumption, poor diet, and radiation exposure. The over-use of resources, erosion, deforestation, pollution, commercial agriculture, and industrial development all contribute to the widespread mineral depletion of the soil (16).
- Iodine: About 60% of all the iodine in the body is stored in the thyroid gland, and its presence helps to control metabolism and the regulation of many other important functions. As well as controlling the function of the thyroid gland and relevant hormone secretion, iodine also supports the optimal utilization of calories, preventing the storage of excess fat. It also assists in the removal of toxins from the body, and the correct utilization of silicon and calcium (15).
- Zinc: Zinc is needed in small amounts everyday to maintain proper health and functioning of the body. Benefits of zinc include; immune boosting, anti-inflammation, and the promotion of healthy digestion and healthy hormone production. Zinc has the potential to act as an antioxidant within the body, slowing the aging process and fighting infection (17).
- Selenium: Selenium is found naturally in soil, and thus appears in certain foods, and even water. It is vital for the human body due to its effects on the immune system and antioxidant activity. Selenium benefits the body by helping to prevent some forms of cancer, decrease symptoms of asthma, fight off viruses, and protect against heart disease. Food sources high in selenium include; Brazil nuts, liver, tuna, eggs, cod, and sunflower seeds (18).
- Manganese: The body needs manganese in small amounts. It is required for normal functioning of the brain, the enzyme systems and the nervous system. Manganese is an essential nutrient and is mostly found in whole grains and seeds. Benefits of manganese include; improvement of bone health, antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory, promotes regulation of blood sugar, linked to decrease in epileptic seizures, improves brain function, promotes good thyroid health, and aids the metabolism of nutrients (19).
- Chromium: Chromium is a type of chemical element, a hard metal that is needed by the body in very small amounts. It is especially useful for diabetes control as it is known to play a role in the insulin-signalling pathways that let our bodies know how to control the amount of sugar we take in. This also affects heart health, brain health, and weight management (20).
- Molybdenum: Molybdenum is a somewhat lesser known trace mineral, but it is essential for human health. The body needs only a very small amount, but without it, there would be a build up of toxins and sulfites in the body. It occurs naturally in soil, and is then transferred into the body when we consume plants or animals that have grazed outdoors. Produce with the highest concentration of Molybdenum are; beans, lentils, liver, kidney and grains (21).
- Boron: Boron is proving to be an important trace mineral due to its many newly emerging health benefits. It plays a crucial role in bone growth and maintenance, improves wound healing, supports healthy brain function and has even been shown to have preventative effects for a number of cancers (22).
- Vanadium: Vanadium is a chemical element most commonly found in ocean life. It has been found to improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes and could also potentially reduce blood sugar levels. Supplements can be taken orally to assist with heart disease, diabetes, hypoglycemia, the prevention of cancer, and to improve athletic performance (23).
- Copper: Copper is found in all body tissues, and its an essential trace mineral necessary for survival. It not only plays an important role in the creation of red blood cells, and the function of the immune system, but it also helps the body to form collagen and absorb iron from foods, making is a crucial player in energy production. Copper has also been shown to support healthy brain function (24).
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