Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients needed for the body’s normal growth, function and health. Your body can’t make most micronutrients, so you must get them from the foods you eat or, in some cases, from dietary supplements. So how do you balance both nutrition sources to achieve optimal health? When does food provide enough? Which supplements does your body really need? There’s a staggering selection of supplements — anywhere from 12,500 to 15,000 on the market — and it can be confusing to know which ones are necessary and which ones can be ignored. “The consumer gets bombarded daily with something better than the day before, so no wonder it’s confusing,” says Dr. Carol Greenwood, senior scientist at Toronto’s Baycrest (www.baycrest.org). “You don’t need to take a fistful of pills or be constantly chasing the latest supplements as long as you understand the basics.” Here’s what you need to consider.
First and foremost, establish a healthy diet, health experts say. Dietary supplements aren’t meant to be food substitutes, and they can’t replicate all the nutrients and benefits of whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Greenwood recommends following Canada’s Food Guide, making sure to include fish, lean proteins, dairy, fibre, and, for optimal health, seven or eight daily servings of fruits and vegetables of vibrant hues — red, yellow, orange, green, blue and purple. “Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will help maximize nutrient intake and provide essential antioxidants, substances that slow oxidation, a natural process leading to cell and tissue damage,” Greenwood says. Free radicals are thought to be the cause of nearly all diseases.
ALL-CANADIAN SUPPLEMENT PLAN
By virtue of our geography, almost all Canadians, even those eating a balanced diet, can benefit from these supplements, says Jean-Yves Dionne, pharmacist and member of the Natural Health Product Research
Society of Canada (www.nhprs.ca).
Vitamin D A lack of sunshine in northern latitudes during the fall and winter makes it very difficult to get enough of this vitamin from exposure to the sun. It plays a key role in growing and maintaining strong bones and according to recent studies, may also have cancer-fighting qualities. Dark-skinned people are prone to vitamin
D deficiencies, as are adults over age 50. Good sources are fortified milk, cod liver oil, salmon and mackerel, and vitamin D3 supplements. Health Canada recommends that, in addition to following Canada’s Food Guide, those over 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU. Essential Fatty Acids Our North American diet contains less than 130 mg daily of long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA from fish). It should contain more than 600 mg daily. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit eye, cognitive, joint and cardiovascular health. A daily fish oil capsule with 400 mg of EPA and 200 mg of DHA will insure proper intake. If you have a heart disease risk factor
(are overweight or one of your parents has heart or cardiovascular problems), you may want to increase the dosage to more than 1,000 mg daily. Choose enteric-coated capsules that will dissolve lower in the intestine
for better absorption.
GENETICS versus GENERIC
No two people have the same supplemental needs. Two growing fields aim to customize your supplement regimen.
Orthomolecular (which means correct molecule) medicine identifies imbalances or deficiencies in individuals due to their lifestyle or biochemical makeup, then uses vitamins and nutrients that are natural to the body to correct the imbalance,” says Aileen Burford-Mason, PhD and expert adviser to Orthomolecular Health. The orthomolecular therapist will take a detailed history of your food consumption and may place you on a diet that takes into consideration allergies and sensitivities. Your consultation might include specimen collection, a metabolic assessment, a review of your nails, skin and hair and a discussion of your sleeping patterns. “Many modern illnesses are linked to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, which cause molecular imbalances leading to health problems,” adds Burford-Mason. “With the orthomolecular approach to health, the solution is not to mask the problem with medication (which may address symptoms but not the underlying causes) but to correct deficiencies and imbalances and allow the body to heal itself.” To find an orthotherapist, see www.orthomolecular.org (no physician referral needed).
DNA-based dietary advice that’s accurate and customized for you has arrived, says Wylde. Genetic testing of your sample (saliva, blood, hair) is useful for tailoring a nutrient program if a predisposition to disease is indicated; functional testing analyzes your vitamin status and if deficient, supplements can be recommended. Tests are available on the Internet. Genetic testing for your susceptibility to certain diseases is also available online (Try www.23andme.com).