In the United States, health supplements (or dietary supplements) are defined under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) as a product that is intended to supplement the diet and contains any of the following dietary ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical (excluding tobacco), an amino acid, a dietary substance for use by people to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any of the above.
Furthermore, a health supplement must also conform to the following criteria:
Are Health Supplements Necessary?
About 77% of the American public takes some form of health supplement on a daily basis. There are a multitude of reasons to take health supplements, but the most compelling can be found in the poor state of our current food supply.
Due to intensive farming methods, the food grown today on modern farms does not contain the quantities of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and beneficial flora that these same foods did 100 years ago. In addition to the loss of nutrients through widespread soil depletion, the ground in which these foods are grown is polluted with pesticides and herbicides.
How do we know this? The USDA publishes a catalog called the Composition of Foods (Raw, Processed, Prepared). If you compare one of these catalogs from the 1960’s to the current 2002 version, the can see that the nutritive values of vegetables and fruit in the US has dropped significantly. For instance, consider the following from an article on this loss of nutrients in Life Extension Magazine. They compared the old data with the new data and found that:
The differences are so extreme in some cases, that the National Academy of Sciences has issued an alert that it takes twice as many vegetables to get the daily requirement of vitamin A as previously thought.
To make matters worse, the USDA has not revised the Recommended Daily Allowance tables in 30 years, so there is no current research on what levels of vitamin and mineral intakes are appropriate for our bodies.
When purchasing supplements, look for those which are made from whole, raw foods. These whole supplements closely approximate the food from which they come, and the vitamins and minerals are in "complex" form, including other compounds which assist with assimilation.
Most commercial, synthetic vitamins are created as isolated nutrients. "Isolated" nutrients are synthetic isolate versions of a single element such as vitamin C or magnesium. If you get Vitamin C from an orange, you also get a host of other beneficial compounds. In other words, the vitamins in real food are not isolated. They work in conjunction with a complex of other related nutrients called "co-factors". These co-factors might include bioflavonoids, enzymes, phytonutrients, trace element activators and essential fatty acids, among others.
Health supplements come in many different types. They may include:
Not all health supplements provide the same vitamins and minerals in the same amounts. Sometimes you have take several in combination to get a full range of nutrients in the correct amounts. I take several different types, including two different multi-vitamins, cod liver oil, fish oil, magnesium, potassium, selenium and CoQ10. I created this handy Nutrient Tracker in Excel so I could be sure I wasn't taking too much of any one element. It is in zipped format. (Note: you must have Microsoft Excel loaded on your computer to be able to use the Excel tracker. If you don't have Excel, download this manual one instead.)
Resources for Further ReadingHealth supplementation is an important part of any healthy eating plan. For more information, check out the following resources:
Basic Recommended Supplements for Good Health
A basic multivitamin. I take this one, because it supports healthy blood sugar levels:
This one is good too:
I think just about everyone would benefit from a Magnesium Citrate supplement (200-400 mg per day):
and I think CoQ10, which is a energy substrate, is important, especially if you over 30:
And finally, Vitamin D is a critical vitamin in which many people are deficient, so I recommend taking it as well. You may want to have your levels checked via blood test before you do, and start slowly with 1000 IU per day. Then have your levels checked after a month and see if you are in the healthy range of 30-100 ng/mL :