Dietary Supplements: Today’s busy lifestyle renders using supplements an essential priority for most people. While many individuals begin taking supplements beyond the age of 35 to restore strength, it’s important to realise that the quantity and type of supplements one takes strongly correlate with their eating patterns and nutritional status.
In an exclusive interview with Zee English, Ms Monique Jhingon, Functional Nutritionist & Lifestyle Consultant and Author shares why we should take supplements as a part of our daily diet and lifestyle.
In a March 2022 survey that was published in Statista, 69% of the Indian respondents indicated using dietary supplements with the dietary supplement industry in India reaching INR 436.5 billion in 2022. No surprise, really, given that health issues are rampant.
Compared to our ancestors, our demand for nutrients has gone up due to modern lifestyle and environmental factors such as stress, health issues, toxic exposure, medications, frequent travel, compromised digestion, and disturbances in the microbiome.
Why you should take dietary supplements?
The issue is one of demand and supply- our body demands nutrients to function. Besides macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) about 40 different micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and other compounds) are necessary for normal metabolic function. These nutrients are supplied through our diet.
On the supply side, nutrient intake has diminished due to suboptimal diets, depleted soil, food transportation and storage methods, and modern farming practices.
In other words, unless you live in a pollution-free environment, with rich soil and clean spring water, you eat a diverse, wholesome and nutrient-dense, organic, seasonal and local diet, get plenty of exercise and sunshine, have a stress-free life, and you are in perfect health with strong digestion and a well-balanced microbiome, you are likely dealing with a nutritional gap that needs to be filled.
What is also important to note is that nutritional deficiencies can go unnoticed for a long time even if they have serious implications for long-term health. Dr Bruce Ames, a U.S.-based scientist put forward a theory in 2015, the Triage Theory, which explains how nutrients are utilized by the body to fulfil needs that are critical for short-term survival and reproduction.
What is left is used for longer-term health functions and to support longevity. When there is a shortage of certain nutrients, even if minor, your long-term health, and longevity may suffer.
Things to keep in mind when taking supplements
The right supplements can help fill the nutritional gap. But before running off to buy a bunch of supplements, there are a few things to consider:
We are genetically adapted to get nutrition from food. There is a difference between the synergistic effects of nutrients in whole foods and supplements that contain isolated ingredients. Whole foods are best. Your first goal should therefore be to eat the most nutrient-dense diet possible.
From the demand perspective, you can address underlying imbalances and other factors that may be creating a higher need for certain nutrients. For example, reduce stress, work on restoring digestion and microbiome health, and reduce exposure to toxins where possible.
Where possible, identify your unique nutrient deficiencies through testing. A standard blood test can reveal some useful information on key nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium, B12, or folate or underlying imbalances that need targeted nutrient support. Functional tests such as an Organic Acid Test can help identify some key nutrient deficiencies and your bio-individual need for support in different areas, like immune function, gut health, or liver detoxification support. If in doubt, work with an experienced and qualified nutrition practitioner, who can help you identify your unique need for supplementation based on your genetics, symptoms, and testing.
Quality matters. Look for a reputable brand that uses high-quality, food-based or bio-available active ingredients in the right proportion and no unnecessary fillers, artificial flavours, or potential allergens. Unfortunately, many supplements contain cheap, synthetic ingredients that are difficult for the body to absorb, like synthetic folic acid vs folate. Or they contain too much of nutrients that in higher doses can be harmful, like iron, iodine, or calcium. On the flip side, they may contain too little of nutrients that we don’t get enough in our diet, such as vitamin D, magnesium, or vitamin K2.
To summarize, in order to support your long-term health and longevity, prioritize a nutrient-dense diet, address all the factors that are influencing your nutrient requirements, use a good quality multivitamin supplement to cover your bases and if possible, work with a qualified nutrition practitioner to identify your unique needs for targeted supplementation.
Thus, many variables, including age, amount of physical activity, pre-existing nutritional status, pre-existing diseases, etc., affect dietary supplements and their usage. Most importantly, nutritional supplements should be used in addition to a healthy diet rather than as a substitute for it, as the term indicates.