Get Nutrients from Whole Foods When Possible
Now before I get into the confounding world of unregulated (by the FDA) supplements. I’d like to start off by stating, there are times and certain situations were supplementing is beneficial but we should get our nutrients from food whenever possible. Humans are adapted to getting nutrients from whole foods. Most nutrients require enzymes, synergistic cofactors, and organic mineral-activators to be properly absorbed. Which are often not included in synthetic vitamins made with isolated nutrients. A paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition called Food Synergy: An Operational Concept For Understanding Nutrition1 emphasized the importance of obtaining nutrients from whole foods, the authors concluded:
“A person or animal eating a diet consisting solely of purified nutrients in their Dietary Reference Intake amounts, without benefit of the coordination inherent in food, may not thrive and probably would not have optimal health. This review argues for the primacy of food over supplements in meeting nutritional requirements of the population.”
Problems With Unregulated Supplements
Supplements, unlike drugs or food, are unregulated and can go to the market without federal approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Furthermore, because these supplements are not regulated, the supplement industry is not motivated to conduct proper studies to determine their safety and efficacy. They are often made with unnatural synthetic nutrients and most contain many added ingredients. Synthetic nutrients are not natural, in that they are never found by themselves in nature. Taking these isolated nutrients, especially at the ultra-high doses found in formulas today, is more like taking a drug. The body treats these isolated and synthetic nutrients like xenobiotics (foreign substances). Added ingredients include fillers, binders, flow agents, disintegrants, colors and flavorings, and preservatives.
Commonly Added Dangerous Ingredients
The American College of Healthcare Services points out multiple dangerous but commonly added ingredients. Dangerous ingredient number one is artificial colorings such as FD&C Red #40 has been linked to hyperactivity in children.2 Many are already aware that dangerous ingredient number 2, Hydrogenated oils such as soybean oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils are to be avoided at all costs. As even the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans3 specifically states: “Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.” Dangerous ingredient number 3 are heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Let’s look at fish oil as an example, which contains Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) that have shown to be particularly important for brain and heart health.4 But not all fish oils are created equal. Aside from the fact that fish oils go rancid (oxidize) easily, Testing by Consumer Reports in 2011 showed that 1/3rd of fish oils tested had high PCB levels.5 Since fish high on the food chain can accumulate mercury, lead, and other contaminants, those metals can make their way into your fish oil supplements. Both oxidation and contamination of PCBs are why I prefer to get my omega-3s, an EFA, from whole food sources. Which include wild caught fish, pasture-raised eggs, or greens – especially sea greens. The 4th dangerous ingredient is Titanium Dioxide is used as a colorant (it’s also used in many cosmetics). Titanium dioxide has a gang of health implications. Not only has Titanium dioxide been shown to cause lung inflammation6 and damage.7 It has also been shown to cause kidney damage in mice8 and to induce small intestine inflammation.9 This may be scary for many considering how people suffering from Chrohn’s and gluten sensitivity are probably taking supplements containing Titanium dioxide. These are just a couple of the most dangerous ingredients there are numerous unneeded ingredients that are often added such as sucrose and maltodextrin, which are both just added sugars.
Bioavailability, What is It and Why It’s Important
The next issue when it comes to supplements is a term many are probably not familiar with, Bioavailability. Bioavailability basically means “the proportion of a nutrient or bioactive ingredient that was absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract”10 for use or storage in the body. This is an often-overlooked factor when comparing supplement brands. It has major implications for the efficacy and particularly value for money of a supplement. In a perfect world, every nutrient you ingest would be fully absorbed. Then find its target organ or body system but unfortunately, that is not the case.
Many Factors Affect Bioavailability
Different factors such as; disintegration time (time for pill to breakdown), dissolution percentage (absorption ability), nutrient “form”, presence of cofactors or inhibitors in the formula, interactions with medications, time of day taken, area of the gastrointestinal tract that disintegration occurs, level of absorption that occurs at the intestinal and cellular level, and our bodies nutritional needs at certain times. All these factors affect the total bioavailability of a supplement. This means the ingredients and amounts of each on a supplement label are in no way an accurate indication of how much actually makes it into your bloodstream for use in your body! Additionally, Under the US Dietary and Health Education Act 1994 (DSHEA) nutritional supplements are regulated under ‘food’ GMP. Which means absorption rates do not have to be tested. This has played a part in creating a credibility problem for the supplement industry. By no means is this an all-encompassing list of everything that could be wrong with a supplement. I’d like to state again there are many times when supplements can be beneficial just remember “Quality Matters.”
Fact of the week
Research published by the British Society For Immunology showed that stearic acid suppresses T cells, your natural killer cells, which are a key component of your immune system.16
According to this study, stearic acid causes the collapse of cell membrane integrity, an effect that was found to be time and dose dependent, which can destroy cell function. Magnesium stearate is formed by adding a magnesium ion to stearic acid. This compound has lubricating properties, which is why it’s often used in the making of supplements. As it allows the machinery to run faster, smoother, and prevents the pills or capsules from sticking to each other. In my view, if you’re taking a supplement, make sure it’s a high quality and natural food-based supplement. That also does not include potentially harmful fillers and additives such as magnesium stearate.