As a pharmacist, I am often asked about whether or not nutritional supplements are necessary. Ideally, it would be great if we could get all the nutrients we needed from diet. However, this is not always possible. Many factors can negatively impact our nutritional status, such as stress, digestive problems and use of prescription drugs that deplete nutrients. And despite our best efforts we may not be getting enough nutrient dense foods in our diet. Fast food and packaged foods while convenient are often lacking in nutritional value. For all of these reasons, I recommend “foundation” supplements that can fill in nutrient gaps. These foundation supplements offer a wide range of health benefits and are safe to take for the majority of people:
Essential Fatty Acids are considered “essential” because our bodies cannot make them yet they are crucial for health throughout life. They are required for growth and development of the brain, nervous system, adrenal glands, sex organs, and eyes. Omega-3 deficiency is thought to be quite common, and supplementing with omega-3s offers a number of health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart attack, and improving brain function and skin health.
Probiotics provide many health benefits by supporting immune function: protecting against infection by harmful bacteria (yeast and bacteria), aiding in detoxification, producing vitamins, and improving gut health. Numerous studies have shown that certain probiotics can provide benefits for the prevention or treatment of travelers’ diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, eczema and infantile colic. Probiotic supplements vary greatly in potency (number of bacteria), therapeutic use (some have research for a specific aspect of health), and form (capsules, tablets, powders, liquids) and are generally well tolerated.
Vitamin D has long been known as the vitamin that helps the body absorb and use calcium for developing and maintaining strong bones and teeth. But emerging research shows it also helps support the immune system, regulate insulin levels, and reduce the risk of diabetes, dementia, certain cancers and multiple sclerosis. Although vitamin D can be produced in our bodies in response to sun exposure, working indoors, use of sunscreens and the Canadian winter months have left many of us without the ability to produce vitamin D, resulting in over 2/3 of the Canadian population with a vitamin D deficiency.
New data from major health organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society, point to a daily supplement of 1,000 IU (plus any amounts from sunlight and food) for optimal cancer prevention. Especially important during fall and winter months when sunlight is limited, this dose is a good year-round maintenance level for seniors, people with dark complexions and anyone who spends a significant amount of time indoors.
When choosing a supplement, speak with your health care practitioner for advice on the proper dosage and appropriate use of the product.
Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist and author of several health books, including The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.