Nutrients are necessary for every structure and function in the body. A nutrient is defined as a chemical substance that provides energy, forms new components or assists in various bodily processes. In today’s busy world it is difficult to find healthy foods, ensure a clean environment or live completely stress free. Health supplements are an intervention that can easily be integrated into our busy lives.
Nutrition was only recognized as a distinct discipline in 1934, almost 200 years after the first nutritional experiment. A British physician, Dr. James Lind, studied the effect of foods containing ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) on scurvy. The Royal Navy adopted his recommendations several decades after his discovery. Eventually, the Royal Navy decreed that a certain amount of citrus fruit must be kept on board for each sailor. The absence of scurvy was a contributing factor to the British rule of the high seas and their nickname ‘limey’.
Despite his success in 1747, the concept of vitamins as necessary bodily nutrients was only discovered in 1912 by Casimir Funk. He proposed that pellagra, beriberi, scurvy and rickets were diseases of deficiency and not caused by a bacteria. Funk knew that “vital for life” nutrients with a nitrogen component could correct the deficiency, thus leading to the term “vita-mine” (vita meaning “essential for life” in Latin and amine for “nitrogen containing compound”). Eventually the “e” was removed following the realization that not all vitamins contained nitrogen, creating the word we use today “vitamin”.
Modern health supplements supply critical nutrients to compensate for common deficiencies, genetics, toxic build-up, enzyme defects and to prevent or treat illnesses. Supplements have the potential to play a major role in health and can be easily used as a complementary treatment in many cases.
Micronutrients are being consumed in minimal amounts today compared to our ancestors. The average diet is significantly lacking essential nutrients. The nutrient content of food has shifted due to the focus of modern farming techniques on producing higher yields. From 1940-2000, nutrient content has declined significantly: magnesium 21-35%, potassium 6-14%, calcium 16-29%, iron 15-32%, copper 81%, riboflavin (B2) 38% and vitamin C 15%.
Not only does our food contain fewer nutrients, but gastrointestinal disturbances can contribute to malabsorption and hereditary absorption defects. Folic acid, biotin, magnesium and zinc are some of the common poorly absorbed nutrients. Absorption is essential to supplementation. Taking a handful of pills daily is not effective if your body is not able to metabolize them properly. At Nature Medicine, we seek to correct this prior to supplementation to ensure that you will absorb your nutrients properly.
Supplementation has been demonstrated to improve body function for at least 50 inherited enzyme defects. This includes conversion of a vitamin to its active form.
The body’s nutrient requirements can be altered by the presence of disease especially if the illness causes an increased metabolic rate, such as hyperthyroidism (depleting vitamins A, B, C, E, copper, iron). In the case of congestive heart failure, the heart tissue faces an impaired ability to absorb magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins.
Certain medications are capable of promoting nutrient deficiencies. Supplementation can be beneficial in preventing drug side effects.
Nutritional requirements for the general population are often calculated by taking the mean (average) requirement hence the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA). Other factors including safety, exposure, stress and nutrient stability are taken into consideration too. Unfortunately, there are downfalls to the RDAs. These values are established for a healthy population and do not take into account disease states (digestive difficulties, malabsorption, chronic infection), genetic defects, environmental pollutants or increased need due to medications. These are special instances that would increase a person’s RDA. Considering how wide spread disease trends have become, we recognize that the RDAs should be considered as general guidelines. Each person has an individual optimal requirement that will likely fall well above the RDA and well below the toxic dose. Your Nature Medicine Naturopathic Doctor will recommend the most appropriate and safest dose for your nutritional supplementation, taking into account the most recent research and the effectiveness of various nutrients.
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- Gaby, A. Nutritional Medicine. 2011. Fritz Perlberg Publishing. Concord, NH.
- Pizzorno, J & Murray, M. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 3rd edition. 2006. Elsevier Ltd. Churchill Livingstone. St. Louis, Missouri.