The question of whether you need to take vitamins and supplements can spark heated debate among health enthusiasts. To shed light on this topic, let’s turn to the realm of science for some insights.
The answer is really ‘it depends’. The need for vitamins and supplements comes with some caveats:
Can you say yes to all of the following points?
- I am a healthy weight
- I eat at least 5 serves of fruit and vegetables a day
- I eat 30g of fibre per day
- I drink at least 2L of water every day
- I have very little stress in my life
- I eat a varied diet and am not vegan or vegetarian
- I eat several serves of fish a week (not tinned)
- I avoid all drugs including alcohol and cigarettes
- I exercise gently most days
- I have no diagnosed illness
If you can’t answer yes to all of the questions above, then there may be times when a vitamin or supplement might give your body extra support and help you feel better.
Let’s break down some of the questions:
If you are slightly overweight but can say yes to the rest, there is probably no cause for concern, however extra weight can cause increases in inflammation levels which can lead to more serious illness. Some vitamins and supplements can support inflammation and weight loss, so are worth investigating, but eating lots of fruit and vegetables are another way to reduce inflammation and support weight loss.
Fruit and Vegetables
It seems that very few people eat the required 5 serves of fruit and veg everyday (5 serves of hot chips don’t count!) and they provide valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The more colourful the better! You don’t need much capsicum or blueberries to get enough vitamin C. Carrots have vitamin A, tomatoes vitamin C and lycopene, the list goes on. And let’s not forget the fibre they contain…
Fibre is important to keep everything going if you get my gist. 30g a day is the goal and that is a lot of fibre! Insoluble fibre is like a broom and helps clean everything and flush toxins and excess cholesterol out of your body before they can do too much harm. Of course the broom doesn’t work very well without water (think cork!). There are other types of fibre that serve a valuable role in your health and we will explore those in greater detail in later blog.
Every cell in your body needs water to function and without enough they don’t work like they should, leaving you fatigued, and dehydrated. Dehydration messes with the balance of the minerals in your body and this is critically important for things like brain and heart function. As you get older, your thirst mechanism doesn’t work as effectively, so if your wee is dark yellow, get some fluids into you!
Stress is a big one and deserves a blog of its own. High stress levels mean more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are required and if they are not there, you can suffer a myriad of symptoms. Chronic stress is a huge issue these days, but there are ways to help reduce it and support the extra nutrients required.
Research shows that the more diverse your diet, the healthier your gut microbiome, so aim to eat different foods every day. This can be hard when you want to eat the same thing every day like I do! Eating a varied diet that’s mostly plants but with small amounts of meat, fish and dairy, makes it easier for you to get optimum vitamins and minerals without thinking too hard. Not eating meat risks B12 and iron deficiencies which need to be supplemented, and getting enough protein might also be a challenge.
Fish is a great source of Omega 3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory, however if fish is not your thing, walnuts, chia and flax seeds are also a good source. Just remember that whole flax seed goes in and comes out exactly the same (if you get my drift 😊) so you need to grind the seeds to release the oil before you eat them. Alternatively, you can buy flax seed oil, however it is hard to buy and keep fresh, so grinding flax seeds and then eating them is probably the best option.
Drugs and alcohol
This is a big one for many of us, me included! I don’t take lots of drugs, but I do like a wine or two, especially red wine. It’s ok in moderation and some say it’s actually healthy, but moderation is the key sticking point. Alcohol messes with the absorption of many, if not all nutrients, encourages you to eat more, do other silly things and makes your poor liver work overtime. In fact, most drugs are processed through your liver and are often prioritised, so it sends other less poisonous things back into circulation. This can contribute to hormone imbalances, weight gain and lots of other nasties.
Gentle exercise often, doing something you enjoy is critically important, because let’s face it, if you don’t like it, are you going to do it long term? Weight bearing exercise becomes more important as we get older to help maintain our bone density, but you don’t need to add marathon runner or weightlifter to your goal list! In fact high intensity long term exercise increases the stress load on your body. 30 minutes a day is enough, or new research shows that you can do all your exercise in a couple of days (i.e. the weekend) and still reap the benefits.
Being diagnosed with an illness, particularly a chronic one, does change the landscape and the potential need for some extra vitamins, minerals and supplements. For example, I have an autoimmune disease that affects my skin amongst other things (scleroderma), so I take vitamins and supplements to support that. They include zinc, Omega 3 fish oil (I’m not a big fish eater) and a mega multi vitamin, among other things.
Let’s face it, no one is perfect (and definitely not me!) so maybe we all need vitamin support from time to time. However, in most cases, vitamins and supplements are not a long-term solution and they should be reviewed every few months. But sometimes, a chronic illness may need longer term support. In future blogs I will cover some of these issues in greater detail, however if you need advice about your situation, please contact me.