Headlines on Ephedra clarified, and the reasons for taking supplements explored.
Why take dietary supplements?
To answer that question, let’s first start with a more basic question:
What is a supplement?
According to the dictionary, a supplement is “a nutrient or phytochemical supplied in addition to that which is obtained in the diet.” The basic idea of this definition is correct (something supplied in addition to the diet), but it is woefully incomplete. As it turns out, we take nutritional or dietary supplements for a whole range of things of which only the first five qualify as supplementing things obtained from our diet.
- To provide additional vitamins and minerals
- To provide additional trace minerals
- To provide additional protein
- To provide additional antioxidants
- To provide additional essential fatty acids
- To aid in digestion
- To aid in elimination
- To detox the colon
- To detox the liver
- To reduce pain and inflammation
- To clean the blood
- To remove heavy metals
- To repair tissue damage
- To rebuild beneficial bacteria destroyed by chlorinated water and antibiotics in our food supply
- To slow aging
- To optimize hormone levels
- To counteract the harm caused by food we eat
- And to provide function specific benefits such as
- Gingko to improve brain function
- 5-HTP to relax
- Red rice yeast extract and policosinol to lower cholesterol levels
- Yohimbe for sexual stimulation
As you can see, most of these reasons fall outside the intent of the standard diet. For example, in our basic diet, we don’t eat dinner to remove heavy metals or to slow aging or eat lunch to counteract what we’ve already eaten for breakfast.
So what does this mean?
Well, first of all, it means that any doctor who tells you that you get everything you need in a balanced diet is misinformed. As we just said, no balanced diet is designed to remove heavy metals or detox the liver, etc.
But that’s a secondary issue. Here’s the key point: almost everything on our list is the result of errors and omissions.
- We supplement with vitamins and minerals because the food we eat no longer supplies the same levels of nutrients of the food our grandparents ate. If it takes 80 cups of spinach to give you the same amount of iron that your grandmother got in one cup of spinach grown 100 years ago (and it does), who can eat 80 cups of spinach a day just to get enough iron? (Heck, how many people even eat spinach nowadays?)
- We supplement with digestive enzymes because our diets now consist almost entirely of cooked and processed food that contain no active enzymes.
- We supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids because the companies we buy our processed food from have deliberately removed Omega-3 fatty acids from the foods they sell us to prolong shelf life.
- We use detox programs to eliminate heavy metals and xenoestrogens and over 100,000 other manmade chemicals (chemicals that didn’t even exist 100 years ago) from the very cells and tissues of our bodies.
- We take stimulants to jack us up because we have trashed our adrenals.
- We take calming herbs to bring us down because we live on stimulants and stress.
- Etc. Etc. Etc.
The bottom line is that we take supplements, for the most part, to counter the sins of our lives. Some of these sins are inflicted on us (air pollution, contaminated food supplies, chlorinated water, etc.) and some we inflict on ourselves (overeating, junk food, cigarettes, etc.).
Drugs Are for the Desperate
At least when we take many nutritional supplements, we are looking to correct the cause of our problems (insufficient vitamins and minerals, enzyme dead food, improper elimination, etc.). But for the most part, when we take drugs, we are not looking to alter the cause – merely correct the symptom. For example, you take Prilosec, not to address the reason that your body is producing too much stomach acid (in most cases, insufficient digestive enzymes in our food), but to suppress your body’s ability to actually produce the acid in the first place, regardless of why it wants to. You take statin drugs to force your liver to produce less cholesterol, not to address the reason that it is producing too much. Or to look at it another way, no one takes chemotherapy drugs because their body is suffering from a chemotherapy deficiency.
Unfortunately, doctors have taken this dissociation of effect from cause, of body parts from body whole, to whole new levels of absurdity. Now, they just treat the body as a mere set of “numbers.” Consider: when you go to your doctor, he/she orders up a series of very expensive tests (blood work, PSA, EEG, etc.), each of which produces a set of numbers. Then, based on those numbers (whether your numbers fall within a predetermined “normal” range), your doctor prescribes a series of drugs to move those numbers up or down so that once again they fit within the prescribed range. In this model, even symptoms don’t matter—only the numbers.
In the end, for those who can’t live a cleaner lifestyle and don’t want to learn of more natural ways to bring their bodies back into balance, drugs are the tool of last resort. Yes, it’s better to take diuretics to lower blood pressure than die. And for those who can’t make the necessary changes to have their body rebalance its own blood pressure, they make all the sense in the world.
But the bottom line is it makes far more sense to “assist” your body in correcting the cause of a problem (something your body is actually designed to do) than to ignore the cause and artificially force the symptoms back into line.
And yes, to be fair, there are people for whom drugs are the only option, but 95% of the people who do use drugs have a choice. They just choose not to make it. They are the desperate – the self defeated.
Dietary Supplement Conclusions
- Correcting the cause is a better choice than manipulating the symptoms.
- Using natural methods to assist the body in doing what it was designed to do is a better choice than forcing particular organs to perform in ways they were never meant to.
- And yes, if we lived in an ideal world where our bodies weren’t being assaulted by toxins on a daily basis and our food was grown with optimal nutrition levels (something the word organic doesn’t guarantee by the way), we wouldn’t need most supplements – as doctors have been telling us for years.
- But we live in the real world, where our bodies are riddled with toxins and our food supplies provide inadequate nutrition, so we have no choice. We have to supplement – as even JAMA now tells us.
- And if you supplement, the closer the supplement is to its natural state, in general, the better off you are. Who talked about gamma tocopherol 10 years ago? Now researchers tell us that the gamma fraction of vitamin E is far more important than the d-alpha fraction. In fact, d-alpha is at best the 6th most important fraction of the vitamin E complex. But for how many years has it been the only fraction in your vitamin E supplement? Think about that. For as long as you’ve been taking vitamin E, you’ve been using the fraction that ranks behind the four tocotrienol fractions and the gamma tocopherol fraction. There are only two less effective fractions than d-alpha. As a species, we tend to think we’re very clever, but when it comes to health and nutrition, Mother Nature really does tend to know best.
Bottom line. When it comes to health, we all have choices in our lives.
- We can live idyllically in pristine environments, eat super organic food off the vine, drink fresh mountain spring water, and work stress free gathering daisies in the open field – a life that would require minimum use of supplements and drugs.
- We can live “normally” – that is eat a moderately healthy diet and work long hours – and use supplements, juice fasts, detoxes, and exercise to atone for our sins.
- Or we can live on pepperoni pizza, beer, and Ding Dongs, not exercise, not supplement, and rely on 15-25 prescription drugs a day to carry us through the last 20 years of our lives.
And for better or worse, we each get to make our own choice.