Here in the UK, we spend more than £670 million per year on vitamins and other dietary supplements in an effort to boost our health and wellbeing. Despite this, the rates of many chronic diseases have remained the same, while others have actually become more common. This seems to demonstrate that despite the huge amounts of money we are pouring into the supplement market, it doesn’t actually seem to be doing that much good for our health.
Although some supplements can be helpful, they are not an instant cure-all. It is becoming more and more obvious that if we do not have a solid base of good health and nutrition to build on, then simply taking supplements is not going to do much good. It is also clear that there are huge distinctions between different forms of supplements, and not all of them are equal. In particular, research and results have shown that whole foods nutritional supplements are vastly superior to synthetically manufactured or isolated supplements.
There are many different theories and opinions on what foods we should be eating, what we should be avoiding, and what ratios should be included in our diets. Despite these differing opinions, it is pretty much universally agreed that unprocessed, whole foods contain more beneficial nutrition than refined foods. It is no different when it comes to supplements. If you are trying to get your body into optimal condition, you wouldn’t fill your shopping trolley with processed and refined foods, so why would you choose isolated, refined vitamins?
Just as is the case with refined foods, these types of supplements have lost all of the extra nutrients contained in their basic ingredients. If taken in large doses over long periods, they can cause various imbalances and problems in your body. At the least, they will not be providing nearly as many benefits as high quality, nutritious whole food and whole food-based supplements.
In contrast to this, whole food supplements are created from concentrated whole foods. They are made up of complex structures with many antioxidants, enzymes, coenzymes, trace elements, activators and other factors which work together, enabling this vitamin complex to have a powerful beneficial effect on your body. This sets them apart from most supplements containing isolated nutrients, which simply cannot be expected to have the same effect on the body as the entire complex working synergistically.
To use an analogy, we can compare these supplements to a car, a complex machine that requires all parts working together in order to function. You couldn’t isolate the wheels or the engine from the rest of the car and expect them to work in the same way; they need all the other parts. The same principle applies to the vitamin E (delta tocopherol) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplements found in most health food stores. These vitamins are components of a complex that do their job when they are part of the whole, but which cannot function effectively by themselves.
Continuing the car analogy, the equivalent of a typical multivitamin supplement would be finding all the separate car parts in a junkyard, throwing them together in a heap (or capsule), and expecting the pile of components to form a fully functioning car. It simply doesn’t work like this.
The isolated nutrients found in most supplements are never found in nature. Studies have demonstrated that the body treats these synthetic nutrients like foreign substances, and they can actually have drug-like effects on the body when taken in the high doses featured in many products. Your body will never react to whole food based supplements ain this negative way. For example, no matter how much B vitamin-rich meat you eat, your urine will not turn yellow, whereas this can happen when you are taking an equivalent supplement.
Like drugs, artificially isolated nutrients can potentially have harmful effects on your health. The nutrients found in whole foods are combined together in a certain way, and they work most effectively in that particular format. For a nutrient to bring benefits to the body, it needs all the other components that are naturally present in food, rather than being isolated. If these other parts are not present, the body will get them from its own stores. This is the reason why isolated nutrients often seem to work for a short time, but once your stores of the extra required nutrients have been used up, the isolated nutrient in the supplement you’re taking will stop working.
Once this has happened, you are likely to be left with a deficiency of these essential nutrients, leaving you worse off than before. Also, because solvents and chemicals are used in the isolation process to create these supplements, taking high amounts may leave you exposed to toxic side effects.
In a natural vitamin complex, the different parts work together synergistically, producing a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. Continuing the earlier analogy, in its original complete form, a car will drive effectively whereas a haphazard pile of its separate parts will not. Most people will not follow this logic when deciding which nutritional supplement to take.
Most supplement manufacturers will attempt to stuff as many different ingredients into a capsule as possible, working on the flawed logic that the more we take, the more benefits we will experience. However, as you now know, it is not the amount that is important, but the form, quality and bioavailability. In fact, since isolated nutrients can actually cause harmful imbalances, logic tells us that the higher amounts you take in, the more quickly this undesirable imbalance will occur.
To sum up the meaning of all this: the effectiveness of a nutritional supplement is more to do with synergy and the way the components work together, rather than with actual levels of nutrients or the chemical effect of a single component.
In spending so much space taking about supplements, we don’t wish to distract from the most important considerations of health and healing. For true healing to take place, you must have the basics of a nutritious diet, regular exercise, detoxification, and spiritual, mental and emotional health. If these foundations are not present, a supplement is not going to help.
However, even when you have these foundations, or if your health situation requires a more immediate form of treatment, you may still need support from supplements to make sure you are getting suitable nutrition in your diet. In these situations, we strongly recommend that you choose whole food-based supplements.
But how do you know if a supplement is the right choice or not? Look out for the following qualities to determine whether a supplement is the right one for you.
- It is as close as possible to its original food form
- Great care has been taken throughout every stage of production, from growing the ingredients, to manufacturing the product, testing, and quality control.
- The manufacturer has a track record of high quality products that have been found to deliver excellent clinical results.