Do you need to take supplements? The answer isn’t always straightforward. In a perfect world, all the nutrients we need are readily available from a well-rounded diet. However, many other factors come into play. Simply put, today’s world isn’t always conducive to a diet that meets all your needs.
It also important to discuss your supplements with a licensed medical professional to ensure they are safe to take with your current prescription medications and your medical history.
Here are some questions to ask to determine if supplementation is the right choice for you.
Where do you get your food?
Conventional farming practices have led to nutrient loss in many foods. Overfarming often reduces nutrients in soil, which in turn lowers the nutritional value of produce in vital areas like vitamins A and C. Similarly, animals raised in feedlots miss out on the varied diets that animals who graze in open spaces benefit from. One study found, for example, that grass-fed beef is higher in vitamins A and E and antioxidants than beef from feedlots. These trends mean that consumers need to consider their foods’ origins in order to get maximum nutritional value. However, because it’s not always possible - or affordable - to buy right from a farm, supplementation may be necessary.
Where do you live?
In much of North America, we don’t get enough sunshine to produce enough vitamin D. That’s why over 40% of people in the US are deficient in this crucial nutrient, with seniors being at particularly high risk. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone, so supplements are often necessary.
Do you eat a well-rounded diet?
Certain diets or dietary restrictions can leave us deficient in nutrients. Vegans, and vegetarians who don’t eat many eggs or dairy products, often require vitamin B12 supplements as it’s only available through animal sources and fortified grains. The consequences of B12 deficiency can be severe, including fatigue and depression, so it’s important to maintain healthy levels.
Similarly, people who aren’t able to consume dairy may not get enough calcium or vitamin D, necessary for strong bones, teeth and immune function. A gluten-free diet can also put people at risk for deficiencies in nutrients like folate, zinc, and magnesium.
Picky eaters? If you are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables, you should ensure they are getting enough vitamin C as well. Studies show Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, can help support heart health and lower risk of heart disease, lower the risk of gout, and improve the absorption of iron.
Do you take prescription medications or have a genetic/health condition?
Many health issues lead to difficulties absorbing nutrients, or raise the levels that you require to stay healthy. People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease have difficulty absorbing nutrients and often require supplements for optimum health. Some cancer patients benefit from supplementation, but it’s important to work with your healthcare team to determine your needs. As well, some autoimmune disorders require supplementation. People with pernicious anemia, for example, don’t produce enough intrinsic factor, a protein that helps absorb vitamin B12, so will need B12 supplements. Studies also show that people with heart disease benefit from omega-3 supplements.
It’s important to note that many of today’s commonly prescribed medications can also lead to vitamins and minerals being leached from the body.
This includes the birth control pill, which has been shown to deplete the body of B vitamins (riboflavin, B6, B12, and folic acid), vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. Metformin, a common prescription for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, has been shown to deplete Vitamin B12, folic acid and Coenzyme Q10.
Be sure to speak with a qualified licensed healthcare practitioner when incorporating supplements along with your prescription medications to avoid negative interactions or side effects.
How is your energy and mood?
Feeling chronically tired or fuzzy-headed can be a sign that you’re deficient in at least one important nutrient. For example, Magnesium helps with over 300 processes in the human body, including muscle function and energy production. Proper levels of magnesium are necessary in order to metabolize the nutrients that you take in through food into energy. Research also indicates that there is a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and anxiety as well as depression. If you never feel fully rested or experience anxiety or depression, talk to a healthcare provider to rule out deficiencies and recommend the proper, quality supplementation - I can help!
How old are you?
As we age, our risk for nutritional deficiencies increases. That’s largely because of changes within your body. For example, stomach acid is needed to absorb vitamin B12 and iron, but we tend to produce less stomach acid with age.
Our bodies also become less efficient at absorbing Vitamin D and calcium, two nutrients essential for bone health. Plus, we tend to eat a bit less, since metabolism often slows with age (many people are also less active with age). In some seniors, the ability to recognize hunger cues starts to decline.
The need for supplements isn’t always connected to growing older, though. All women of childbearing age need to monitor their iron levels, since menstruation can lead to anemia. For women during pregnancy, folic acid and vitamin D among other nutrients, are recommended to help with a growing baby.
The Importance of Smart Supplementation
Dietary supplements aren’t regulated the same way prescription medications are. Although supplementation has many benefits for many people, choosing to take a supplement requires some due diligence. It’s important to work with a licensed healthcare provider to determine the right supplements and correct levels, and to rule out any contraindications. Even the best supplements can have negative impacts. St. John’s Wort, for example, is a popular supplement to treat depression, but it can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb some medications, including oral contraceptives.
It’s also important to make sure you take the best dose for you. When it comes to supplements, more is not always better. Fat-soluble vitamins like A and D can be toxic when taken in large amounts.
There’s also a wide range of quality when it comes to supplements. Because they’re not regulated as medications, the amounts of an ingredient can even vary within the same product. It’s important to purchase high-quality professional grade supplements from a trusted source.
Meeting your nutritional needs through a high-quality, well-rounded diet is the best approach, but for many of us, that’s simply not always possible. Supplements have been used to manage health conditions for many years. We can always look to nature to see if there is a healthy alternative to prescription medications to rebalance your system, replenishing your body and help to restore it back to a healthy state. Carefully chosen supplements can help us bridge any gaps on our road to wellness. If you’d like to talk about what supplements are best for you, give me a call.
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I don't know about you, but taking control of your health can be overwhelming. For some, their symptoms are so profound it can lead to a significant decrease in quality of life. Though their conventional workup may be "normal", it's important to understand that there is more testing available that can get to the root cause of unexplained symptoms.
Every successful journey needs a good map, so your road to good health needs the data to ensure you will reach your destination. Think of it this way: If you don’t know the root cause of a problem, you don’t know the best starting point and route to follow. A thorough evaluation of your overall health is essential to plot your road to success.
Conventional medicine typically focuses on just one aspect of that journey. Testing is narrow in scope and focuses on a specific symptom, so any treatment plan lacks the complete data necessary for a holistic approach to healing.
In contrast, functional lab testing has the ability to look at the entire body. That’s because our health isn’t a collection of siloed processes, but rather a complex network. Examining your overall health allows your healthcare provider - and yourself - to take a step back and look at the big picture. A treatment plan is therefore comprehensive instead of merely focusing on getting rid of one symptom.
What Is Functional Lab Testing?
Just as the name implies, functional lab testing aims to determine how your body is functioning as a unit. Most common tests could involve:
The data gathered through these tests helps determine the impact of nutrition, stress, environment, hormones, genetics and more on your body. It can also assess the state of your microbiome - the bacteria in your gut. As a result, you have more information to determine the underlying causes of any health issue.
Key Functional Tests
An integrative healthcare practitioner will determine the best tests for you, since there’s no set formula for testing. Some of the most common and informative tests include:
The impact of your hormone levels on your overall health - both physical and mental - is far-reaching and often underestimated. Unbalanced levels of cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, androgens, insulin and thyroid hormones can all impact your wellbeing in ways that can be difficult to diagnose through standard tests. Debilitating symptoms like weight problems, mood issues, and fatigue can continue unnecessarily without targeted hormone testing.
It’s often important to have a complete panel, instead of focusing on one, since you want to see the balance of different hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. Hormone testing can be done by blood tests or saliva tests.
Gut health assessments
This is another frequently overlooked function with broad implications on your health. In fact, science is only now starting to recognize that your gut health greatly impacts a broad range of common health issues, including depression, obesity, and diabetes. Even your cardiovascular health is impacted by the microbiome. Modern lifestyles and diets harm your gut by disturbing the delicate balance of bacteria, leading to inflammation and malabsorption of essential nutrients. Tests to gage your gut health include:
Food sensitivity assessments
Sensitivities to certain foods can have a profound impact on your overall health, but they’re notoriously difficult to diagnose on your own, in part because there is a wide range of possible reactions. It’s best to work with a healthcare practitioner. Tests that can hone in on possible sensitivities include elimination diets with careful records and blood tests evaluating factors such as immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies.
Tests for inflammation markers
Inflammation is often a sign that something is amiss in your body, but most standard checkups don’t evaluate for signs of inflammation. Markets to test include:
Elevated inflammation markers don’t necessarily tell you what’s causing problems, but they are definitely a sign to do more testing - and that information can be invaluable. One study found that people with elevated levels of c-reactive protein have an increased risk of heart attack, by as much as three times.
Exposure to toxic substances such as heavy metals, molds or pesticides is another impact to our health, particularly with regards to autoimmune disorders and digestive issues. But, despite the risks, testing for exposure is often overlooked. Methylation is the complex process that removes toxins from your body, and some people have a genetic variation that impacts this process, putting them at greater risk for high levels of toxins. MTHFR genetic testing is one test that can indicate if your body’s detox processes are working as they should.
In addition, heavy metal testing examines the levels of possibly toxic substances like mercury, lead, and cadmium.
Mold has also been a hidden cause of many “mystery illnesses” but is rarely checked in conventional medicine. Symptoms of mold exposure are not always the obvious ones like sneezing or itchy and watery eyes, they can include cognitive impairment, depression, sleep disturbance, brain fog, digestive complaints and more!
Deficiencies in essential nutrients can lead to many health issues. Common symptoms include unexplained fatigue, brain fog, mood disorders, and more. It’s important to check your levels regularly, since they can change easily depending on what else is going on in your life - even if your diet remains the same, stress can affect levels of many nutrients, including magnesium and iron. It’s important to review your results with a qualified practitioner, as many holistic practitioners use different standards than conventional medicine does.
No matter how good your diet is, a problem with how you metabolize nutrients can lead to health issues.
One important factor in these tests is that they can spot potential issues before they become problems. For example, monitoring HgA1c and glucose levels can help diagnose insulin sensitivity before you develop prediabetes or diabetes. A holistic practice will watch for trends in order to suggest changes before a problem develops.
Numbers can tell a story, but they need to be interpreted properly. Just looking at the numbers from testing and only reacting if they fall out of “normal” range can lead to missing the point of the story. After all, the goal for testing should be to determine all of the factors influencing your health, and to determine if you can improve any aspect for optimum health. Aiming for so-called normal ranges will detect the presence of disease, but may not prevent disease from developing. Looking at optimal levels, and using functional tests, can help ensure optimal wellbeing and help prevent disease..
Functional testing helps determine the underlying cause of health problems, and will help you develop a roadmap to a healthier you. Contact me to get started! Schedule your discovery call today!
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Vojdani A, Vojdani E, Kharrazian D. Fluctuation of zonulin levels in blood vs stability of antibodies. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(31):5669-5679. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i31.5669
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Lopresti AL. The Effects of Psychological and Environmental Stress on Micronutrient Concentrations in the Body: A Review of the Evidence. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(1):103-112. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz082