Why are we surrounded by advertising from the dietary supplements market, and do we need them?
As an evolved Great Ape, a balanced diet should provide everything our bodies need to function; however, the modern diet, lifestyle, and medications significantly impact the nutrients available to us and how we extract them. For example, we have not evolved to adapt our extraction of minerals and other nutrients from our food when taking modern medicines, which means that we may need dietary supplements to counter the adverse effects of the medicines.
Why consider dietary supplements?
Let’s take a brief look at history. Homo sapiens (Man) is the latest species in the genus of Humans and has been around for about 200,000 years, and for most of this time, we had lived a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. We were exposed to light all day, every day, and dark all night, every night, and we would eat what we found, from nuts to roots, and protein from what meat we could catch, more often fish and insects, eggs, and small mammals etc.
During our 200,000 years, we evolved to extract what we needed from our food and environment; however, technology has developed at a much faster pace than evolution.
Yes, we have seen evolutionary changes in Man during this time, but most of these occurred long before our modern lifestyle ‘evolved’. Consider that just 137 years ago, our forebears had never seen a petrol-engined car, and 200 years ago, crops were all harvested by hand.
And, so, to today.
We rise, most of the year, after sunrise and spend most of our day time inside, often under artificial light. We are rarely exposed to full darkness unless asleep, as we supplement our surroundings with artificial light.
We eat on schedule and, in the main, often include factory-processed foods in our diets, including our fluid intake.
Although the history of canned foods goes back to the Napoleonic wars when, in 1810, the French government paid Nicholas Appert 12,000 Francs for his bottling invention, factory canning of food really took off just over 100 years ago. Since that time, we have seen an explosion in commercial food processing such that we now see processed foods as the norm and fresh foods as the realm of gastronomy. Quite ridiculous, really.
If we haven’t evolved as quickly as manufacturing technology, how are we with modern medicines?
There are myths, unconfirmed suspicions, and known facts about the interaction between medicines and vitamins. Whilst this article is not providing medical advice, let’s have a look at a few facts:
Extended use of Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can and does reduce the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, and B12 is involved in the production of red blood cells. a deficiency in B12 can cause extreme fatigue, confusion, mouth ulcers, memory loss, depression, and disturbed vision (amongst others). The most commonly prescribed PPI in the UK is Omeprazole, and in 2015 over 50 million prescriptions were dispensed in England alone.
Research has shown that a vitamin D deficiency can be responsible for low testosterone, and low testosterone can manifest itself through:
- Reduced libido (sex drive)
- Erectile deficiency
- Loss of muscle mass
- Excessive tiredness
- Loss of concentration
- Hot flushes
So, what causes a vitamin D deficiency?
The most widely known cause is a lack of exposure to the sun, and fair-skinned people can get enough exposure in 20-30 minutes of being outside around midday… lunchtime walks a few times each week, for example. It’s not such good news for those with darker skin pigmentation as they are less able to acquire sufficient sunlight to provide enough vitamin D.
Our modern diet also contributes to reduced vitamin D availability in our food as it generally requires us to eat oily fish and offal, such as liver. Neither is particularly popular these days. Another sign of how lifestyle has evolved faster than Man.
In the world of dietary supplements, at the moment, there is a lot of chatter and promotion of magnesium deficiency (Hypomagnesemia). In truth, magnesium deficiency is quite rare; however, there are medications that are known to reduce the absorption of magnesium (Proton Pump Inhibitors such as Omeprazole) or increase the rate of expelling magnesium (such as Thiazide and Loop diuretics).
“If you take omeprazole for more than 3 months, the levels of magnesium in your blood may fall.
Low magnesium can make you feel tired, confused, dizzy and cause muscle twitches, shakiness and an irregular heartbeat. If you get any of these symptoms, tell your doctor.”
If you’ve been on PPIs or diuretics for any length of time and you have any of the symptoms such as fatigue, changes in mood, twitching legs etc. it is worth checking with your GP.
Again, though, let’s look at lifestyle. An estimate of the levels of magnesium within traditionally rich foods, like spinach, cabbage, etc. is that modern intensively farmed vegetables have as much as 80% LESS than those of 100 years ago.
Tulsi (Holy Basil) – One supplement that doctors will recommend
As I’m not a medical professional I’m not recommending any of the above supplements be taken without speaking to your GP, so there are no links to buy them on this page; however, seen as a wonder herb in India for centuries, Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, now has the backing of mainstream science. So, I’m happy to share my experiences and the particular supplement that I take.
Tulsi is considered a very potent adaptogen (a herb or Funghi that provides medicinal benefits, like easing stress).
Detoxification and protection
Much of the anecdotal evidence of the benefits of taking Tulsi has been confirmed by modern science. Its ability to assist with general management and protection against toxins is due, it seems, to it containing high levels of phenolic compounds as well as antioxidant properties.
The black/purple variety, known as Krishna Tulsi, has a higher proportion of phenolic compounds and anti-oxidants than the wild variant, Vana Tulsi.
Toxic stress from chemicals, radiation, and heavy metals
Tulsi has the ability to help the body protect against toxins and heavy metals to prevent organ damage to the liver, brain etc., and has been verified in many experimental studies.
The body’s natural defences become weakened during physical stress through exertion, restraint, exposure to cold, or continued high noise levels and Tulsi has been shown to supplement the natural defences to protect the body from these stressors.
The poor diet, malnutrition, low levels of activity and psychological stress associated with modern life can lead to the metabolism being stressed (metabolic syndrome). This, coupled with obesity, are all associated with the onset of pre-Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes. Again, Tulsi can help here by reducing blood glucose.
Tulsi has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity, which includes activity against many human infections.
With the hectic and fast-paced lifestyle that we live today, many people are experiencing elevated levels of stress. Some causes include physical environmental toxins such as air pollution or toxic chemicals found in everyday products, but it can also be attributed to psychological anxieties from worrying about what might happen next at work or home without ever taking a break. These worries may seem initially overwhelming when they arise, especially if you have been feeling under pressure for some time. Tulsi, in the form of tea, not only helps detoxify your body cells through urination (and therefore cleansing). but also provides. a calming effect.
As a type 2 Diabetic, I take Tulsi daily as they’re relatively inexpensive and easily available on Amazon. So, as mentioned above, this is the actual product that I take: https://amzn.to/3V9Uxqf
Nicholas Appert: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolas_Appert
Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 5(4), 251-259. https://doi.org/10.4103/0975-9476.146554
Like everything, please speak to your doctor before taking any dietary supplements.
What are dietary supplements?
While there are many different dietary supplements, they all have one thing in common: They’re not medicine. They cannot be labelled as medicine, but they can have nutritional and health claims.
Why do people take dietary supplements?
Modern farming techniques and chemicals, extended storage and shipping of foods both can reduce the nutrients contained within food. Couple this with our modern lifestyle and some modern medications it is possible that most of us are deficient in one, or more nutrients. Changing the above can be difficult, so people turn to supplements.
How are dietary supplements regulated?
There is very little regulation with dietary supplements other than they cannot contain compounds that are rated as drugs nor make claims related to drugs. Provided they are produced in a hygienic manner the court is wide open.
What are the risks of taking dietary supplements?
There are a few risks with dietary supplements, the main being:
- adverse interaction with medication (read the leaflet and speak to a doctor)
- overdosing is quite possible with some minerals, and an obvious one could be constipation from excess iron, though some can be much worse
- producing very expensive urine by taking dietary supplements that are not needed and passed through the body after being converted to pee!
As mentioned, this article is, in no way, attempting to provide medical advice, and it is our strong recommendation that any concerns be discussed with your GP.
What we do know, is that our lifestyle is not, necessarily, suited to our bodies and we need to be sure that we are getting enough nutrients from our food and environment to power our bodies properly.
Take a regular walk in the sunshine a few times per week; give liver a try (it is really delicious, so why not?); get fresh greens and vegetables; put some oily fish in your diet. Your body evolved to thrive on these, and, while it may not make you live longer, it could make the time you have less prone to sickness, broken bones, depression, and many other modern-day ailments.
Let us know what you think in the comments.