A case for supplementation
“If you eat a well-balanced diet, you shouldn’t need to take supplements.” I used to think there was some merit to this statement, that if your diet were perfect, and you were not dealing with an existing health problem, then taking vitamins and minerals as supplements may not make a big difference in your health. Then I learned about the concept of the “Dilution Effect”. In 2008 the journal Horticultural Science reported that over the last 50 to 100 years as efforts were made to increase crop yields, certain mineral content of certain crops decreased as a result. In regions where crop yields were increased due to fertilization and irrigation, concentrations of eight different minerals had decreased. The increase in crop yields for most fruits and vegetables tested was due to an increase in what is known as the “dry matter” of the plant. This is basically the protein, carbohydrate and fatty matter. What does this mean? People today have to eat more volume of certain fruits and vegetables to get the same amounts of minerals that were available in the fruits and vegetables produced decades ago. And if a certain vegetable were high in carbohydrates, then you would have to take in more carbs to get the same amount of minerals. The fruits and vegetables most commonly cited in this report were tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peppers and berries, and the minerals that appeared to be most affected were calcium and copper, in some cases showing up to an 80 per cent decline in concentration. While this research was done in the United States and the United Kingdom, we should take note as Canadians due to the large amount of produce that we import from the U.S., especially during our winter months. The dilution effect may be further enhanced through genetic modifications. It was also reported that while genetically altering seeds so that crops may grow larger and faster, the mineral content may also suffer. The two crops that were studied in this report were broccoli and wheat, however it is hypothesized that most other fruits and vegetables that are grown under these circumstances are affected as well. The dilution effect may not be so true in the case of organically grown fruits and vegetables. Opinions vary greatly on whether there is any value to eating organically grown foods. Those in favour of following organically produced guidelines cite research that show their products have a higher concentration of phytonutrients compared to non-organically grown fruits and vegetables. According to the Organic Trade Association, “There is mounting evidence that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and less exposure to nitrates and pesticide residues than their counterparts grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.” If one is to believe that the dilution effect exists, then there should be little to no argument that organically grown products should have better nutritional value. With the quality of fruits and vegetables apparently slowly declining as the decades go on, is this not enough proof that we should be taking multi-vitamins daily? Well, it depends on which research you want to believe. While there are studies that show supplementation can have positive health effects, others show little to no change in a person’s health and some may actually cause more harm than good. The business of supplements is a multi-billion dollar industry. There is a lot of money to be made on people’s illnesses or desire to live longer and healthier. This means there are good products on the market, and not so good products. There are so many different factors that affect the body’s ability to absorb and make good use of these vitamins and minerals. Factors such as molecular form, concentrations and combinations can greatly affect a supplement’s outcome. For some people drug interactions and other contra-indications due to existing health conditions, can make supplementation to be of little to no value, or even dangerous. If you are considering supplementing it is best to speak to those who have the proper education to advise you on which supplements would be best for you and how to take them properly. While there may be strict rules put forth by Health Canada to regulate how these products are manufactured, bottled and marketed, the distribution maybe not so well regulated. This leaves the consumer sometimes very confused and often at risk when choosing supplements. It is always best to get the advice from a health professional who is trained in the field of natural medicine.