Welcome to Episode 10: Supplements; Do you need them?
In today’s episode, Nav and I discuss supplements. We cover:
- Nav’s rationale for why he takes them
- The ‘usual suspects’ that can be deficient
- Individual differences and testing protocols
Let’s start with the obligatory disclaimer: We are not advising you to take supplements or stop taking them if you do.
Consult your health care professional before changing anything.
What are Supplements?
There are many types of dietary supplements. These include:
Vitamins, amino acids and proteins, essential fatty acids, minerals, herbs, and bodybuilding supplements.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Vitamins are a vital nutrient. They are an organic compound required in limited amounts. Vitamins can’t be synthesized in sufficient quantities, they must be obtained from food (or supplements). Vitamin supplementation is important for the treatment of certain health problems but there is little evidence of benefit when used by those who are otherwise healthy.
Amino acids and Proteins
The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, though other elements are found in the side-chains of certain amino acids.
Amino acids can be divided into three categories: essential amino acids, non-essential amino acids, and conditional amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, and must be supplied by food (or supplements). Non-essential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins. Conditional amino acids are usually not essential, except in times of illness or stress.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that humans and other animals must ingest because the body requires them for good health but cannot synthesize them. The term “essential fatty acid” refers to fatty acids required for biological processes but does not include the fats that only act as fuel.
Dietary elements, commonly called “minerals”, are required chemical elements, other than those found in common organic molecules (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen). Examples include calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc…
Plants have been the basis for medical treatments through much of human history, and such traditional medicine is still widely practiced today. The practice of herbalism is not strictly based on evidence gathered using the scientific method. Modern medicine, does, however, make use of many plant-derived compounds as the basis for evidence-tested pharmaceutical drugs, and phytotherapy works to apply modern standards of effectiveness testing to herbs and medicines that are derived from natural sources.
Bodybuilding supplements are dietary supplements commonly used by those involved in bodybuilding and athletics. Bodybuilding supplements may be used to replace meals, enhance weight gain, promote weight loss or improve athletic performance. Among the most widely used are vitamin supplements, protein drinks, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), glutamine, essential fatty acids, meal replacement products, creatine, weight loss products and testosterone boosters.
Do supplements actually work?
Some do, some don’t.
Check out this beautiful infographic showing the relative strength of scientific evidence for various health claims made by supplement suppliers and websites.
Most people, most of the time can get all their nutritional needs met by eating real food. If you do need supplements or not can be determined by objective testing. Consult with a qualified health care professional before changing what you currently do.
- Fortmann, SP; Burda, BU; Senger, CA; Lin, JS; Whitlock, EP (Nov 12, 2013). “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.”. Annals of internal medicine 159 (12): 824–34. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00729. PubmedID: 24217421.
- More on amino acids: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002222.htm
- Robert S. Goodhart and Maurice E. Shils (1980). Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease (6th ed.). Philadelphia: Lea and Febinger. pp. 134–138.
Yours in good health,
Tim & Nav