Do We Really Need Supplements?

“Can’t I just eat a good diet? Do I really need to take supplements?” This is an excellent question to ask, and an important question to answer; especially for those trying to conceive, currently pregnant and postpartum! Many of us reach our childbearing years in a depleted condition or become depleted after giving birth to one or more children. Nutrient depletion can reduce our fertility and cause many other health problems. These problems can potentially be minimized or  avoided by optimizing health starting with a well-prepared nutrient dense diet. Many women want to get pregnant right away once the decision is made to become a parent. With time of the essence, supplements can expedite better health and build needed reserves.

In a perfect world we would all be able to get everything we need from our food! Unfortunately, that is not the case in today’s world. Here are the top 7 reasons why you should consider supplementing.

  1. Our soil has been depleted. When farms raise the same crops in the same soil for many years and do not replace all the nutrients, (taken out of the soil with each harvest) or allow the soil to rest often enough, the soil becomes depleted. Plants grown in this deficient soil cannot give what they don’t have. This is one reason why organic food is advised. Organic farmers must nurture and replenish the soil to get good harvests. They cannot rely on chemicals. This is also why organic produce costs a bit more. Plants grown in organic soil are generally stronger than those conventionally raised because they must withstand a more hostile environment with competition from other plants, that could be eliminated with herbicides; and pests, that could be eliminated with pesticides. A large meta-analysis found that organic crops had about 50% more flavanols and antrocyanins than conventional crops.[1] The very compounds that we need to counteract the harmful effects of toxins! Organic plants are simply more nutrient dense.[2]
  2. Many plants are harvested in an unripe condition so that they can withstand the rigors of shipping – sometimes for thousands of miles. This cuts the life cycle of the plant short during the critical time when it would normally be depositing important nutrients in the edible parts. The farther a product must be shipped, the greater the potential loss. This is a great reason to grow your own or buy local whenever possible. Sadly, most plants are now bred to last longer in storage, be a standard size and/or look attractive, rather than for taste or nutrient value.
  3. Crops are often stored for long periods of time before being consumed. Not only are they stored by the producer and shipper, they are also stored by the wholesaler and the retail market. Finally, they are purchased; and then, usually stored in our homes for several more days or even weeks. During storage, foods lose much of their nutritional value. This is why, in some cases, frozen produce can be superior to fresh. Most produce is frozen within a day or two of harvest. While freezing harms some nutrients, it preserves many more. Frozen produce can be more economical too.
  4. Cooking methods remove more vital nutrients. Cooking is necessary for many nutrients to be available in some (but not all) foods. Depending on the method of preparation however, many nutrients can be lost in the cooking process, due to heat, water, air and time.
  5. We are under more chronic stress than ever before in human history. We are stressed by our mostly indoor environment, exposure to toxins, artificial light, long hours, limited movement, lack of community, and the many demands on our time. This all takes a toll and depletes our reserves. Our modern lifestyles do not help our digestion. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between chronic stress vs the stress of being under attack by a hungry lion. When we are stressed, our body is smart enough to prioritize our “fight or flight” abilities. Digestion and reproduction don’t even enter the picture when we are highly stressed. The number of people in the U.S. with chronic digestive issues is staggering. When we don’t digest our food well, it can’t supply our body’s needs. “You are what you eat” is not as accurate as “you are what you digest.”
  6. Common over the counter and prescription medications such as the pill or other hormonal birth control, antacids, anti-depressants and pain relievers can deplete many specific nutrient stores in our bodies. Over time, these common drugs can damage our liver, which causes problems with blood sugar regulation and detoxification. For more information, I recommend the book: “The Nutritional Cost of Drugs” by: Ross Pelton, R.Ph and James LaValle, R.Ph.  .
  7. Food processing depletes nutrients from our foods. Real food doesn’t have ingredients. Real food is ingredients! Most of us know that real food is essential for health, but we still consume many processed foods. Processing makes food hyperpalatable and easy to prepare. It is hard to resist aisle after aisle of attractively packaged “foods” or never go out to eat! Even the most conscientious of us eats some form of processed food. This fact, puts us at odds with our historical ancestral biology, causing deficiencies. These deficiencies are compounded by generational effects. After several generations of our ancestors eating processed foods and conceiving children in a depleted condition, these children come into the world compromised more with each generation. For further thoughts on this topic, see the excellent book: “Pottenger’s Prophecy: How Food Resets Genes For Wellness or Illness” By: Gray Graham NTP


Of course, supplements should be supplemental! They are not a substitute for a good diet! I am not suggesting that we should take the idea of supplements lightly. Not all supplements are helpful; some can even be harmful, especially in pregnancy and preconception. Not every supplement is made from pure ingredients and many have undesirable fillers and additives. Anything the body can’t use, places a burden on it.

Supplementing should be based on each person’s unique bio-individuality. Not everything that is good for one person is going to be good for another. It is best to consult with a nutritionally trained professional who will review and consider your personal and family history, lifestyle, any medications you are taking, lab test results (if possible), physical exam or careful observation (hopefully considering your budget too) before making recommendations. When supplements are selected with all this in mind, and carefully sourced, they can be incredibly helpful, even trans formative!

[1] Barański, Marcin, et al. “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of 85 pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.” British Journal of Nutrition 112.05 (2014): 794-811.

[2] Crinnion, Walter J. “Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, 84 and may provide health benefits for the consumer.” Alternative Medicine Review 15.1 (2010): 4-13.