Ask the Pharmacist – supplements

Q. After reading the column about the lack of proven benefits to taking a fish oil supplement, I wonder if you can let me know what supplements, if any, I should be taking?

A. That is a great question. Many of us were given a colourful children’s multivitamin daily and did not question it. It was just part of the daily routine. Now, there are several options of chewable vitamins beyond the Flintstones brand we took as children. But the question remains, which supplements and/or vitamins should we be taking?

I think most experts would agree that getting your nutrition from eating whole foods is far better than relying on a supplement. What do we mean by “whole foods”? Whole foods are best described as foods that have not been processed or altered (or at least minimally so) and do not contain additives or artificial ingredients. Some examples of whole foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains (brown rice, oats, barley), meat, fish, eggs, herbs and spices. Eating a “whole food” item is much more complex than trying to achieve the nutrition through a supplement. For example, many of us are aware that an orange is a great source of vitamin C and might opt for a vitamin C supplement in its place. However, using an orange as the example, let’s look at the other benefits you can reap from the orange that you do not get from a vitamin C supplement.

· An orange also offers your body a source of calcium, beta carotene, and other nutrients that work together to achieve their beneficial effects.

· A source of dietary fibre, as do many other whole food choices such as other fruits and veggies and legumes, which is known to reduce constipation and prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

· A source of phytochemicals which are hugely beneficial to protect your body against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

· A source of antioxidants which help to reduce oxidation which in turn leads to cell and tissue damage.

Who knew that eating an orange can be responsible for all those things? By the way, orange juice does not offer the same benefits as an orange since it has been altered enough that it loses some of the benefits. It has also been said that juice is really just glorified pop, and it is best to get our vitamin C from eating fruits and veggies instead. This is just one food example of the many enhanced benefits we get from eating an orange over taking a supplement.

The same holds true for other whole food choices. That being said, there are circumstances that may warrant the addition of supplements to your daily routine. For instance, bloodwork may discover that you are deficient in vitamin D. We can get vitamin D through fatty fish and fortified foods (juice, cereal) but primarily it gets activated with our exposure to UV light. Considering our coordinates on the planet where we live, it may make sense to supplement our body with vitamin D.

Also, your recent bloodwork may show that you are deficient in iron and you may be suggested to take a supplement for a period of time to bump up your iron stores. Some other examples are:

· If you eat less than 1600 calories daily, then you are likely not getting enough nutrition from your diet

· If you are vegan or vegetarian with a limited choice of foods

· If you have heavy menstrual bleeding

· If you have a medical condition that affects the absorption of foods
o Chronic diarrhea
o Food allergies
o Food intolerance
o Diseases specific to organs such as the liver, intestines, gallbladder or pancreas
o Surgery on digestive tract

Next week, we will go into more detail on the list of common vitamins our body needs, their benefits and the best source of foods to consume them. For more information on this or any other health topic, contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your Health and Wellness Destination.