Thursday, 3 May 2007

An Overview of Nutritional Supplementation

The use of nutritional supplements is possibly the most commonly used form of alternative medicine in the Western world, with most of the population having taken vitamins at some point in their lives. Those who support the use of nutritional supplements point out that the body needs a balance of particular nutrients in order to function properly. Because of diet, lifestyle and changes to the environment, few people get all the nutrients that they need in proper balance, making nutritional supplements a vital part of maintaining health.

Nutritional supplementation is often integrated into conventional medical treatment for some conditions. Pregnant women, for instance, are prescribed supplements with vitamin B and folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects in their unborn children. In many conditions where one of they symptoms is a deficiency of a particular nutrient, treatment includes supplementation with that nutrient. Many practitioners, however, believe that all people need to take nutritional supplements for optimum health. They maintain that it is impossible to consume a diet that provides all the necessary nutrients because of soil depletion, pollution, environmental contaminants and modern processing methods.

In addition, there are many claims made for super supplementation as treatment for some illnesses. These include recommendations of megadoses of antioxidant vitamins and minerals for prevention of cancer, treatment of diabetes or asthma or other chronic conditions.

There is a great deal of evidence to support the theory that nutrition plays a significant role in health, and throughout the course of history, many diseases have been discovered to be caused by nutritional deficiencies. Classic examples of this are scurvy and rickets, both diseases that were found to be the symptoms of deficiencies of important vitamins. More recently, researchers have found that patients exhibiting symptoms of depression benefit from taking fish oil supplements which increase their intake of omega 3 fatty acids, and from vitamin B supplements, often without any other drugs prescribed. Calcium has been found to prevent osteoporosis and other bone diseases, and potassium supplements are helpful for those with heart conditions.

None of this should come as a surprise. Our bodies depend on our intake of nutrients to create new cells and repair old ones. When we don’t provide enough of a needed nutrient, the result is substandard functioning. Nutritionists suggest that many of the diseases that are on the U.S. top killers list are simply the result of poor nutrition.

Criticism for nutritional therapies takes one of two tacks – either the nutritional supplements are not needed, or are ineffective, or nutritional supplements are unsafe because they are untested and unregulated.

In an area as wide as this one, there is some truth to both criticisms. Unscrupulous advertisers make wild claims for some nutritional supplements with an eye on the consumer’s wallet rather than his health chart. Since nutritional supplements are considered to be ‘food’ rather than medicine, there is little oversight or testing required unless a product proves to be unsafe AFTER it is released.

For this reason, it’s important that consumers do their research. Some nutritional supplements have a great deal of research to support their effectiveness. Others show no positive results at all. Likewise, some manufacturers scrupulously follow their own testing and packaging procedures to ensure that their product is effective, safe and uncontaminated. It’s only by doing your own research that you’ll know which is which.

In addition, since many nutritional supplements can interfere with medications and treatments for illnesses and infections, it’s very important to discuss everything that you’re taking with your doctor.

No comments: