Nutrients and Other Supplements
There are approximately 50 known essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids (oils), and amino acids. These nutrients must be acquired in relatively small amounts from the diet or from supplements in order to maintain minimal health and to prevent specific deficiency diseases such as pellagra, beriberi and scurvy. Deficiency diseases, however, are not the common health problems in America or the rest of the industrialized world. Marginal nutrition associated with marginal health is much more likely to be the problem for most people. You may, for example, have enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy, but not enough to have optimal health, a sense of vitality, and a vigorous immune defense.
There are also a number of "accessory food factors" that are found in food but are not essential because you can manufacture them in the body from other substances. The amount that you manufacture is sometimes inadequate for optimal health, and in these situations, supplementation is essential for treatment or prevention of illness. These accessory food factors include coenzyme Q10, l-carnitine, GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), some non-essential amino acids and other dietary supplements.
Besides all of these nutrients, there are other substances found in the food supply that are not considered essential but that, nonetheless, offer important health benefits. Many of these are bioflavonoids, or simply, flavonoids. They are plant pigments that may act as antioxidants or enhance the effects of other nutrients or physiological molecules. Some of them are also available as supplements, but there are many recently discovered ones that are not. (Let this serve as a reminder of how important it is to eat a healthy diet.)
Are Supplements Natural?
You may be thinking that it is not "natural" to take supplements. In some ways this is true, but our food supply is not as rich in nutrients as we have been led to believe, and dietary supplements are proven to be valuable for enhancing health, as well as treating and preventing illness. They are usually extra amounts of substances that we all need (except the herbs), and unlike drugs, they work by enhancing normal metabolic functions or protecting us from environmental stressors. We do not live in a natural environment. Also, everything natural is not necessarily healthy or beneficial to humans. For example, earthquakes, floods and syphilis are all "natural," but they are not desirable. Supplements can help you resist unavoidable negative influences, both natural and unnatural.
The most common view of preventive medicine is that it involves things that you shouldn't do-smoke, drink excessive alcohol, take drugs, overeat. These negatives are an essential but incomplete approach to prevention. A more positive view is that of being an active participant in your own health promotion program. Supplementing your diet is one way to actively promote your own wellness, create vitality and enhance longevity. Dietary supplements have worked for many people for many years. Take my word for it, they can work for you too.