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 Naturopathic Medicine: The ABCs of Vitamins and Minerals  
 
Lauri Aesoph M. ND ©

Should We Take Supplements
Modern society is fraught with nutritional bandits. Stress from noise, pollution, overcrowding, and daily demands rob us of vital nutrients. Today's soil is suffering from its own nutrient deficiencies due to modern farming practices. Processing and refining strip whole foods. Water, additives, sugar, and fats are used to prop up depleted foods. If this weren't enough, storing and cooking foods withdraws more nutritional value.

These conditions have left many of us with higher-than-RDA requirements. Unfortunately, much of our food supply is not up to the job of providing what we need. The first step is to eat and live well. Step number two is to take a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement if needed.

Dietary supplements are also useful as medicines. As the evidence grows, vitamins and minerals are being recommended for both the prevention and treatment of several illnesses. In order for nutrients to act therapeutically, however, relatively high dosages are needed. This is a case where supplements, not foods, are the answer.

Antioxidants are one group of vitamins and minerals that are establishing a niche in medical treatment. Selenium, copper, zinc, manganese, beta-carotene and the vitamins E, C, and A, known antioxidants, have displayed varying abilities to prevent or treat diseases particularly cancer (2).

There are situations where supplements should be taken cautiously. Pregnant or nursing mothers need to consult with their doctor before taking anything--including vitamins and minerals. When taken alone or in unbalanced formulas, certain vitamins and minerals can interfere with or exaggerate another nutrient's absorption. Some drugs interact with nutrients. When very high doses of folate are taken, 15 mg or more, it may cause convulsions in epileptics taking phenytoin.

Forms
Nutritional supplements come in many forms. Pills are most familiar either as tablets or capsules. Powders and liquids are also available and prefered by those who have difficulty swallowing due to age, illness or an aversion to pills.

There's more to a nutrient than its shape. In addition to vitamins and/or minerals, many supplements also contain additives. Fillers such as salt or sugars may be used to fill up space in a capsule. Corn starch or molasses might be binders that help keep a tablet intact. Disintegrators, corn and potato starch are most common, encourage a tablet to dissolve after you swallow it. Coloring and flavorings are also often used.

Supplements may be tainted with substances used during manufacturing. Magnesium stearate, hydrogenated oils, and talc are lubricants used so nutrient mixtures won't stick to machines (3).

Unfortunately, nutritional manufacturers are not required by law to list everything in their products. You may have knowingly or unknowingly reacted to supplements in the past. If you are allergic to corn, then a corn starch binder may have been the culprit. Lactose in supplements can cause nausea, bloating, and cramps in someone with lactose intolerance (4). Even the source from which a nutrient is derived can set off a reaction.

At the very least, many of these additives can diminish your absorption of a vitamin pill. If you can't digest supplements, then your body can't use them. Many people mistakenly believe that nutritional health care is second-rate because the vitamins and minerals they take don't work. The problem may have been the quality of the supplement.

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