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3 tips to choosing supplements

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Most North Americans don’t come close to meeting all their nutritional needs through diet alone. Three simple recommendations go a long way toward addressing this gap.

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In the last decade, more people than ever are taking nutritional supplements. Research shows that over half of the population of North America take some form of dietary supplement on a regular basis. Why are so many people taking supplements? Because they know they are not getting all that they need from their diets and realize that supplements make them feel healthier.

Many studies have demonstrated that most North Americans consume a diet inadequate in nutritional value. Comprehensive studies sponsored by Health Canada and the U.S. government revealed marginal nutrient deficiencies in half of North America’s population. Moreover, with selected nutrients in certain age groups, more than 80% of the group consumed less than the recommended dietary intake level.

While it is theoretically possible for a healthy individual to get all the nutrition they need from foods, the fact is that most do not even come close to meeting all their nutritional needs through diet alone. In an effort to increase their intake of essential nutrients, it is important turn to vitamin and mineral supplements.

The standard guidelines may not be enough. Since 1938, Health Canada has been defining nutrient needs for healthy people. These guidelines were originally developed to reduce the rates of severe nutritional deficiency diseases such as scurvy (deficiency of vitamin C), pellagra (deficiency of niacin) and beriberi (deficiency of vitamin B1).

In the mid-1990’s, Health Canada began working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide nutritional guidelines known as the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). However, DRIs focus only on the prevention of overt nutritional deficiencies in population groups. They do not define “optimal” intake for an individual.

Another factor the DRIs do not adequately take into consideration are environmental and lifestyle factors that can destroy vitamins and bind minerals. For example, people exposed to cigarette smoke require at least twice as much vitamin C compared to nonsmokers. And what about the effects of alcohol consumption, food additives, heavy metals (lead, mercury, etc.), carbon monoxide, and other chemicals associated with our modern society that are known to interfere with nutrient function?

While the DRIs have done a good job at defining nutrient intake levels to prevent nutritional deficiencies, there is still much to be learned regarding the optimum intake of nutrients. At a minimum, every Canadian should consider the following recommendations critical to a foundation nutritional supplement program:


Taking a multivitamin providing all of the known vitamins and minerals serves as a foundation upon which to build. Dr. Roger Williams, one of the premier biochemists of our time, states that healthy people should use multiple vitamin and mineral supplements as an “insurance formula” against possible deficiency. This does not mean that a deficiency will occur in the absence of the vitamin and mineral supplement, any more than not having fire insurance means that your house is not going to burn down. But given the enormous potential for individual differences from person to person—and the varied mechanisms of vitamin and mineral actions— supplementation with a multiple formula makes sense.

A multivitamin should have a minimum of the DRIs for all nutrients. Be aware that you will not find a formula that provides all of these nutrients at these levels in one single pill—it would simply be too big. Usually, you’ll need to take at least three to six tablets per day to meet these levels. While many “one-a-day” supplements provide good levels of vitamins, they tend to be insufficient in the amount of some of the minerals they provide. Your body needs the minerals as much as the vitamins; the two work hand-in-hand.


One of the major advances in nutritional medicine is the ability to produce a fish oil supplement that is a highly concentrated form of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and also free from lipid peroxides, heavy metals, environmental contaminants and other harmful compounds. These “pharmaceutical grade” fish oil concentrates are so superior to earlier fish oil products that they are literally revolutionizing nutritional medicine because of the health benefits they produce.

Why are the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids so important? The answer has to do with the function of these fatty substances in cellular membranes and inflammation. A diet that is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, results in altered cell membranes. Without a healthy membrane, cells lose their ability to hold water, vital nutrients, and electrolytes. They also lose their ability to communicate with other cells and be controlled by regulating hormones.

Cell membrane dysfunction is a critical factor in the development of virtually every chronic disease, especially cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.

Not surprisingly, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids have shown tremendous protective effects against all of these diseases.

When selecting a fish oil supplement, quality control is an absolute must to ensure the product is free from heavy metals like lead and mercury, pesticides, damaged fats (lipid peroxides) and other contaminants. For general health, the recommended dosage is 1,000mg of EPA and DHA daily. Read the label carefully. It is not 1,000mg of fish oil, it is 1,000mg of EPA and DHA. For therapeutic purposes, such as reducing inflammation or lowering triglyceride levels, the dosage recommendation is usually 3,000mg EPA and DHA daily.


These dietary supplements provide proanthocyanidins (PCO’s), one of the most beneficial groups of plant flavonoids. PCO’s have shown significant benefits in clinical studies including the following health conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Atherosclerosis, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Periodontal disease
  • Varicose veins, venous insufficiency and capillary fragility
  • Visual function, retinopathy and macular degeneration

PCO’s exert broad-spectrum antioxidant activity and are clinically useful in many other health conditions because of this action alone. A great deal of clinical support shows supplementation with PCO’s for six weeks at dosages of 50 to 300mg considerably improves the serum (blood) total antioxidant capacity and oxygen radical absorbance capacity score (ORAC).

More Insights: Check out this informative article on the 8 foods you should avoid when grocery shopping.

Author: Michael T. Murray, ND and Joseph Pizzorno, ND are the authors of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria 2012) and The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.


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