When you should be using supplements

When you should be using supplements

The reason why I bring this subject up is because of the numerous people I have met in my talks on health and the many clients I have counselled who think it's okay to take supplements instead of eating real food. I rest my case on the Macrobiotic perspective, that if you are eating all your food groups and living a plant-based life, with an elimination protocol of foods that do not rob you of the essential micronutrients and vitamins that you need, then the question is. Do you need supplements at all? There is also your gut to consider, and if you do have a strong one and are absorbing all the nutrients from your food, then do you need to supplement at all?

So, the stand I'd like to take is that dietary supplements cannot replace your meals. Instead, they are just that "supplements" meant to supplement the stuff you do not get from your meals. In the fast-paced lives that we lead today, we are eating on the run, getting less nourished by natural foods, and consuming more foods that are processed and refined. Also, leaning on sugars, caffeine, colas, carbonated beverages, and refined flour a bit too much, thus destroying our gut microbiome and causing poor oral health as well. In such a case the chance of inflammation and diseases that result from inflammation (practically all) have become common. Supplements in such a scenario would help upping the nutrient intake.

Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, amino acids and antioxidants. Studies have shown that sometimes supplementing with too many supplements for example calcium or vitamin D could be detrimental to the body causing toxicity. Be aware that large doses of certain nutrients can cause issues. Excess amounts of minerals in the body can lead to gastrointestinal issues. Supplements do not provide calories, and will not give you energy like food would do. These are:

  1. Vitamin D: This could cause an excess of calcium to dump into your blood stream cause deposits in your arteries and push your parathyroid gland to lose effectiveness.
  2. Vitamin C: This could cause diarrhoea when taken in larger doses than what the gut can absorb.
  3. Selenium: Can prove to be detrimental, if taken when you do not need them; or if taken in larger doses.
  4. Vitamin K: This is known to reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners.
  5. Vitamin E: Can do the opposite to Vitamin K and increase the effect of blood thinners, leading to more bleeding.
  6. Vitamin A: Can cause toxicity when clubbed with retinol or some medications.
  7. Iron: Reduces the effects of many antibiotics.
  8. Calcium: ‘Hypercalcemia’ can cause stomach upsets, pain and extra load on the kidneys.
  9. Excessive protein powder intake: If consumed long-term, makes it harder for the kidneys to filter it out causing an unnecessary burden on the body.

When should you supplement?

If you are eating all the basic food groups whole grains, proteins from beans/lentils, animal protein, nuts, seeds, fruits and fermented foods; then you do not need to supplement.

However, here is when you should consider supplementing:

  1. If you feel you are on a dietary approach that will not give you all the nutrients for example, if you are a vegan and will not get enough B12 Then you may need to supplement with B12 or foods that you know will give you B12.
  2. If you have particular health issues that need extra nutrients, for example, you have skin breakouts, or a skin issue and do not have good wound healing capacity, then Vitamin A is of great importance.
  3. If you have irritable bowel syndrome/disease (IBS/IBD) and you do not make enzymes that help with digestion, you may need to supplement with appropriate enzymes to help you.
  4. If you are deficient in protein or need to up your protein intake because you do not make muscle easily you may need to supplement with protein powders or amino acids to complete your protein requirements.
  5. If you would like some extra antioxidant support sometimes, you may have an excellent diet but feel you need some more antioxidant support to help you through the day, to support cellular health.
  6. If you are low on certain vitamins or minerals like me, I was a little low on selenium a while back and started supplementing with it.
  7. If you are on treatment protocols like chemotherapy, radiation or other medication these may require you to take additional supplementation while on the treatment plan.
  8. Older adults could suffer from atrophic gastritis could cause B12 depletion, hence supplementation would help
  9. Pregnant women where the foetus will need a supplement like folate or the mother-to-be will need pre-natal vitamins and additional supplements.
  10. Omega 3 fatty acids need to be obtained via a diet and supplements as it is not made by us.


An emerging industry is the nutraceutical industry, these may include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids, plant-based adaptogens products, probiotics, prebiotics, functional foods, supplements, or proteins and can be sold in a pill, powder, capsule, tablet or liquid format. Often nutraceuticals have antioxidants or anti-inflammatory properties. They can help better manage lifestyle diseases and chronic health conditions such as cancer. 75% of the people who use them do so of their own choice. It is strongly recommended that the need for nutraceuticals for any person be also monitored by a health care practitioner. A lack of regulation in this industry makes us more susceptible to using them freely without supervision.

In conclusion, using supplements must also be monitored by a healthcare practitioner. You cannot just decide for yourself what you need this may often be a misguided decision.

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