Nutritional supplements - why we all need them
It has become increasingly apparent that the long established Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs) of nutritional supplements are now out-dated. Either the levels have been incorrectly set, or they do not represent levels for optimum health, or they do not permit the necessary latitude for individual biochemical differences or disease states. Increasingly, they are not relevant to people leading modern Western lifestyles and eating Western diets. It is time for a new set of RDAs.
Reasons for a new set of RDAs
Modern agricultural techniques
- The vast majority of our crops are annual crops, so that only the upper few inches of soil are exploited. This soil is rapidly becoming depleted of minerals.
- Traditional systems of crop rotation have been abandoned in favour of monocultures. This increases the need for pesticide and herbicides.
- Human manure is not recycled back onto the growing fields; therefore, there is a net depletion of minerals.
- The use of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides reduces the humus content (mycorrhiza) of soil; therefore, plants will malabsorb minerals.
- Pesticides, such as glyphosphate, work by chelating minerals in soil, thereby reducing mineral availability to plants.
- Modern plant varieties are often developed to suit the palate. Fruit, for example, is cultivated to increase sugar content – increasing fructose consumption is a major cause of "metabolic syndrome".
- Genetically modified crops – genetic modification is largely done to develop pesticide resistant strains rather than for improving micronutrient density. So, more pesticide is used exacerbating the above problems.
- Foods may be bred or genetically modified for their "keeping qualities" at the expense of good micronutrient content. Indeed, people often comment how tasteless modern varieties are, and this loss of flavour reflects declining levels of micronutrients.
All these issues result in food crops being micronutrient deficient. Plants grown on mineral-deficient soils will not be able to synthesise other micronutrients essential to their health and the health of consumers downstream (farm animals and humans). In practice, this means the plants themselves are more susceptible to diseases, such as fungal infestation, and therefore they are more heavily sprayed to counteract this. Consumers downstream will be rendered deficient in not just minerals but vitamins, essential fatty acids and many other constituents essential for healthy life which they can only get from eating plant material.
Modern food processing
For reasons of convenience we have adopted food processing techniques which further deplete the micronutrient content of food. All the following processes have this effect:
- Food storage – it may be many months between harvest and consumption. Storage inevitably results in micronutrient depletion.
- Food processing – whole fruits are very acceptable, but fruit juices not so because of their high fructose content. Potato is a good food until crisped! Food processing often results in production of hydrogenated and trans fats, which effectively are anti-nutrients.
- High temperature cooking results in production of transfats and lipid peroxides, all of which are directly toxic in their own right.
- Cooking to serving times – it may be some time between cooking and eating; a particular problem with ready meals, take-away foods etc.
Food choices and addictions
Western diets are addictive with respect to sugar, refined carbohydrates, allergens (particularly dairy and wheat), caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and, of course, tobacco. This creates problems for the following reasons:
- We consume these micronutrient-poor foods to the exclusion of micronutrient-dense foods.
- The above consumables require additional micronutrients for their elimination from the body.
- Many of these consumables are diuretic.
- Eating addictively means we do not get the normal cues that tell us when to stop eating. Westerners eat more food than they need and so there is a tendency to weight gain.
- Fast food and snacking. These are now accepted parts of Western lifestyle, but lead to eating refined and processed foods.
- Whole-foods are less efficiently digested. In contrast, refined foods are rapidly absorbed, thus hiking blood sugar and insulin levels resulting in metabolic syndrome.
Essentially, these socially acceptable addictions are anti-nutrient, increase our need for micronutrients, and encourage over-consumption of micronutrient-poor foods.
Poor education and ill-advised beliefs
Many people make food or lifestyle choices in the mistaken belief they are doing the healthy thing. Modern advertising campaigns are highly influential, are often aimed at children, and encourage poor food choices through subliminal association of ideas.
- Many people still believe that saturated fat is unhealthy and believe that low-fat diets are healthy.
- Foods highly coloured with synthetic colourings are attractive and desired.
- Sunshine is the only substantial source of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is pandemic because of western climates, but largely due to ill-founded advice to avoid sunshine and use sun blockers.
- Dairy products are believed to be healthy options, but for many people this is not true. The evolutionarily correct diet is free from dairy products.
Modern western man is less physically active
Consequently, he needs to eat less than our physically active ancestors and lesser amounts of food carry lesser amounts of micronutrients.
Increasing toxic stress of Western environments
Xenobiotic chemicals (pesticides, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals) all need to be detoxified and excreted from the body, but this process is highly demanding of micronutrients. Our increasing xenobiotic load increases micronutrient requirements. Furthermore, xenobiotics are directly anti-nutrient: so, for example, nickel increases our requirement for zinc; fluoride increases our need for iodine; and mercury increases our need for selenium.
Xenobiotics come from:
- Contamination of our food and water in ways indicated above.
- Contamination by packaging – many products are wrapped, and sometimes cooked, in plastics with phthalates leeching into food.
- Contamination of the environment by persistent organic pollutants from agricultural industry, polluting industry, war, fires, road traffic and waste disposal.
- Cosmetics often contain volatile organic chemicals and/or heavy metals such as nickel and aluminium – this increases the toxic load and thereby the requirements for micronutrients to detoxify them.
- Jewellery and piercings increase exposure to toxic metals.
- Prescription medication – the best example of this would be the malabsorption induced by proton pump inhibitors and other acid blockers, resulting in an increased risk of osteoporosis. Most drug side effects result from micronutrient deficiencies.
- The medication of healthy people, including children, with vaccinations which often contain heavy metals together with live or attenuated viruses. Vaccinations have immune disrupting potential and the potential to switch on novel disease processes.
- Dental work and surgical prostheses – these often involve use of heavy metals such as mercury, palladium, titanium, nickel, gold and silicones, all of which may be toxic either directly or through their potential to disrupt the immune system.
Other mechanisms not yet identified
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