Are Supplements Really Necessary?

Are Supplements Really Necessary?

Many people believe that eating a well-balanced diet provides all the vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. In ideal circumstances, this is the case, but in reality there are many reasons why you may need supplements. Taking herbs, vitamins and minerals are a good way of optimising your dietary sources of nutrients.

Here are some reasons supplementation may be necessary:

  1. Why food alone is not enough?
    Current food production and excessive farming methods can lead to nutrient depleted soils which grow nutrient poor food. Non-organic farmed food also contain chemicals and pesticides which are harmful to the body and the environment. Food is often picked before it ripens naturally then is gassed, irradiated, artificially ripened and stored for long periods of time before being transported to the supermarket. Additionally, eating foods that are overcooked, frozen, canned, refined, pasteurized and genetically engineered can further reduce the quality of food.
  2. Overcooking
    High heat when cooking or reheating of meat and vegetables can destroy heat susceptible vitamins such as vitamin C, E and the B-group vitamins.. Boiling vegetables can leach water soluble vitamins and minerals, and microwaving food can also destroy heat sensitive vitamins.
  3. Convenience Foods
    Pre-packaged, processed, ‘junk’ or synthetic food (you know the food with all the numbers and words we can’t pronounce), challenge the body’s ability to function adequately. A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, white flour and white rice, places a greater demand on the B-group vitamins to digest these carbohydrates. B vitamins help balance the nervous system, reducing irritability, PMS and improving the quality of sleep.
  4. Poor Digestion
    Even when food intake is good, inefficient digestion can limit your body’s uptake of vitamins and minerals. Some common causes of inefficient digestion are not chewing well enough and eating too fast. Other digestive issues such as heartburn, reflux, food sensitivities, IBS, constipation and diarrhoea may also result in a lack of nutrient absorption. Furthermore, the overuse of antacids such as Nexium and Pariet reduces digestive acid and our ability to absorb vital minerals such as calcium, leading to long term problems.
  5. Food Allergies and Sensitivities
    Avoiding known allergens in the diet can mean a lowered vitamin and mineral intake. An undiagnosed lactose or gluten intolerance can lead to poor absorption of nutrients, as the gut is often irritated and inflamed.
  6. Lifestyle Factors (coffee, tea, alcohol and smoking)
    The tannins in tea and caffeine can reduce the uptake of calcium, iron, zinc and other minerals by up to 70%. Binge drinking alcohol is known to damage the liver and pancreas which are vital to digestion and metabolism. Regular use of alcohol increases the body’ needs for the B group vitamins, Vitamins A and C, as well as the minerals zinc, magnesium and calcium. Alcohol affects the health of the intestinal lining resulting in poor availability, absorption and metabolism of nutrients. Tobacco is an irritant to the digestive tract and increases the demand for vitamin C and zinc compared to non-smokers. Vitamin C and Zinc are vital to immune function.
  7. Laxatives
    The use of laxatives increases the intestinal transit time (i.e. the time it takes for food to pass through the digestive system) resulting in not enough time for absorption of vitamins and minerals from food. Regular use can result in a loss of fat soluble vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, D and magnesium.
  8. Antibiotics
    Taking antibiotics kill off the friendly bacteria in the gut, which normally produce B-group vitamins to be absorbed through the intestinal wall. Probiotic supplementation is recommended during and after antibiotic use to replace the good bugs.
  9. Oral Contraceptives
    The pill decreases the absorption of folic acid and increases the demand for vitamin B1, B6, C, and zinc.
  10. Low Fat Diets
    Low fat diets are contributing to deficiencies in the very important fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as essential fatty acids (EFA’s). EFA’s are essential for brain health and immune support and can be found in oily fish, seeds and some nuts, avocados, cold pressed olive and flax seed oils.
  11. Lack of Sunlight
    People restricted to their houses, shift workers, overuse of sunscreen and minimal exposure to sunlight can suffer from insufficient amounts of vitamin D. Calcium metabolism as well as the normal functioning of the immune system rely on vitamin D. Ultraviolet light is the stimulus for vitamin D formation in skin. It is blocked by cloud, smoke, fog, smog, ordinary window glass, sunscreen and clothing.
  12. Accidents and Illness
    Burns lead to a loss of fluid, electrolytes and protein. Surgery increases the need for zinc, vitamin E and other nutrients involved in healing and repair. The repair of broken bones can be retarded by an inadequate supply of calcium and vitamin C, and conversely, enhanced by an increased supply. Infection places a high demand on the nutritional resources of zinc, magnesium, vitamins A, C and E as well as B5 and B6.
  13. Stress
    Chemical, physical and emotional stress increases the body’s requirements for vitamin B2, B5, B6 and C. Toxins such as air pollution increases the requirements for vitamin E, as well as antioxidants.
  14. Teenagers
    Rapid growth spurts, especially in girls, places high demands on nutritional resources due to the accelerated physical, hormonal and emotional development in this age group.
  15. Pregnant Women
    Pregnancy creates higher demands for nutrients to ensure the healthy growth of the baby and health of the pregnant mother. These include the B-group vitamins especially B1, B2, B3, B6 folic acid and B12, A, D, E and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.
  16. The Elderly
    The aged have been shown to have a low intake of vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, calcium and zinc. Folic acid deficiency is often found in conjunction with a vitamin C deficiency. Fibre intake is often low. Riboflavin (B2) and pyridoxine (B6) deficiencies have also been observed. Possible causes include impaired taste and smell, poor fitting dentures, reduced secretion of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, chronic disease and possible physical impairment.
  17. Athletes and Training
    Athletes consume large amounts of food and place their bodies under extreme physical stress. This places extra demand on their digestive system as well as the requirements for protein, antioxidants and a number of vitamins and minerals.

As a mother, naturopath and practising midwife I understand that leading a busy life can have a detrimental effect on our health. If you’re seeking a healthier lifestyle or have been feeling lethargic make an appointment for a Wellness Review. Call (03) 9372 0499 or book an appointment online at


Adapted from: “Natural Fertility Management” Francesca Naisch, 2001.

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