Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Supplements: Are They Necessary?

As a personal trainer, I am often asked this question:  Should I be taking vitamins/minerals/supplements/diet pills?  So, here is my long answer to that short questions!


Ideally, we shouldn't take vitamins because we should be getting everything we need from the food we put in our mouths.  But, unfortunately, not enough people eat the proper nutrition that they need daily. And even if we do, so many fruits and vegetables are grown with pesticides and chemicals we are not getting the good stuff from our food anymore, so we supplement (and eat organic when you can).  If you do need to take vitamins and minerals, make sure you are buying high quality supplements- not synthetic ones.  Synthetic vitamins have been formed in a laboratory by reconstructing the vitamin molecule chemically.  Natural vitamins are made from food concentrates such as carrot powder, wheat germ or buckwheat, and their molecular and biomedical combinations remain untampered with.  Synthetic are generally much less expensive than natural, but, synthetic vitamins can actually harm your body and not help.  Do your research to make sure you are getting high quality supplements.

Let me explain a little bit about vitamins.  There are two types of vitamins:  water soluble and fat soluble.  Water soluble vitamins are all your B vitamins and C.  Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble.  Fat soluble vitamins are dissolved in fat and are usually absorbed in fat globules that travel through the lymphatic system of the small intestines and into the general blood circulation within the body.  They are then stored in body tissues and usually remain there, which if you have taken too much, can cause a potentially dangerous condition known as hypervitaminosis.  It is rare, but be cautious of taking too many fat soluble vitamins.  Many people are now deficient in vitamin D- the reason being is the excessive use of sunscreen.  I most certainly advocate the use of sunscreen if you are going to be out for a long length of time, but, if I am just going outside for short amounts of time, we do not use it.  Your body needs a certain amount of  vitamin D from natural sunlight and the sunscreen blocks that absorption.  And, if I do wear it, it is a natural sunscreen and not the chemical filled ones.  Remember, what we put on our skin is actually absorbed faster into our bodies than if we would have ingested it.

Water soluble vitamins are dissolved in water when they are ingested and then go into our bloodstream.  They do not get stored in our bodies.  Our bodies keep what is needed and then the rest is excreted through our urine.  So, because they aren't stored everyone needs a continual supply of B vitamins and C.


Minerals cannot be created by your body (our bodies are able to build some vitamins from the nutrients we consume), so we must obtain them from the foods that we eat.  Once again, if your diet is healthy, you will not need to supplement.  But, if not make sure you are using high quality supplements.  Calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc are just a few of the minerals that our bodies need.  We can obtain calcium from dairy products; iron from meat; potassium from bananas; and zinc from venison, beef or shellfish.  Obviously, if you are pregnant or have any other medical condition, make sure you check with your doctor for how your vitamin and mineral needs may change.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.  They band together in chains to form the essentials things in our bodies needed to live.  Amino acids get together and form peptides or polypeptides, from which proteins are made.  There are 20 amino acids.  Humans can produce 10 of the 20 amino acids; the others need to be supplied in your food intake.  The ten amino acids that we can produce are:  alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine.  The ones we must obtain from our diet are:  arginine, histidine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.  Many people know tryptophan because it is in turkey- it's what makes us sleepy on Thanksgiving!  But, too much of it will cause gastrointestinal discomfort.  Just like anything- you must take amino acids in moderation or you will experience side effects.  One side effect you may not realize until too late is damage to the kidneys.  Protein and amino acids are filtered through the kidneys.  If you are consuming too much your kidneys will have to work extra and that will put them at risk for kidney disease.  Most people do not need to supplement their diets with amino acids.  What we eat daily will supply what we need.  There are other side effects to taking too many aminos including:  anxiety, depression, and muscle weakness, among others.  As always, if you feel you are lacking something, talk to your doctor and make sure they run  tests to determine the levels of amino acids in your body.

Diet pills or diet supplements

This is a short answer:  NO!!!  There is no quick fix.  If someone tells you that all they do is take some pills or supplements and they stay thin and they don't even have to workout- run fast and far away!  First of all, if there were some magic pills to help you lose weight- it certainly wouldn't be healthy.  As I have said in previous posts:  exercising is important for so many more reasons than just losing weight.  Exercising reduces blood pressure, heart rate, risk of cancers, risk of heart attack and stroke, risk of osteoporosis, it stabilizes your blood sugar levels, improves mood and energy and the list goes on and on.  Let's do it the healthy and natural way- eat nutritious foods, high in vital nutrients and not chemicals, and exercise.  That's what is good for your body!

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