Making sense of supplements

Lisa PettyIf you have ever been confused about the some of the popular supplements recommend by experts these days then don’t miss this interview. Lisa Petty, nutrition expert, wellness coach, and health journalist will demystify the subject. Lisa will explain why we might need these supplements. She will tell us what they do and how we can make sure our body has enough of them. Lisa will also translate the “scientific alphabet soup lingo” that surrounds the subject and makes it so hard to understand.


Lisa is the author of: Beauty: Feel Great, Look Fabulous & Live Well and also is a spokesperson for Nordic Naturals.
DD: Why do we need supplements if we eat a healthy diet?
LP: Let’s be honest: most of us don’t eat 7-10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day! And even if we do, sadly, our modern farming practices lead to produce that simply isn’t as nutritious as it used to be. Our diets have also changed so drastically in recent years, with important food sources of nutrients like fish falling out of favor. We face nutritional gaps in our diets, and supplements help to bridge those gaps. Many prescription medications also trigger nutrient deficiencies that lead to both short and long-term health consequences. I always recommend that people on prescription meds find out whether they need to be concerned about supplementing nutrients.
DD: What are EFA’s and where do we find them in food? Why do we need them?
LP: Essentially fatty acids (EFAs) are fats that are necessary for us to survive. They are the preferred fats for making up the cell membrane on every single one of our trillions of cells. They also play a role in brain development and function, hormone health, metabolism, skin repair, resolving inflammation – the list goes on. Our bodies can’t manufacture them, so we have to be sure to get them from food. The important EFAs are the Omega-3 fats alpha linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); and the Omega-6 fat Gamma linolenic acid (GLA).
DD: Can you explain what DHA and EPA are exactly — and what are the best sources of it?  
LP: Research has shown that the two most beneficial EFAs are the Omega-3s EPA and DHA (see question above). These two fats have been studied extensively and are easily used by the body for both mental and physical health. ALA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that occurs naturally in flax, nuts, chai, and several vegetable sources, but must be converted through an enzymatic process to EPA and DHA to be used by the body. Unfortunately, due to many factors including age, stress, diet and underlying health conditions, only about 1-9% of the ALA we eat is converted to EPA and DHA, which simply isn’t enough to meet our needs. It’s best, then, to get your EPA and DHA directly, and the best preformed food source of these fats is deep water fatty fish like sardines, anchovies and Arctic cod. Since these fish can be subject to environmental toxins, many people feel more comfortable using a purified fish oil supplement in liquid or soft gel form. This ensures purity and adequate dose daily as it takes several meals of fish per week to reach optimum levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.
DD: What is GLA and why do we need it?
LP: Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is the anti-inflammatory Omega-6 fat that has been shown in studies to play a role in soothing dry, irritated skin like you see with eczema and psoriasis. Other research shows the benefits of GLA in arthritis and improving hormone balance for women. The best sources of GLA are borage oil and evening primrose oil.
DD: Can we just take plain fish oil? Is all fish oil the same? How can we tell what quality we are buying?
LP: Absolutely, you can take plain fish oil in liquid form – but most people won’t — simply because of taste or texture issues. Many people prefer the convenience of soft gels. Freshness and purity (from environmental toxins) are absolutely essential when choosing a fish oil supplement. Look for fish oil in its natural triglyceride form. This is the way it’s found in nature and it’s the easiest for the body to use. The best fish oil comes from sardines and anchovies that are low on the food chain and therefore at reduced risk of contamination with mercury and other toxins. Arctic cod from northern Europe is another good choice for conscientious consumers as it’s not at risk of over-fishing. Cod liver oil should be made from 100 percent cod livers. Any fishy repeat (burping) tells you that the oil is rancid, and is causing more harm than good. For best results when it comes to compliance, choose a naturally-flavored, quality brand for liquid or soft gel supplementation. You’ll enjoy the taste and most likely want to take it daily.
DD: Can supplements help your skin and hair look better? There evidence that certain supplements will even help joints, we know for some people with arthritis benefit from glycoside, but not everyone can take it? Are there alternatives?
LP: There is no doubt in my mind that supplements can help your skin, hair and nails look better, healthier and more vibrant. In my book Living Beauty: Feel Great, Look Fabulous & Live Well I write about three Living Beauty® Essentials that I think everyone should take every day as a foundation for healthy beauty: they are a multivitamin/multimineral, essential fatty acids, and probiotics, which help keep the digestive tract healthy. A vibrant digestive tract is key to getting access to all the nutrients in the foods we eat. Other nutrients, like orthosilicic acid help to build strong bones, nails and skin. Vitamin A and zinc are crucial for those with acne. Many of the so-called beauty concerns we see in the mirror are outward indications of nutrient absorption problems or deficiencies. When we address the underlying problem, the beauty issue often vanishes.
DD: Is there any evidence that you can help depression or mood swings with the right supplements?
LP: The brain is made up of fat, so it’s not surprising that the Omega-3 fats EPA and DHA have been studied for their impact on brain health and depression – with results indicating a reduced risk for depression with adequate EFAs. DHA particularly is important for the developing brain and is beneficial in Alzheimers and other neurological diseases. It’s really important that women in their child-bearing years intake adequate DHA as it’s crucial for the baby’s brain and also helps mom with postpartum depression. Talk to your health care provider if you are suffering with depression because it’s a serious health concern.
The Omega-6 fat GLA also helps to balance hormones, which is key for women who suffer mood swings with their monthly cycle or through perimenopause. Hormonal moods swings are also associated with an over-worked liver (which is charged with metabolizing hormones) so liver support supplements including dandelion or milk thistle are helpful.
To learn more about omega fatty acid research for depression and mood, see
DD: How do you determine which supplements are best for you and correct dosages to maintain your personal health and goals?
LP: It’s always a good idea to speak with nutrition professional or naturopath before starting with supplements because even adding something healthy like a multivitamin can lead to undesirable consequences like an increase in blood pressure when you first start to use them. This is because your body might be finally getting what it needs to operate optimally, and it kicks into working gear – which can be stressful on the body. As well, some products have great marketing budgets and flashy commercials and advertisements, but don’t live up to their hype. Nutritionists and naturopaths know what to look for in a supplement, and can help you make the right choice for you.
DD: How important is a healthy diet for optimal health to get the benefits from supplements?
LP:You can’t stuff yourself with a hamburger, fries, and chocolate shake and follow with a potato chip chaser, then down a multivitamin and pat yourself on the back for having a nutrient-rich meal. Supplements are just that – an insurance policy to supplement a healthy diet.
Many of the convenience foods we eat actually deplete our bodies of nutrients, and reduce the effectiveness of a supplement regimen. For example, cooked and processed foods are void of enzymes, tiny protein chemicals that spark every chemical action and reaction that occurs in the body. Without enzymes, digestion suffers and we don’t get what we need from our food.
Our choice of fat matters too. While a cell prefers to use Omega-6 and Omega-3 EFAs to build its membrane, it will use whatever fat is available. If the only fat floating around the blood stream is a trans-fat from your potato chips, that’s what the cell will use. No wonder we don’t look good or feel good after living on a fast food diet. Bottom line: eat 7-10 servings of variously-colored fruits and vegetables every day, along with lean protein, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. And take your supplements with plenty of pure, filtered water.
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