Top Picks from Registered Pharmacist and Online Coach Holly Louise
As we’re in the midst of flu season and the cases of Coronavirus are on the rise again in Australia, maintaining optimal health and wellbeing is a significant topic of concern for many of us. One of the best ways you can take a proactive approach to stay well is by providing your body with all the nutrition it needs to fend off any nasty infections, and adding vitamins and supplements into your diet can be an easy and convenient way to achieve this.
If you don’t already have a vitamin and supplement pack as part of your everyday diet and have no idea where to begin, this is the perfect guide to get you started. In the article below, Registered Pharmacist, Certified Personal Trainer and Online Coach Holly Louise explains who would benefit from vitamins and supplements, some key health benefits you can receive and some vitamins that are fantastic for boosting wellness and immunity.
I started my own personal fitness journey over 7 years ago after suffering from various health conditions and mental health issues. The health benefits I received through training and optimising my nutrition ignited my passion in the industry and I have been qualified as a personal trainer and coach for 5 years now. My main goal is to initiate positive change in the lives of others through all aspects of health, fitness and wellness through evidence-based nutrition and training methods. I am a huge advocate of flexible dieting and educating my clients on healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes, which allows them to achieve incredible results while improving their relationship with food and exercise.
Do you need vitamins and supplements?
Vitamins and supplements should not replace a healthy, balanced diet. They are called supplements because their purpose is just that – to supplement your diet. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is without question the best way to ensure we get all the nutrients the body needs, and most of us can by simply doing so. However, not all of us achieve this on a daily basis. Our busy lifestyles mean that we are more inclined to skip meals and grab more convenient options without giving thought to putting together properly balanced meals that provide us with the right mix of nutrients. Nutrients can also be lost from food as a result of poor methods of storage, preparation and cooking.
Some groups of people in particular may find it difficult to achieve recommended nutrient intakes through diet alone. These include young children and adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, elderly people, smokers, heavy drinkers, women with heavy periods, people with malabsorption conditions and people following a restrictive diet, such as vegans, vegetarians and people trying to lose weight.
This is when vitamins and supplements can be used to supplement the diet and help to bridge nutritional gaps and prevent any deficiencies from occurring which can lead to certain health problems.
Just as a lack of key micronutrients can cause substantial harm to your body, getting sufficient quantities can provide a substantial benefit. Normally, you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet. However, supplements can provide you with extra nutrients when your diet is lacking or certain health conditions cause a deficiency.
In most cases, a multivitamin or mineral supplement will provide you with all the micronutrients your body needs. They are generally safe because they contain only very small amounts of each nutrient. You can also supplement with individual nutrients, which are usually in larger doses than your typical multivitamin. They can be used to treat a deficiency, such as an iron deficiency, or reduce the risk of a medical condition, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.
Unless a specific deficiency is identified, a supplement is usually not necessary if you are healthy and you eat and exercise properly. Using supplements appropriately can help you avoid side effects and toxicities associated with overuse. It’s important to note that if you are taking regular medication or have any health conditions then it is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before starting any vitamins or supplements.
Potential consequences of not taking vitamins
Vitamins and minerals are a diverse group of substances that play an enormous number of roles in the body. Compared to proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, the body needs very small amounts of these nutrients to remain in good working order, and yet eating too little or too much of them can be physically devastating.
Here are a few examples of chronic health conditions that can result from vitamin deficiencies:
- Anaemia – A lack of dietary iron can cause iron-deficiency anaemia. Women are particularly vulnerable to this cause of iron deficiency because they eat less food than men to begin with, but their requirements for iron are greater because they lose iron during menstruation. Supplementation may be required.
- Osteoporosis – Low calcium intake is almost certainly connected to osteoporosis. Between the ages of 35 and 45, bones start losing their calcium (even if the diet is high in calcium), a process that accelerates in women immediately before and after menopause, so taking a calcium supplement can help with preventing osteoporosis.
- Osteomalacia/rickets – Osteomalacia is a disorder of adults in which bones become soft because the ratio of mineral to the protein component of bone decreases. This disease is known as rickets when it occurs in children. In countries with limited sunlight, or where the people dress in a fashion that reduces exposure to sunlight, there is a higher incidence of osteomalacia and rickets than in places where the inhabitants get plenty of sunshine (or vitamin D from food).
- Birth defects – Folate (vitamin B9) is essential in the earliest days of foetal growth for healthy development of the brain and spine. Ensuring sufficient levels of folate in women prior to conception can reduce neural tube defects (such as spina bifida and anencephaly).
How the body absorbs vitamins
The small intestine is where vitamin absorption happens. Water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are picked up by “transport” molecules for absorption. These molecules carry the vitamin molecules through the intestinal walls where they can enter the bloodstream. Because much of your body consists of water, many of the water-soluble vitamins circulate easily in your body. Your kidneys continuously regulate levels of water-soluble vitamins, and any excesses are removed from the body in your urine (which is why it is a bright yellow colour after taking these vitamins). As a result, you need to consume these vitamins every few days in order to replenish levels.
The other type of vitamin, the fat-soluble ones such as A, D, E and K, need to dissolve in fat before they can enter the bloodstream. The process requires a substance called bile which is produced in the liver and flows into the small intestine where it breaks down fat. When the bile breaks down the fat the vitamins are dissolved in, the vitamins move with the fat through the intestinal wall, and eventually into the bloodstream. These vitamins are used throughout the body, but excesses are stored in the liver and fat tissues until they’re needed (much like fat). Fat-soluble vitamins, therefore, don’t require daily consumption.
Supplements for wellness and immunity
While it’s possible to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need from careful food selection and a nutrient-dense diet, it’s not easy! The purpose of a multivitamin is to bridge nutritional gaps in your diet. This helps to support against the possibility of deficiencies in some of the other vitamins and minerals that can result from lack of food variety or reduced calorie intake, as well as deficiencies caused by certain health conditions. Being deficient in many of these micronutrients can lead to a range of diseases such as anaemia and osteoporosis.
- Fish oil
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You cannot produce these in your body, so it is essential that we receive them through your diet or supplementation. Omega-3s provide a vast array of health benefits including assisting in the treatment of various heart diseases, high cholesterol, inflammation, arthritis, depression, anxiety, ADHD, cancer, diabetes, IBD, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, eye disorders, and skin conditions. A lesser known benefit is that they enhance immune responses by supporting immune cell function. The coordination of all the different immune cells and the regulation of their activity is crucial for maintaining an effective immune defence.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that line our digestive tracts and support our body’s ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. Factors like diet, stress, illness and medications (especially antibiotics) can skew the ratio of good to bad bacteria and lead to disorders such as gastrointestinal distress, inflammation, skin conditions, infections and poor recovery, not to mention decreased absorption of vitamins and minerals. Your digestive tract contains 70% of your body’s immune cells and is a large source of toxins in the body due to its exposure to the food we consume. Therefore, to help support your immunity, it’s important to look after your digestive health, and one of the best ways to do that is to keep it balanced with probiotic supplementation.
Tonic One is a fantastic source of bio-fermented probiotics with marine collagen and tender green coconut. For easy digestion, hydration and more.
Magnesium is a mineral cofactor that serves a purpose in over 300 chemical reactions in your body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports heart health, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps with blood glucose control and aids in the production of energy and protein synthesis (helping the cells make protein). Magnesium has also been found to play an important role in the immune system health. Like many of the body’s functions, it acts as a co-factor to the enzymes involved in the inflammatory response. Studies show that magnesium is important for the synthesis, release, and activity of cells found in a healthy immune system. Your body can’t make magnesium, so you need to obtain it from your diet, and many people get less than they need despite eating a healthy, balanced diet.
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient and is essential to not only your overall health but also the functioning of your immune system. Due to the increasing rates of vitamin D deficiency and the implications, supplementation is encouraged if optimal levels are not present in the body. Vitamin D enhances the pathogen-fighting effects of monocytes and macrophages — white blood cells that are important parts of your immune defence — and decreases inflammation, which helps promote immune response.
Zinc is a mineral that’s essential for immune system function. It’s needed for immune cell development and communication and plays an important role in inflammatory responses. A deficiency in this nutrient significantly affects your immune system’s ability to function properly, resulting in an increased risk of infection and disease. Supplementing with zinc may help protect against respiratory tract infections and reduce the duration of these infections.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that’s vital for immune health. This vitamin supports the function of various immune cells and enhances their ability to protect against infection. It’s also necessary for cellular death, which helps keep your immune system healthy by clearing out old cells and replacing them with new ones. Vitamin C also functions as a powerful antioxidant, protecting against damage induced by oxidative stress, which occurs with the accumulation of reactive molecules known as free radicals. Supplementing with this nutrient may reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold.
My current daily vitamin and supplement stack includes protein powder, a multivitamin, magnesium, a probiotic, vitamin D and fish oil.
Want to hear more from Holly? Find her on Facebook at The Fit Pharmacist and Instagram @thefitpharmacist. If you need a helping hand with exercise and nutrition, check out her coaching program at www.findyourbalance.app.