Health

Battling deficiency

According to scientists, supplements - on top of modern-day diets - are required to nourish our bodies and preserve health

There are various diets that claim to be the best. Most share a similar theme: To get rid of a particular food source and focus on other science-backed alternatives.

A question remains: Will our bodies get adequate nutrition by focusing only on consuming certain vitamins and minerals?

We spoke to scientists at the Usana Health Sciences facility in Salt Lake City to find out.

MODERN WOES

Often we hear people proclaiming that taking supplements is only for the weak, and you'll get everything your body needs from three balanced meals a day.

But, scientists believe that we are not getting enough nutrients from various food sources.

"This especially rings true if we continue to peg our levels to that of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) standards," said Dr John Cuomo, executive director of global research and development at Usana.

Essentially, RDA is the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people.

However, modern-day diets do not adequately support the body's natural protective and renewal processes.

To make up for the inadequacy, many people have turned to supplements. But, not all supplements are created equal.

"It's the difference in quality," said Dr Cuomo. "A lot of the over-the-counter multi-vitamins are RDA-based products. RDAs were designed to prevent deficiency diseases, so they don't really address optimal health. What you actually need are products that are designed to cater to achieving optimal health."

So what exactly is this talk about achieving optimal health?

"Our medical model has been very focused on disease processes," said Dr Kevin Spelman, executive vice-president of research and development at Usana.

"Imagine a horizontal line. Below it, let's call it 'disease'. Above the line, we'll term it 'health'. And we can separate health into three tiers: Fair, good and optimal, with optimal being the highest point.

"Our medical model has been excellent at studying below the level - the diseases - and we have this assumption in medicine that the absence of disease is wellness.

"However, if you are at the 'fair' tier above the line - or even at the 'good' tier - you still don't get optimal wellness. This is basically where our medical model falls short."

NOT ENOUGH

Dr Spelman concurred that RDAs are simply about avoiding diseases, and many studies now suggest that a person requires much higher levels of nutrients.

Studies show that 77 per cent of men don't consume enough magnesium, and that many are also deficient in vitamin D and vitamin B12.

"If you look at all the named RDA multi-vitamins, in general, most of the population is at the level below the RDA," said Dr Cuomo.

"Some are horribly low in, for instance, vitamin E - almost 90 per cent of population gets less than the RDA."

In other words, if people are already far from hitting levels and are not even meeting the minimum RDA standards, then there is a high chance for diseases to strike.

There are many other factors that may result in the development of degenerative diseases and lifestyle is vital.

"You can turn on or turn off several physiological processes depending on lifestyle input," Dr Spelman said.

"Do you sleep enough? Do you have love in your life? These things affect your physiology."

Dr Cuomo added: "Factors like exercise are extremely important in keeping overall health. Whole foods paired with exercise and supplements are key aspects that most people neglect."

STRESS

And, of course, there is the matter of stress, given the hectic lifestyles that most of us are ploughing through.

"We think of stress as something outside of us," Dr Spelman said. "But stress is actually our reaction to that something.

"We can set off a cascade of bad processes in our body by having a certain reaction in our minds."

He suggested that it will be hard to have a healthy response to stress if you don't have a good nutrient foundation - being deficient in micronutrients, for example.

This is why quality nutritional supplements shouldn't be scoffed at.

But there is a danger: People may overdose on supplements.

"In our culture, we have this attitude that if one is good, two is better," Dr Spelman said.

"But that should never be the case when it comes to dietary supplements."

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