This week as part of AdvoCare’s 5 Pillars of Wellness series we focus on Supplementation. Additional pillars, resources and giveaways are found here, and download the entire 24-Day JumpStart® Transformation Guide PDF here.

Dietary supplements are one of AdvoCare’s 5 Pillars of Wellness.  Most people intuitively understand the notion getting enough exercise through physical activities during the day and getting seven to nine hours of sleep at night.  However, defining dietary supplements and understanding how they serve as complement to each of the four other Pillars can be confusing.  So, let’s answer some basic questions about dietary supplements:

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What are supplements?

Dietary supplements are defined and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  The definition and use of these products are reflected in their name – they are intended as products for oral consumption that are intended to supplement the diet.  Most supplements provide the same ingredients you find in your food, including vitamins and minerals, amino acids in protein, fatty acids in lipids (oils) as well as in herbs and spices.  These and other ingredients, including phytonutrients and other dietary bioactive components are often derived from concentrates or extracts of foods as well as botanicals used in traditional medicines.

Dietary dupplements and supporting the immune system

What is the difference between a vitamin and a mineral?

Vitamins and minerals are the most common ingredients found in dietary supplements, so it is helpful to understand what these essential nutrients are and how they work.  Vitamins belong to a group of organic compounds which are essential for normal growth, metabolism and health.  They are critical to supporting life but, as they cannot be synthesized by the body, they are defined as essential nutrients.  Interestingly, plants and many animal species can make these vitamins, but humans evolved to obtain them from food so as to save resources and energy for other cellular functions.  Most vitamins serve as catalysts that drive every biochemical pathway in our bodies.

Essential minerals are inorganic elements from the earth that we most often get in plant foods (via soil).  However, some animal-based foods provide good sources of minerals, like the calcium in milk and the most absorbable form of dietary iron (heme iron) from meat.  Our bodies need minerals to develop and function healthfully by supporting the structure of different tissues, like the skeleton, and, together with vitamins, to also catalyze biochemical reactions in every cell and tissue.  Essential minerals include calcium, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.

Who needs vitamins and minerals?

As noted in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a large body of research has consistently shown that many people fall short of the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR, an intake level for a vitamin or mineral at which 50 percent of the population will meet its basic needs) and even more fall short of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA, an intake level at which 97 percent of the population will meet its needs for the maintenance of good health) for vitamins and minerals. More than half of American adults fail to meet the EAR for vitamins D and E and the B vitamin, choline, as well as the essential minerals magnesium and potassium.  More than a third of adults fail to meet the EAR for vitamins A and C and the mineral calcium.  This situation results from the typical American choosing too many calorie-rich and nutrient-poor foods.  This condition is sometimes called “hidden hunger” because it is not felt in the belly but slowly strikes at the core of our health and vitality.  Even for those people closely adhering to the U.S. Healthy Eating Pattern, Mediterranean Eating Pattern or Vegetarian Eating Pattern recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, shortfalls in vitamins D, E and choline as well as potassium are common.

Certain groups are particularly vulnerable to dietary shortfalls in vitamins and minerals and especially need supplementation.  For example, people on restricted diets – such low carbohydrate, gluten-free, ketogenic, paleolithic, vegan, and vegetarian – where one or more foods are avoided will miss out on those nutrients found there.  Older adults who are food insecure or on chronic medications which interfere with the absorption or function of these nutrients represent another particularly vulnerable group.  It is also worth noting the people whose vitamin and mineral requirements are higher than usual, such as pregnant and lactating women, certain athletes and military, are also likely to fall short of their requirements.

As vitamin and mineral shortfalls are so common, supplementation represents a prudent form of health insurance for everyone – a Pillar of Wellness.  It is important to understand that you may be “not sick” from hidden hunger but you could certainly become “more well” as a result of supplementation.

What is the purpose of food fortification and why it is so important?

Food fortification is a public health intervention intended to provide a population-wide solution for major nutrient inadequacies.  It is also a recognition by the government of major shortfalls in typical diets.  Over a century ago, large portions of the country were suffering from iodine deficiency leading to goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland.  The fortification of salt with iodine literarily eliminated this condition.  Similarly, public health policy stimulated the fortification of dairy milk with vitamins A and D to reduce deficiencies, especially in children.  Fortification of refined flour with folic acid has significantly reduced the risk of neural tube birth defects.  Food enrichment is largely synonymous with fortification and refers to the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods from which they were lost through food processing.  Refining flour to remove the bran and germ results in the loss of many B vitamins which are added back after processing.  Nonetheless, it is important to understand that people who drink little milk or limit adding salt or choose whole over refined bread will not benefit from fortification and should consideration supplementation.

What should individuals keep in mind when selecting supplements?

It can be a challenge to know how to identify high quality dietary supplements. It is reasonable to rely on brands manufactured under FDA quality system regulations by trusted companies with a reputation for reliance on evidence-based science. Look especially for companies that employ manufacturer testing or third-party certification, i.e., independent businesses that chemically analyze batches of products to ensure that what is on the label is in the supplement.

Which vitamins and minerals support immune health?

The immune system is extraordinarily complex and critical to maintaining our resilience to outside stresses, including exposure to bacteria and viruses.  Every one of the Pillars of Wellness plays a role in support our immune system.  Through the Nutrition and Supplement Pillars, the key vitamins and minerals supporting the structure and function of the immune system include

vitamins A, C, D, E and the minerals selenium, and zinc.  Working together, nutrition, supplementation, exercise, stress management, and sleep are your best way to support immune health.

What are your three takeaways about supplementation?

Dietary supplements are supplements to your diet, not substitutes for a healthy diet.  So, eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limit your intake of highly processed foods, cured meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.  But even the most balanced diets include nutrients gaps.  So, fortify your life with supplements to ensure you meet all your nutritional needs every day!

Together with AdvoCare’s four other Pillars of Wellness – balanced diet, regular physical activity, getting enough quality sleep, and stress management – dietary supplements can help promote healthy aging, weight management, energy, and performance.  Be well!

Scientific and Medical Advisory Board Members are compensated for their role. Check with your health care provider before beginning any dietary supplement regimen.