Supplements: Do We Really Need Them?

newrootsNo doubt the overkill of products making big claims and then falling short of the desired outcomes makes people skeptical of any health products – hello ‘slim quick’ for weight loss or ‘flinstone multi-vitamins’ – for general wellness. I think those stone age vitamins have a better chance of causing kidney stones than delivering absorbent nutrients. It may come as no surprise to you that some products aren’t what they claim to be, and likely aren’t healthy. But supplements, do we really need them?

The answer is: most likely.  Certain things we NEED on a cellular level are sparse in our diet. Unfortunately, this scarcity hasn’t been happening forever either. Likely your grandfather didn’t need to take vitamins.  So what’s so different between his diet and yours?

Our soil is depleted, our lives are hectic and we have way too many choices of what to eat.  We end up eating a lot of processed carbohydrates – cereal for breakfast, bread for lunch pasta for dinner.  Even if we throw a few veggies in there we are missing some key nutrients necessary for life.

We eat food-like substances, as Michael Pollan would put it, not real food.  What we are blissfully neglecting is the fact that this junk we are putting down the shoot is also what is going to become our cells. It’s not unlikely that this will cause major degenerative diseases.  You can expect to develop an awful disease if you eat these foods.  What you put in your mouth is the most important factor in disease management that is within your control. Use it to your advantage!

But let’s look beyond diet to include what we may need to supplement in our diets because most of us will need to address some holes that even the very health conscious need to consider.

The first is Omega 3.

Omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fatty acid. Meaning we don’t make them in our bodies and we need to obtain them from food sources. While some omega 6 is good, excessive amounts promote degenerative diseases like heart disease, arthritis and immune disorder and our typical diets contain a disproportionate amount of omega 6.  Among other foods, Omega 6’s are found in nuts, seeds, grains and vegetable oils which just about covers everything that is processed.  Don’t worry about getting omega 6 it’s in there, trust me.  Let’s move on to the one we should concern ourselves with, omega 3.

Why is omega 3 so important?

Because of the Omega3 fatty acids EPA and DHA!

EPA is the precursor to a group of anti-inflammatory molecules called eicosanoids. Eicosanoids play a key role in regulating inflammation, blood pressure, cell growth and immune function.  EPA is excellent for those with inflammatory conditions, at risk of heart disease, and/ or mood disorders.

DHA is concentrated in the nervous system tissues – specifically in the brain and eyes. Getting enough DHA improves cognitive function (and development – Mums-to-be!!!). Taking DHA (diet/supplement) protects against macular degeneration, dementia, and stroke, among many other disorders.


Where do we get Omega 3?

Well this is the tricky part. Omega 3 isn’t abundant in our diet.  The best dietary source is from cold water oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring.  Grass-fed animals also yield a decent amount of omega 3 in their meat.

Finding a good vegetarian source is where it gets a little grey.  Flax and chia are two of the most notable sources and have certainly got a lot of buzz for their high content.  However the plant sources, with the exception of algae, contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which must be converted in the body to EPA and DHA.

While there is much debate about the effectiveness of this conversion there is no question that in order to get enough ALA to even compete with the direct sources of EPA and DHA you would need to be eating a lot of flax. A lot!!!

Ascenta (a supplement brand) did a summary of how much flax oil you would need to consume to get the recommended daily intake of DHA and EPA and it would look something like 8 tablespoons of flax oil which is hard to stomach and is more than 300 calories…not to mention the expense (that shit ain’t cheap).

I don’t mean to disparage the vegetarian sources – I was a vegetarian for many years and probably would have opted for the flax despite the expense – $ and calorically.

The take-home message:

Eat lots of fish and take a fish oil supplement if you aren’t meticulous about getting enough from your diet – it’s totally worth it.  If you are a vegetarian find a good quality green algae and forget about trying to get your days intake from flax. Ascenta carries a vegetarian omega 3 called nutravege.  It derives its omega 3 from algal oil and echium – an invasive weed that actually contains SDA which converts well to EPA.

Well friends, that does it for round one. Stay tuned for round 2: Vitamin D!


As always if you have any questions feel free to email me or post a question on


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