The role of supplements in illness prevention

The rising cost of health care has been in the headlines several times over the past few months. There are a number of reasons for these rising costs, from fraud in the medical aid industry, to the rising cost of medication. But is there a way to combat the rising costs? Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood looks at how prevention can reduce your health costs, particularly through the use of supplements.

There is a saying that prevention is better than cure, and when it comes to your health, this may very well be the case. Investing in your health and a healthy lifestyle is one way to help prevent illness. According to Bruce Dennison, president of the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPASA), the country’s growing vitamins and supplements market is testament to the trend towards better healthcare as a preventative measure.

Your lifestyle

Relying on supplements and vitamins is not the only way to a healthy lifestyle and reduced illness. Your entire way of life plays a role in your overall health. Andrea du Plessis, nutritional expert at Vital Health Foods, stresses that you primary focus should be on your diet, to find out if you are ingesting enough of any specific vitamins and minerals.

Desi Horsman, a nutritionist, speaker and wellness expert, says: “In an ideal world, you could get all your vitamins and minerals from the food you eat but food today is nutritionally poor given the soils are robbed of its nutrients by the artificial fertilisers and pesticides used. As if that weren’t enough, food is so processed and refined that all goodness is removed by the time it reaches your plate.

Vanessa Ascencao, health and wellness expert, agrees, stressing that good nutrition is the foundation to good health. “Eat organic and the best quality food you can find, drink clean water and get enough sleep. Try to get these aspects correct as it is everything in achieving good health. Our diets need a bit of support and so therefore I am a big believer in supplementation. The best quality clinically proven nutrients is best you’re your body. A simple multi-vitamin these days simply doesn’t cut it.”

Lifestyle choices such as drinking alcohol and smoking, as well as things such as stress and lack of sleep contribute to the depletion of nutrients in the body, explains du Plessis.

What supplements should you take?

If you find that your diet is lacking in any vital nutrients, vitamin and mineral supplements can be a way of introducing these to your body. However, there is a wide variety of supplements available on the market, with multiple brands to choose from. While at face value these brands and supplements may appear to be the same, the dosage of the supplements may differ, so going for the cheapest option might not always be the best choice, as it could have a lower dosage than what you need.

“Always check the nutritional information on the packaging to ensure you’re buying a product that will meet your personal requirements,” suggests Dennison.

Horsman points out that she generally does not recommend multivitamins, but rather barley grass, spirulina, chlorella or wheat grass. “All of those greens contain all the vitamins and minerals your body needs in a form that is well absorbed. Multivitamins are generally in very small amounts that will not necessarily be enough to correct a deficiency and often is not well absorbed. There is value in taking individual nutrients when there is a deficiency.”

She adds: “Vitamins such as A, D and E, are fat soluble and accumulate in your body so if you take a high amounts for a long time they do become toxic. But the water soluble vitamins like B and C are depleted every day and since the body does not store them – they need to be supplemented every day.”

However, Du Plessis disagrees with Horsman, stating that the first supplement that is well established to add value to health and vitality is a multivitamin. “Research shows that mild nutritional deficiencies play a key role in the development of life threatening diseases. This highlights the role of nutritional supplementation, in addition to a balanced diet, in maintenance of good health.”

Ascencao lists the following six supplements that she would recommend:

  1. Curcumin – This has numerous health benefits, including reducing inflammation in the body.
  2. Vitamin D3 – According to Ascencao, this is possibly the important nutrient needed for good health and which most people are deficient in. Vitamin D helps with bone health and teeth, supports a healthy immune system and contributes to healthy muscle function.
  3. Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is important for healthy brain and cognitive function, as well as helping to reduce stress and fatigue.
  4. Green tea – Consumed as a drink, rather than a tablet like many of the other supplements, green tea has been used for centuries for good health as it contains powerful antioxidants which are good for the skin, brain, and heart, as well as containing anti-cancer properties, and promotes weight loss, helps reduce the risk of diabetes, inflammation, helps with detoxification and vitality.
  5. CoQ10 – This is an essential anti-oxidant made by the body which is important for cellular health, energy and cardiovascular health.
  6. Probiotic – Often prescribed with antibiotics, probiotics is something that can be taken every day to help protect your gut, which represents about 70% of your immune system. It helps your body absorb nutrients from food.

Determining the supplements that you need

Horsman says it’s best to consult with a health care professional when taking supplements, as each person “has a very unique physiology, with individual symptoms, that will require a distinctive treatment plan.”

Ascencao agrees, adding that you should also assess your lifestyle and nutrition. “Our immune system is so important, the health of our mitochondria and cellular health is truly something we need to focus on. We need to invest in our health, focus on key nutrients, get enough exercise, fresh clean water, have healthy relationships with ourselves and others and look after our gut health to avoid illness.”