Improving your diet with supplements

We all know that you ‘can’t outrun a bad diet’ but it’s equally true that you can’t make up for a bad diet with supplements. The clue is in the name: ‘dietary’ supplements are designed to make up for any deficiencies that cannot be provided by an excellent diet. This may be because of soil depletion, food sourcing, nutrigenetic difficulties with absorption and activation, or extraordinary lifestyle situations placing an unreasonable load on your system. A cancer diagnosis is a clear sign that your diet hasn’t been able to support the demands you’ve been placing on your system so it makes sense to consider supplementation.

When I was training, back in the year 2000, it was generally considered that most of us were unable to get all the nutrients we needed from our diet without becoming obese. Dr Paul Clayton wrote a very interesting paper on ‘How the Mid-Victorians lived, ate and died.’ which showed how it used to be much easier to get an adequate diet in the 1800s when energy needs were higher and food processing wasn’t a ‘thing’. The good old days!

Supplements can be expensive – the best brands invest a lot in research and development – and you have no doubt read articles talking about ‘expensive urine’. In my view it’s better to buy a better brand and take them less often than to buy bargain supplements that may be cheaply formulated and poorly absorbed.

Nutrigenetics is a great way to understand where you may have a higher requirement for some nutrients than others, and I wholeheartedly recommend DNA testing for understanding your personal supplement needs. That said, there are some nutrients that are almost universally lacking in our diets. So, with the caveat that dietary supplements are never as good as food, here is a list of what I believe most people should be taking to augment the power of their daily diet.

One more thing… just because a supplement is good for you doesn’t mean that more is better. Paracelsus is credited with the observation that everything is poisonous, it’s just the dose that counts. The rationale for recommending the supplements below is to make up for dietary deficiencies and lifestyle demands. High level supplementation is best approached with expert help and supplementation during cancer treatment is most definitely a specialist area.

Vitamin D

Almost everyone in the UK is deficient in Vitamin D. One of the problems is that it’s not found in abundance in any foods although oily fish, fish liver oil, eggs and mushrooms contain some. Being outdoors, some skin uncovered for half an hour a day April to September may be adequate, but you probably need to supplement in UK winter. It’s a good idea to test to see what your levels are, something your GP may be happy to help with, or you can find inexpensive tests online. Supplement as Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), ideally with added Vitamin K2, unless you are on blood thinners in which case take it solo.

Vitamin C

If you have a high stress lifestyle your vitamin C levels are likely to be depleted by your adrenal output – there’s a useful article here explaining how that works. Vitamin C helps us to manage stress, protects against free radical damage, supports detoxification and the growth and repair of membranes and body tissues. A supplement of between 1000 mg and 3000mg (1-3g) a day, ideally with some added bioflavonoids, is safe for most people, but not during radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Magnesium

While we’re on the subject of stress, Magnesium has a deserved reputation as a calming nutrient. Blood sugar imbalances and high stress levels result in magnesium loss so that we continually need to top up our levels. It is widely agreed that 300mg is a safe dose but in his excellent book, The New Rules of Healthy Aging, Dr Frank Lipman recommends up to 1000mg (1g) daily. Magnesium is a vital nutrient for hundreds of body functions and plays a major role in DNA stability. Supplement as glycinate if you need help with stress, taurate if you need help with liver and gallbladder, citrate if you have problems absorbing, malate if you are experiencing problems with energy levels. If stress is high, consider transdermal magnesium e.g. Better You Oil or Gel, or Epsom Salts baths which also support detoxification. 

Omega 3

For optimal health we need a very low ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats in the body. The ideal ratio is 1:1 but anything up to 4:1 is likely to be OK. Unfortunately, even if you are following the UK dietary guidelines, your ratio is likely to be more like 20:1, and high levels of carbohydrates can make matters worse. So taking an omega 3 supplement is a no-brainer. Choose a reputable brand that has been ‘cleaned’ and doesn’t taste fishy. I recommend the Eskimo 3 and Bio-Nutri brands. I recommend taking a double dose for the first 3 months of supplementation and then reverting to the dose recommended on the packet. At the same time read up on how to reduce your Omega 6 intake, starting with avoiding processed seed oils, deep fried foods, and intensively farmed (artificially fed) meat and dairy.

Probiotic

We are only just scratching the surface of how important our gut flora is to overall health. Certainly it’s linked to all types of cancers (not just the gut) and your microbiome is important for every external surface in your body: mouth, nose, gut, vagina, lungs and breast. A high soluble fibre diet and plenty of probiotic foods remains the best way to feed your little helpers but many people find a daily probiotic makes a huge difference to their health – including for bone health, as they help us to absorb calcium. Ideally rotate the brands you use; I like Optibac and Bio-Kult for their wide range of well researched organisms. Take a 30 day course after any periods of prolonged stress or medical intervention, and repeat 3 or 4 times a year to keep your gut healthy.

Calcium

It’s a complete fallacy that putting more calcium into your mouth will automatically translate to stronger bones – it’s a lot more complicated than that. In fact, if you are already trying to eat healthily, it’s very unlikely that your diet is low in calcium and much more likely that you are not absorbing it well. Ensuring adequate Vitamin D and Magnesium levels, a healthy gut flora and engaging in weight bearing exercise will help you to utilise the calcium in your diet. Flooding your body with high level calcium supplements after a cancer diagnosis (especially when micro calcification is one of the early cancer markers) is very unwise and, ultimately, ineffective. Book an appointment with me to understand more about this vital area of health.

Broccoli

Seriously! I know broccoli is a food, not a supplement, but if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer (of any sort) you probably need to eat more of it than you used to. Luckily you can supplement with broccoli extract produced by many reputable supplement companies. For example BroccoProtect from Designs for Health, or Broccomax from Jarrow Formulas.

You can order supplements online from Natural Dispensary and, if you use my code, DWNC10, they will give you a 10% discount.