Whole-Food and Synthetic Nutritional Supplements: Is one better than the other?
A fresh, whole-foods diet is the optimal way to obtain nutrients. However, environmental conditions and farming practices have depleted the soil of key nutrients we would typically obtain from food, making it impossible to get everything we need from food alone. Nutritional supplements provide a way to support the body’s needs. There are two broad categories of supplements to choose from – whole food-based and synthetic (lab-created). Is one better than the other?
There aren’t many studies comparing whole-food supplements to synthetic varieties. Whole-food supplement manufacturers claim their products are superior, but there is no specific criteria to define “whole food” in the supplement market. Many different practices can be used to claim a supplement is whole-food. Some brands do add concentrated fruits and vegetables to their product. Others simply add yeast and use a fermentation process. Does this make a supplement more available to the body for absorption? Not necessarily.
From the research available, we know that the bioavailability of a nutrient depends on many factors including:
a person’s state of health
the proper production of stomach acid necessary for vitamin absorption
whether or not the supplement is digested in the stomach; pills that pass through the stomach are less bioavailable
the supplement manufacturing process
The only way to measure bioavailability for comparison purposes is to do blood tests and there simply is not enough valid and reliable research that makes such comparisons.
Of course, better digestibility and assimilation by the body are important factors for anyone considering nutritional supplements. The bottom line is that either type of supplement may be better than the other depending on the reason it’s being taken (for general health or a specific medical need) along with the factors mentioned above. In some cases a truly food-based supplement could be the better choice; but not always. The best way to ascertain your need for supplements is to consult with a natural medicine physician who understands the manufacturing practices for nutritional supplements, as well the physiology of how different types of nutrients work in the body.
A Sustainable Food System: It’s Everyone’s Job and It’s Easier than You Think
Across the globe, health and environmentally-conscious individuals and groups are advocating for a sustainable food system; this includes farming practices, seed to harvest to distribution practices, and waste management. Every action we take – and every inaction – affects the food we eat; our choices impact taste, appearance, variety available, and nutrient quality and has an impact on our health and the sustainability of the planet. Each of us can make a difference, as there are many “pro-sustainability choices” and most are easier than you might think.
Why Sustainable Choices Matter: Planetary Health and Human Health
The relationship between the environment and human health is complex and intricately linked to nine key “planetary boundaries” that scientists use to measure changes in the planet’s air, land, and water systems. When these boundaries are breached, there are rapid, irreversible environmental threats that impact our health and food supply and the very conditions under which humanity can thrive on Earth.
To date, four of the nine planetary boundaries have been crossed: climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change, and the global nitrogen cycle. The evidence for these breaches is seen in a number of scientific observations:
loss of biodiversity
soil, air and water pollution
polar ice-cap melting
rising sea levels and ocean acidification
species endangerment and alterations in habitats
inadequate development of water and land resources to meet food and energy needs
These changes have unalterable effects on planetary and human health, including increased:
disease carried by wildlife (e.g., Lyme, West Nile, Ebola)
novel viruses transmitted by wildlife
food and waterborne disease (e.g., bacterial illness)
malnutrition in both industrialized and non-industrialized countries
cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, and other chronic diseases
Farms & Feed, Gardens & Groceries
A major contributor to environmental rifts and the degradation of health is our reliance on factory farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs). In the U.S., most meat, poultry, egg and dairy come from CAFOs. Whether in the U.S. or around the globe, acquiring the land needed for such farming often means deforestation, a practice associated with habitat destruction, changes in ecosystems and biodiversity, and climate change.
Mounting evidence from the past two decades shows deforestation is also associated with rising rates of infectious disease in animals and humans. When wildlife lose their natural habitat to deforestation, they are forced to migrate into a new ecosystem where they are biologically ill-equipped to fend off bacteria or viruses that exist in the new ecosystem. When animals and humans intermingle within ecosystems that have been typically foreign to one another, this sets up a pathway for pathogen transmission from wildlife to humans.
CAFO farmed livestock are fed hormones and antibiotics to prevent disease and promote faster growth. It has been well established that antibiotics in animal feed is a primary factor in human antibiotic resistance, a serious public health problem. Farms that promote “grass-fed” beef are more humane for animals and the meat produced is better for humans, but we must keep in mind that aspects of all farming practices can damage delicate ecosystems. We have to feed billions of people, many of whom consume too much of any kind of meat. As part of the solution, we can each commit to consuming less meat and more vegetables and make good, sustainable choices.
Simple Sustainable Choices You can Make
Grow Your Food. Growing food saves money and reduces the environmental cost of factory farming. Start a garden or even an organic container garden. Remember: if you use commercial, chemically-laden soil, fertilizer or feed, you are not only damaging your personal ecosystem, you are also diminishing the quality of nutrients and vitality of the food you are growing. Use organic soil, native plants, natural fertilizer and pest control, and compost. Practice conservation-friendly watering to help your garden grow.
Be a Conscious Consumer. When you can’t grow your own foods, buy organic, in-season foods from a local farm market or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture or crop-share) in your area.
Veg-out More Often. Even just one day a week, replace meat-based recipes with savory vegetarian options.
Expiration Date Knowledge. “Sell-by” and “use-by” dates are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. The dates are not federally regulated to indicate safety, except on certain baby foods. Not sure if you should keep a food or toss it? Refer to a shelf life guide.
Net-Zero Your Fridge. Before you grocery shop to restock, try to make use of all perishable food: Leftover meat and vegetables can be turned into a casserole, stew or broth. Fruit can be frozen. Learn what food can be canned or preserved for later use. Your biggest impact will come from what you do with your groceries (or garden harvest) so that as little food as possible goes to waste, ending-up in an environmentally destructive landfill.
Be Freezer Friendly. Freeze leftovers (ideally in reusable containers) if you won’t have the chance to eat them before they go bad. Refer to this chart for freezer-life of common foods.
These choices aren’t complicated; they only require that you pay attention to what you choose to buy or grow and how you go about doing it. Start with one or two of these approaches and try others over time. Your health and your planet will thank you.
N-acetyl glucosamine (N-AcG): A Possible New Therapy for Supporting Our Gut
N-acetyl glucosamine (N-AcG) comes from the outer shell of shellfish. Studies indicate it might help protect the lining of the stomach and intestines. N-AcG seems to be an energy source for friendly organisms within the microbiota, which may account for its protective benefits to the intestinal tract/gut.
There is early evidence that taking N-AcG by mouth or rectally might decrease symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, conditions that are known to have deterioration of the gut microbiota. While a holistic practitioner will always focus on reestablishing a healthy microbiota, sometimes we also need therapies and treatments to help with flared symptoms.
Do not confuse N-AcG with the forms of glucosamine that are used in holistic therapies for osteoarthritis; the supplements are very different. For osteoarthritis, glucosamine sulfate is used. N-AcG, since it is derived from shellfish, carries the risk of causing a reaction in individuals who are allergic to shellfish. Also, N-AcG may raise insulin levels, interact with prescription medications, and is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
The appropriate dose of N-AcG glucosamine depends on several factors, such as age, health issues, current medications, and many other factors. The appropriateness of N-AcG for any individual needs to be determined by a natural medicine practitioner.
Have you used N-AcG glucosamine in the past? Let us know if you have and what your experience has been by contacting out office at email@example.com.
Did you know that it’s not normal to have headaches or migraines? It seems like so many people have them that it’s almost normal. But, it actually means that there is something going on in the body that is creating headaches or migraines. There is only one time that it would be normal to have a headache, and that would be if you hit your head, or you had a concussion (which could mean you could have hit your head, but you also could have acquired one from other reasons, like a blast, or from falling down).
Headaches, in those cases, would be normal, just like it would be normal to have a bruise if you fall down. Even so, just like homeopathy and natural methods can actually help resolve bruises more quickly, homeopathy and natural methods can also help you if your headache is a result of a concussion or other injury. When you get a cut on your skin, it heals! Your brain can also, when given the right support.
In the Naturopathic healthcare world, you are an individual. When someone with headaches or migraines comes into my clinic, I look at YOUR symptoms. Your headache might start in the back of your head on the right side, and come over your head to settle above your right eye. Perhaps you have nausea with it. Someone else’s headache may start above the left eye and remain there for hours. Sometimes headaches or migraines extend to the teeth. You might want to be in a quiet, dark room, where for another person those things don’t seem to help much.
Everyone’s headache is different and is addressed as such. You are unique, and you will get a headache and migraine plan as unique as you are!
Sustainable use of herbs means researching how the plants are sourced, harvested and stored and determining what you will use in a reasonable amount of time. Assessing your consumption and making choices based on actual need is essential to being a good steward of Earth’s resources. Choose readily available, easy-to-grow herbs with many uses.
Explore the idea of wildcrafting, a.k.a. foraging, which is the practice of gathering herbs, plants, and fungi from the wild. When done with care and with plants that can sustain the harvest, wildcrafting is an ideal choice for those familiar with their local wild herbs and when to safely pick from what nature provides. Wildcrafting requires a good amount of plant knowledge so don’t go foraging on a whim. Take a class with a local horticulture society, garden club, or one offered by a local college agricultural extension program.
When wildcrafting is not feasible, source herbs from a domestic grower. The majority of herbs sold online can come from as far away as Egypt. With a little research you can find herb farms in the United States and maybe one within reasonable driving distance of your home (See: Sustainable Herbal Farm and Ethical Wildcrafters in the US). If you are fortunate to find a local herb grower, it really is your best source because they harvest herbs in small quantities and sell them immediately. You receive fresh herbs that, when properly prepared or dried and stored, retain potency. In addition, local growers are always happy to provide customer education regarding uses and proper storage.
Dried herbs should not be exposed to light and air. It’s best to store herbs in amber or other dark-colored glass, preferably in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment. Potent, well preserved dried herbs should retain their natural color and have a very strong aroma; roots should remain dry and mold-free.
To ensure herb availability for future generations, try to incorporate as many of these practices in your use of herbs for both medicinal and cooking purposes.
Dr. Lachman uses a naturopathic method for healing. A Naturopathic doctor in Bucks County, Dr. Lachman is devoted to restoring your health naturally. Her medical training occurred at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Phoenix, AZ.
Upon obtaining a Combined Honours Degree in Biology and French at Dalhousie University, she was admitted into the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) in Phoenix, AZ. It was through this rigorous 4 year program that Dr. Douglas garnered the knowledge, experience and confidence to address an array of medical conditions
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