Can Supplements Substitute for Food?

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) — Can supplements replace real whole food and are they necessary for good health?

Anytime a whole food is associated with health benefits, there is a race to isolate the potential beneficial substances. The purpose is to create a new supplement or drug.  The driving factor behind this effort is money.  The marketing rationale is usually based on the “more is better” mentality.  Time usually proves that these isolated compounds do not produce the same benefits as the whole foods from which they are extracted.

Why not?

“Natural whole foods contain a number of known compounds. They also contain unknown, yet to be discovered compounds.  Many experts maintain that these unknown compounds most likely outnumber the ones we know about.  In addition, almost everything in Nature works not in isolation, but synergistically.  The nutrients in whole foods work together, in ways not yet understood, to provide the benefits we experience,” according to Tom Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged.

Fish is a good example.  There are health benefits associated with people and populations who regularly consume fish.  How do fish oil supplements compare?

Researchers at the University Hospital of Ioannina in Greece reviewed 20 studies covering almost 70,000 participants and found no statistically significant evidence that supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), commonly sold as fish oil supplements, result in a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, or premature death.

Omega-3 PUFAs are found in food sources like nuts, seeds and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. They are considered essential for healthy development of the heart, brain and other parts of the body.  Supplements are typically taken in the form of fish oil, flax seed oil or a drug like Omacor.

There has been controversy regarding the association of omega-3 PUFAs and major cardiovascular benefits.  There is anecdotal evidence of health benefits seen in people who consume real foods rich in omega-3.  Such benefits are not readily apparent when using supplements derived from the original food source.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved omega-3 PUFA drugs only for lowering triglycerides in patients with very high triglyceride levels. Some European regulators have approved them for reducing cardiovascular risk.  Opinions differ and the regulators base their respective opinions on data provided by drug maker studies.  The supplement industry is not regulated and relies mostly on anecdotal observations.

The researchers from University Hospital concluded that the findings did not justify the use of omega-3 as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice or guidelines supporting dietary omega-3 PUFA administration.

Another study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine concluded that in spite of what many people believe, taking omega-3 fish oil supplements did not appear to protect older people from cognitive decline.

Griesel adds, “Your best bet to insure optimal health is to pass on supplements and use the money you save to purchase and eat the highest quality whole foods you can afford.  Optimal health is built on a diet of real whole foods.”

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