Do I Really Need to Take Supplements?

We’ve all heard about supplements. The question is, do we really need to take them? We asked Dr. Lauren Munsch Dal Farra, cardiologist and CEO of PALM Health, for her advice.

What is a nutritional supplement?

Nutritional supplements can be vitamins, minerals, herbs or other plants, amino acids (the individual building blocks of protein), or parts of these substances. They come in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form, and are intended to replenish deficiencies in the body and add further nutritional value to “supplement” the diet.

Here in the U.S., where we have access to nutritious foods, are supplements necessary?

The standard American diet often does not contain the nutrients necessary for proper functioning of the body. Few individuals in the U.S. are eating the recommended 7-9 daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and even this quantity does not ensure sufficient vitamin and mineral intake. Additionally, changes in farming practices over the past 50 years have significantly decreased the nutrient content of the foods we eat.

How have farming practices changed the nutrient content of our food?

Years of growing produce without adequate crop rotation and resting of the soil has resulted in mineral depletion of the soil. Also, when produce is grown with pesticides, the plant does not develop its natural phytonutrients to protect itself from the environment. Additionally, food is now manipulated to be grown larger and more quickly for a higher yield. These factors have led to a reduction in the nutrient density of our produce.

What is the importance of adequate nutrients in the proper functioning of the body?

Nutrients are key factors in our energy production, detoxification, hormone regulation, and immune pathways. In our current environment, we are exposed to more toxins and chemical additives than ever before. This higher burden requires more energy production from the body and more nutrient cofactors for detoxification and functioning.

Who should consider taking a supplement?

At PALM, we always begin with a food first approach but we have greater success healing the body with individualized nutraceutical support. We test for various micronutrient imbalances that may lead to dysfunction in individuals seeking to optimize health, increase energy, resolve symptoms, and treat chronic illness. This is specifically important in chronic illness where digestion is frequently impaired leading to poor nutrient absorption. We also recommend them for acute illness to support immune function, for athletes trying to optimize performance, for individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease, and for those interested in cognitive health and graceful aging.

Do you use nutritional supplements instead of medications?

In integrative medicine, we use a combination of nutritional supplements and medications (when necessary). Medications tend to target one biologic organ system or symptom by upregulating or blocking function. Nutritional supplements promote health and treat disease by addressing dysfunction at the root cause. They work in a holistic way by addressing the function of the body as a complex and dynamic biological system.

Are there any risks associated with taking supplements?

Individuals often think of supplements as very safe, but we prescribe them in the same way we would prescribe and adjust medications – based on individual diagnosis or testing, which changes over time and needs to be monitored. Supplements can have side effects and interactions with medications. It is also very important to choose high quality supplements from a reputable source. The brands that we sell are all pharmaceutical grade supplements that have been subjected to rigorous quality control testing to ensure therapeutic benefit and safety.

How do I know which supplements to take?

A supplement plan should always be individualized based on symptoms, health conditions and goals. It is best to work with a provider to develop this plan and monitor it for efficacy. At PALM, we offer a Nutrition Supplement Consult with our nurse practitioner, Sarah Bird, DNP, who is certified in functional medicine. If you are interested, you can call 314-801-8898 and speak to a navigator for more information.