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Nutritional advice has generally been based on the premise that the particular nutrient we are deficient in is the one that needs to be supplemented. That means the core problem was seen to be a nutritional deficiency.

There is another viewpoint which has taken hold some time ago and is fast gaining support: Oxidative stress as the cause for nutritional deficiency. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals in our bodies, which damage our cells resulting in degenerative disease. Things such as cigarette smoke, stress, pollution, overmedication and an inadequate diet produce free radicals.

Both oxidative stress and degenerative disease are the result of our cells being damaged by free radicals, causing a weakened immune system. This might result in something as minor as a cold but can also lead to more serious long-term illnesses so many of us have to live with these days.

It has long been known that lack of appropriate nutrition will lead to deficiency diseases, such as rickets or scurvy but what is now becoming clear is that there also is a clear link between nutrition and degenerative diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and many others.

What does this mean for our daily nutritional needs?

This approach tells us is that if we can provide the body with the right amounts of nutrients; the cells will remain whole and undamaged, thereby reducing the risks to our long-term health.

If you are of the belief that a good diet is sufficient to provide our bodies with everything we need to remain healthy, then you are not alone. It is one of the most commonly held viewpoints, which is based on our historical evaluation of a body’s needs and the food that is available. However, in recent years our life spans have increased greatly, therefore we need greater nutritional provisions than ever before.

In contradiction to our need for more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, modern farming methods and pollution have caused the depletion of nutrition in the soil leading to a widening gap between our increased need and reduced provision of nutrients in our foods.

A good diet would protect us from deficiency diseases, but it is unable to protect us from degenerative diseases. And to top it all of, the vast majority of us don’t get enough for either anyway. Latest statistics indicate that on average, only 14% of the UK population eats a healthy diet based on the government guidelines of 5 a day. In the US, it is only about 3%. And it is said to be getting worse, not better.

So, we need more, food provides less and we eat too little of those right foods – what options do we then have? The answer lies in the use of nutritional supplements – vitamin and mineral tablets in addition to our food intake.

And the public knows it: nutritional supplement sales have been on the increase for some time and currently about 75% of the UK and the US adult population buys and take nutritional supplements.

Great, I hear you think: next time I’m in my local supermarket, I’ll pick up a bottle or two and I’m sorted. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

We need to ensure we have the healthiest possible diet – rich in nutrients especially from fruit and vegetables, low in sugar and fats and carefully balanced. Added to that, we need to get exercise – it is crucial to ensure that we take regular, appropriate exercise.

Finally, we do all need supplements, but there are huge variations in the quality of the supplements on our shelves. Some are highly effective, some don’t do much at all but some are downright harmful, and we need to find ways to help us make sure we spend our money wisely on the most effective supplements.

How to identify an effective supplement:
There are three key points we can use to help us choose supplements that are actually going to help us.

  • Bio availability:

Each tablet should dissolve readily in our bodies. Over 54% of all vitamin tablets tested have revealed that they do not dissolve well.

  • Formulation quality:

The quality of ingredients varies greatly and it is important to choose a manufacturer who focuses on the highest quality ingredients

The purity of the ingredients: natural is not always best. Some ingredients can be contaminated by metals and other impurities absorbed in the ground and it is not always possible to filter them out completely so there are two issues to look out for: the effort taken by manufacturers to source the purest possible ingredients and the care taken by manufacturers to find the best source for the ingredients.

The quantity of ingredients: as mentioned earlier when talking about oxidative stress, it is not enough to provide the body with just those nutrients that we are deficient in, as we need to encourage the cells to absorb each lacking nutrient and this can only be done by providing products that are appropriately balanced with all the vitamins and minerals the cells need to absorb everything it needs.

  • Manufacturing standards:

And last but by no means least is the issue how supplements are manufactured. There are two basic options: pharmaceutical grade and food grade. Food grade means that each ingredient used must be listed on the package, but the quantities listed refer to an average content rather than the actual per tablet quantity.

This can lead to huge variations from one tablet to the next. Pharmaceutical grade, as the name indicates, means that supplements are produced to the same high standards as any pharmaceutical drug, so in extremely sterile and carefully controlled environments with each individual tablet rigorously checked and each tablet containing the exact stated quantity.

Any company producing products to a certified pharmaceutical grade standard can subscribe to the ‘GMP’ – good manufacturing practice and will therefore display that logo on their products. If you want to make sure, go to the manufacturer’s websites to find out more. Furthermore, bottles that are food grade production will state that the ingredients listed are average amounts.

If you want an independent source, buy Nutrisearch ‘the Comparative guide to Nutritional Supplements’ by Lyle MacWilliam. MacWilliam is a biochemist and author who was tasked by the Canadian government to set their guidelines for supplements, amongst the strictest in the world.

He has used some strictly objective and scientific guidelines together with a range of experts to evaluate over 1,600 vitamin and supplements products – unfortunately this is a US and Canadian based production. While Lyle MacWilliam also produced a separate comparative guide for Australia, he has not yet looked at Europe. However, if you look at the US and the Australian ones, you will find the vast majority of UK products represented in there to give you some idea.

My research over the last 8 years has led me to recommend USANA Health Sciences. Their product range is concise, clear and easy to work out and their products meet all the highest standards. They are available to the consumer directly via distributors and online and meet pharmaceutical grade production. So each one of their ingredients has been tested extensively to ensure that it is of the highest purity and quality and each tablet is checked to ensure it contains the exact amount of each ingredient.

They repeatedly have won accolades for their products – lately they have been made ‘Editor’s Choice’ in the 2009 edition of the ‘the Comparative guide to Nutritional Supplements’ and there are countless stories and testimonials from users about the impact these products have had. I have been using them for 10 years myself and am highly satisfied with the health support they have provided during a period of extreme change including being pregnant twice.

Sandra Clarke is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and an independent USANA associate. Tel: +44 1451 832 206 Email: [email protected]

The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.