Author Archives: Jadwiga James MCMA

Digestive enzymes – the stuff of life…

Enzymes are clever little molecules of protein that are made from amino acid chains.
Enzymes are clever little molecules of protein that are made from amino acid chains.

They act as catalysts (or triggers) to bring about specific biochemical reactions in the body, which produces over 3,000 kinds.

Every process in the body is driven by enzymes of one kind or another – whether acting alone, in combination or in complex chain reactions. They are therefore vital substances – without them, many biological functions would simply be impossible, or too slow for us to survive. So, they are certainly worth finding out a little more about because they play a central role in helping us to achieve optimal nutrition, health and vitality.

Types of enzymes

If we are deficient in enzymes, this can have a direct effect on the efficiency of important processes in the body, which can become unbalanced, making us more prone to ill-health. The structure of enzymes establishes their particular function or use.

Enzymes produced by the body can be classified into two types: metabolic enzymes and digestive enzymes.

Metabolic enzymes are primarily involved in energy production and cellular activity on every level, but they also have other functions – like helping to detoxify the body.

Digestive enzymes also have a number of functions, chief amongst which is assisting in the break down of food into its constituent nutrients (as the name suggests), followed by the absorption of these. The body uses different types of digestive enzymes to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates for example. Enzymes can also be obtained through dietary sources, i.e. food enzymes present in natural whole foods, such as leafy green plants, fruit and vegetables. These assist the body with the digestion of that particular food. For the purposes of this article, we are particularly interested in the role played by enzymes in digestion.

The process of digestion

During digestion, food is broken down into a simple form that can be absorbed by the body. The process starts in the mouth with the chewing of food, continues in the stomach and small intestine where it is chemically broken down by the digestive juices and enzymes and finally gets completed in the large intestine. Basically, food is taken in, digested to extract essential nutrients and energy and any remaining waste is finally expelled.

Digestion is arguably one of the most important and complex processes in the body, because it dictates our nutrient absorption, as well as our toxin and waste elimination. It also involves a wide number of organs and nutrients. For instance:

  • Organs and other components: the mouth, teeth, tongue, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, rectum, anus and other organs are all involved in the digestive process.
  • Nutrients and other chemicals: such as saliva, hormone regulators, nerve regulators, gastric juices, friendly bacteria, bile, hydrochloric acid and, of course, digestive enzymes.

The efficiency of the digestive process therefore affects everything from immunity and hormone balance, to metabolism, toxic load, general health and well-being.

A digestive system that is sluggish or functioning less than optimally can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including constipation, imbalanced bowel flora, irritable bowel, heightened toxic load and even self-poisoning. Healthy digestion is therefore arguably the cornerstone of good health.

A bit more about digestive enzymes

Digestive enzymes play a central role in healthy digestion. The human body produces around 22 different kinds, each of which acts on a different type of food. They work best at a specific temperature and pH and also have specific sites of action, such as the mouth and stomach.

As mentioned above, these enzymes are used to help break food down into nutrients and waste. The nutrient molecules must be digested into molecules that are small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestine. When we don’t produce enough digestive enzymes to complete this process efficiently, or there are insufficient enzymes available from the foods in our diet, this can lead to what is called partial digestion.

Food that is not properly broken down cannot be absorbed. It can therefore sit fermenting in the stomach and small intestine, or putrefying in the colon. This can, in turn, lead to increased activity of harmful bacteria and parasites in the gut, along with poor nutrient absorption, fatigue, digestive upset, flatulence, bloating and more serious health issues (including food intolerances and allergies).

Digestive enzymes and health

In relation to digestion and nutrition therefore, it is essential to recognise the critical role of enzymes and the importance of having sufficient levels of these. However, according to Dr. Edward Howell, each of us has a finite reservoir of enzyme activity. What’s more, the complex digestive process requires a great deal of enzyme activity to extract nutrients from food and translate these into all the various tasks of the body. Factors such as caffeine and alcohol intake, illness, pregnancy, stress, severe weather and exercise can also all take their toll on our enzyme reserves. Plus, our bodies produce fewer enzymes as we age. By age 35, the production of enzymes in the stomach, pancreas and small intestines begins to decline. Enzyme production in the body decreases by 30% in most adults over 50. It therefore follows that it is sensible to put the least possible strain on the digestive system and its enzyme reserves, both by eating a healthy diet and, in particular, including a high number of enzyme-rich foods in it (such as raw foods, sprouted and/or fermented foods).

Unprocessed whole foods contain most of the enzymes required for digesting that particular food, which can then help to relieve some of the strain on the body when having to produce its own enzymes. Many people also consider digestive enzyme supplements, to support their digestion. In contrast, a diet high in enzyme-poor, highly refined and processed foods can place a significant strain on digestion. The body will try to compensate by producing more of its own digestive enzymes to make up for the lack of external plant enzymes, thereby depleting its own reserves more quickly. Theoretically, the more we can preserve our reservoir of precious enzymes, the better able our bodies will be to protect themselves against ill-health and maintain a healthy balance between activity, repair, immunity and recovery.

Yeast overgrowth

When people talk about yeast overgrowth in the body, they are referring to harmful yeast organisms. Candidiasis is by far the most common type of yeast infection, and there are more than 20 species of Candida, the most common being Candida albicans (a type of fungus).

We all have small amounts of Candida growing in our digestive tracts and living on our skin. This (along with other harmful gut flora, such as fungi, parasites and bacteria), is usually kept in check by our “friendly” bacteria. In this way, Candida normally co-exists with many other types of bacteria, in a state of balance in and on our bodies.

When things go wrong

It is only when our natural defences are out of balance that we become vulnerable to overgrowth – in other words, the levels of harmful gut flora that can make us ill start to exceed the number of beneficial bacteria which help to keep us well. Illness, poor digestion, a high-sugar diet and medication (such as antibiotics, which destroy both good and bad bacteria), are all examples of factors that can create the perfect environment for dysbiosis – the technical term for too many bad bugs.

In fact, yeast overgrowth is a common manifestation of dysbiosis. When the immune system is under strain, or the liver is functioning poorly, Candida (an opportunistic organism) is able to flourish. If allowed to remain, it can grow in the mucous membrane lining of the small intestine, where it can take root and cause damage. For instance, Candida can worsen any ‘leaks’ in an already inflamed gut (such as those seen in cases of leaky gut syndrome). If the yeast is permitted to enter the bloodstream, it can then also travel to various other parts of the body and promote multiple fungal infections.

Some of the more common signs of Candida overgrowth include:

  • fatigue
  • sugar cravings
  • brain fog
  • food allergies / intolerances
  • blurred vision
  • depression
  • digestive problems
  • joint pain
  • muscle pain
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • yeast vaginitis
  • bladder infections
  • menstrual problems
  • and constipation.

The end result of a prolonged infection can be an immune system that becomes overwhelmed with toxins and reacts by producing antibodies and inflammatory chemicals. In these circumstances, it can be useful to review your overall lifestyle, paying particular attention to your diet, toxic load, hormonal balance and digestion – it is estimated that as much as 70% of our immune system resides in the digestive tract.

The role of diet

The average modern diet and lifestyle are not always conducive to healthy levels of gut flora and efficient digestion, which can in turn make us more prone to yeast overgrowth and a strained immune system. For example, we are exposed to an ever-increasing amount of toxins and chemicals, not least from the processed foods we eat, as well as the pollution and contaminants in the air we breathe and water we drink. It is therefore now generally accepted that people suffering from Candida albicans overgrowth can benefit from the following:

1. Eliminating certain foods and drinks from the diet, which ‘feed’ the Candida and inflame the gut: Some foods provide energy directly to the Candida yeast, while others impact the digestive system, the immune system and reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. If you want to beat Candida overgrowth and avoid it in the future, give your body the best possible chance by avoiding them. Good examples are refined sugar, white flour, alcohol, caffeine, chemical-laden processed foods, foods containing yeasts or fungi (such as mushrooms, cheese and milk) and other acid-forming foods. Wherever reasonably possible, also minimise your use of medication (such as antibiotics).

2. Incorporating more of certain foods into the diet: Just as there are certain foods worth avoiding as part of an anti-Candida diet, there are also certain foods that can support your body’s recovery, your immune system and help to restore gut health. Increase your intake of nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables (preferably raw, organic and seasonal). These natural whole foods are packed with dietary fibre, enzymes and other cleansing and protective nutrients (such as antioxidants, amino acids and phyto-chemicals). They are also naturally alkalising – a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and a strong immune system is thought to be assisted by a diet which maintains the correct acid/alkaline balance.

3. Taking probiotics: As yeast overgrowth is often linked to an imbalance in bowel flora (as mentioned above), there is also a good case for taking probiotics (good bacteria). This can be through fermented foods or probiotic supplements. Some of the best probiotic foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh. If you choose to take probiotic supplements, it is a good idea to opt for high-strength, multi-strain products, with bacteria that colonise the gut.

4. Boosting the immune system: It is thought that overgrowth of yeast tends mainly to occur in those with weakened immune systems or those whose levels of good bacteria have been diminished as a result of some external factor (for instance through stress, pregnancy and/or the use of antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids).

As mentioned above, failure to promptly address a yeast overgrowth infection can lead to Candida organisms entering the bloodstream and colonising other areas of the body, such as the urinary tract, vagina, nails, mouth and skin. This level of infection can result in a chronic systemic problem, with large numbers of yeast germs further weakening the immune system and perpetuating the problem.

Candida albicans can produce around 75 toxic substances that are poisonous to the body. These toxins can contaminate tissue and weaken everything from the immune system, liver and kidneys, to the lungs, brain and nervous system. It would therefore logically be beneficial to take proactive steps to boost your immune system during a Candida infection. This might include cleansing and detoxifying your body, increasing your intake of organic whole food nutrients and (as suggested above) ensuring healthy levels of good bacteria in your gut.

Here are 3 of our most popular probiotic supplements:

Got Blues? Or Blood Sugar Crash?

A person’s blood sugar level is basically the amount of glucose present in their blood at any given time. You might be wondering why anyone would need to know this? Well, keeping your blood sugar balanced is one of the most important factors in maintaining good health – in particular when it comes to energy levels and a healthy weight.

How glucose works in the body

Glucose is a simple sugar that is produced by the body from the carbohydrates that we eat. It is necessary for a wide range of critical processes. Most notably, the glucose in your bloodstream is available to your cells to make energy. Glucose is transported from the intestines or liver to cells via the bloodstream, and is made available for cell absorption via insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas). Glucose that is not directly used as an energy source (for instance, because blood sugar levels are too high) is either:

  • sent to the liver, adipose tissue and muscle cells, where it is absorbed and stored as glycogen (our temporary fuel store)
  • or converted into fat (our long-term fuel store). Stored glycogen can be converted back into glucose and returned to the bloodstream whenever insulin is low or absent.

Why are balanced blood sugar levels important?

It is estimated that as many as 3 in every 10 people have an impaired ability to keep their blood sugar levels stable – it may go too high and then drop too low. Blood sugar is normally measured in molecular count (millimoles per litre), or as a weight in grams (milligrams per decilitre).

Normally, the body maintains its blood sugar level at a reference range of between 3.6 and 5.8 mmol/L (or 64.8 and 104.4 mg/dL). The mean normal blood sugar level is around 4 mmol/L (or 72 mg/dL), although it obviously fluctuates throughout the day.

As you might expect, levels tend to be lowest in the morning, before the first meal of the day, and spike for 1 to 2 hours after meals by a few millimolar. However, when it comes to diabetics, blood sugar fluctuates more widely. Over the years, a continual imbalance in blood sugar levels can result in weight gain (if not obesity), increasing feelings of lethargy and possibly more serious health conditions.

Low blood sugar

When blood sugar levels are too low (referred to as hypoglycemia), a host of symptoms can be experienced. These include everything from irritability, nervousness and depression, to fatigue, headaches and digestive problems. In particular, when the level of glucose in your blood drops, you feel hungry. This is how blood sugar can have a direct impact on appetite and weight gain.

High blood sugar

Persistently high blood sugar levels are referred to as hyperglycemia. This can involve a suppressed appetite in the short term, with more serious health problems in the longer term. The bottom line – if you are able to control your blood sugar levels and keep them stable, the result is usually an even weight, healthy body and consistently high energy.

More about the effects on health

As mentioned above, unstable blood sugar levels over a prolonged period can lead to serious health problems or may be indicative of an underlying medical condition, some of which are described below. Advice should always be sought from a qualified medical practitioner if you have any concerns.

Diabetes

Diabetes is an extreme form of blood sugar imbalance and, possibly, the most well-known – certainly the most common. According to NHS Choices, in England in 2010, there were approximately 3.1 million people aged 16 or over with diabetes (both diagnosed and undiagnosed). By 2030, this figure is expected to rise to 4.6 million, with 90% of those affected having type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a lifelong condition which is characterised by persistent hyperglycemia. Early warning signs are similar to those of mild glucose imbalance, but most notable is a sense of raging thirst. There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. Type 1 usually develops before the age of 40 (often in the teenage years), while type 2 tends to be diagnosed in older people. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to function properly, or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance (see below). Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the body doesn’t produce any insulin at all. In the UK, about 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2. For those with diabetes, it is particularly important to keep blood sugar levels within normal ranges to avoid the development of serious health complications which can include kidney, nerve, eye and heart problems.

Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is a condition where the body fails to recognise the consumption of sugars and carbohydrates, which means that it continues to pump out insulin which is not needed. If this continues for a prolonged period, the pancreas can shut down and cease to produce insulin altogether. If care is not taken by those who have this condition to ensure a healthy diet and maintenance of balanced blood sugar levels, it can eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Keeping your blood sugar levels stables

A wide range of factors can affect a person’s blood sugar levels. For example, it can be temporarily elevated as a result of severe stress (such as trauma, surgery or illness), as a result of medication use or through alcohol intake. However, diet, weight and exercise are key. The most obvious cause of unstable blood sugar levels is eating too much sugar. Arguably, the best way to achieve an optimal balance of blood sugar levels is to control the glycemic load (GL) of your diet. This is widely considered to be a more accurate measure than the glycemic index (GI), as the GL score takes into account both the quality and quantity of the carbohydrate. The GI will only tell you if a food is ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ releasing – it won’t tell you what the particular carbohydrate will do to your blood sugar or waistline. That’s not to say that the GI isn’t helpful – it is worth understanding that fast-releasing foods provide a quick burst of energy, which then rapidly burns out – leading to the peaks and troughs which can be so damaging. Prime offenders are sugar and sugary foods, sugary soft drinks, white bread, white pasta, potatoes and white rice. However, the GI can give some misleading results. For example, carrots and chocolates have almost the same GI score, but we all know that carrots are healthier than chocolate. This is because the GI is not taking into account the quantity of carbohydrate – you would have to eat 7x the carrots to get the same amount of carbohydrate and the same effect on your weight. The GL score addresses this inconsistency and provides a truer picture. So, it’s not just about what you eat, it is also about the quantity you eat, the quality of the food (i.e. whether natural or processed), how you prepare the food you eat and what you drink.

Interestingly, neither fat or protein have any appreciable effect on blood sugar. While they can both be converted into fat, this does not happen in the blood. So, if you are looking for some healthy foods with a good GL score, below are some examples:

  • oats
  • peas
  • beans
  • lentils
  • berries
  • plums
  • apples
  • pears
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • and spinach.

The fibre content of a food also lowers the GL, so make a conscious effort to include quality sources of dietary fibre in your diet. When you eat carbohydrate foods with a low GL with quality protein foods, you help to stabilise your blood sugar level even more.

As a final tip for keeping those blood sugar levels stable, it is also better to ‘graze’ throughout the day (eating little and often), than to ‘gorge’ on large meals. Opt for natural, whole foods – preferably organic and, whenever possible, raw!

Here are 3 of our most popular supplements to help you keep your blood sugars stable:

Bloated?

Most people, especially women, recognise that uncomfortable feeling when their stomach suddenly swells up like a balloon, often accompanied by stomach pain and wind. This may be triggered by eating the wrong kinds of food, stress or a number of other factors.

Stomach bloating is actually a very common condition, which affects around 1 in 5 people on a regular basis. For many sufferers, this is just an accepted part of everyday life, because they are either too embarrassed to seek help or because they have had no luck in terms of a specific diagnosis of the root cause.

Some others, who have suffered for a number of years, may simply start to believe that it is ‘normal’.

It is not.

Bloating can be very unpleasant. Listen to your body – everyone experiences a bit of bloating from time to time, but if you are feeling bloated on a regular basis (and perhaps suffering with excessive wind, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea) then your body is trying to tell you something.

There is no need to simply accept bloating as an unwanted part of your life. Get to the bottom of what is causing it and then take action!

Some common causes of bloating

The first step in stopping bloating is identifying what causes it in your specific case – everyone is different. The actual swelling of the belly associated with bloating is most often caused by gas in the bowel. However, when we talk about the cause of bloating, we are talking about what triggers this reaction.

Some common triggers include:

  • high-fat, high-sugar diets (including high levels of refined carbohydrates and/or processed foods)
  • excessive intake of inflammatory (acid-forming) foods or drinks, such as alcohol, caffeine, red meat or dairy
  • food allergy or intolerance
  • an imbalance of the good bacteria and harmful micro-organisms in your gut (including parasites, yeast, fungi and bad bacteria)
  • digestive disorders, including chronic constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut
  • a high toxic load (particularly in the digestive tract).

Many of these triggers are also connected or inter-dependent. For example, if your gut is inflamed or your bowels are sluggish, it can create the perfect environment for bacterial overgrowth (or dysbiosis). Similarly, food allergies or intolerances can contribute to gut permeability. Poor diet Considering that the digestive tract is the system through which we access nutrients and eliminate waste and toxins from the foods we eat, it is hardly surprising that diet plays a key role in the health of the digestive system and, in particular, the bowels. For example, a high intake of sugar can place a great deal of stress on the body and increase gut toxicity, by feeding bad bacteria and yeast. This can in turn increase the amount of fermentation, which can lead directly to bloating. In fact, abdominal bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, gas (both burping and flatulence) and IBS are all symptoms of a digestive system and liver overloaded with toxins.

Poor digestion

The average person consumes more than 25 tonnes of food over their lifetime! To avoid creating internal toxins, which can lead to symptoms like bloating, digestion must be efficient. In real terms, this equates to 1 – 3 bowel movements per day, depending on the amount of food eaten. All too often, people eat too quickly because they are in a rush or feeling stressed – this is a bad start for the complex process of digestion.

Digestive enzymes, required for the complete break-down of food, are released at different stages of the digestive process. If food is not chewed thoroughly, the enzymes do not get a proper chance to act. Similarly, stress inhibits all enzyme secretion.

Hydrochloric acid also plays a key role in the digestion of protein in the stomach. Many people with poor diets and/or digestion suffer with indigestion (heartburn) on a regular basis. As such, they start to routinely take antacids and other stomach acid blockers; these people are unlikely to be digesting protein properly and may therefore experience abdominal bloating, reflux and burping. It is also worth noting that, as we age, our levels of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes decline.

Food allergy / intolerance

If digestion is poor, or there is an imbalance in gut flora, or there are nutritional deficiencies or gut inflammation, what is known as ‘leaky gut syndrome’ can develop. This means that the intestinal lining becomes more permeable than it should be, allowing toxins and partially digested food molecules to enter the bloodstream. This can place the immune system under immense strain and, over time, can contribute to the development of food intolerances and/or allergies that can produce wide-ranging symptoms. These commonly include bloating, abdominal pains, water retention, IBS, weight gain, cravings and fatigue. In the majority of cases (upwards of 95% of cases), food allergies and intolerances develop over time, so that a food that you once tolerated well now makes you unwell. Any foods that you are allergic or intolerant to essentially act like poisons in your body. Continuing to include them in your diet can create inflammation, further weakening your immune system. If you continue to eat these foods, your body will try to dilute them to minimise their harmful effects. This can, in turn, congest the lymphatic system, leaving you feeling puffy and bloated.

Imbalance of gut flora

It’s estimated that there are more than 500 different species of bacteria present in the human gut in concentrations of between 100 billion to 1 trillion microbes per gram. This amounts to around 95% of the total number of cells in the human body. The naturally-occurring friendly bacteria in the stomach and intestines can quite easily be disrupted, resulting in an imbalance between the beneficial bacteria on the one hand, and harmful micro-organisms on the other (dysbiosis). Such an imbalance of gut flora makes the body more vulnerable to the overgrowth of yeast (such as Candida albicans), fungi, parasites and harmful bacteria. The toxins produced by these micro-organisms, along with poorly digested food, a high-sugar diet and medication (like antibiotics) can all alter the intestinal pH, destroy good bacteria and then lead to bloating.

Digestive disorders

As mentioned above, as well as poor digestion, actual digestive disorders can play a significant role in recurrent bloating. Some examples are discussed below:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Previously known as ‘mucous colitis’ and ‘spastic colitis’, IBS involves the colon being held in spasm. The four main symptoms are bloating, stomach pain, excessive wind and altered bowel habits (diarrhoea may alternate with constipation and the condition is often accompanied with the sensation that the bowel is incompletely emptied). Discomfort is usually relieved on passing stool or wind. IBS is often linked to emotional factors (such as stress) rather than allergies / intolerances (although it is thought that cow’s milk and antigens in beef can precipitate the condition), with around one-third of cases being linked to diet. Women are more susceptible than men.
  • Bowel disease: Bloating is one of the symptoms of an inflamed bowel, which can be caused by a wide range of conditions, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as severe food sensitivity (as seen with coeliac disease, for example – an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten intake).
  • Chronic constipation: Constipation can have a number of underlying causes, but if food is only partially digested (for instance because of a lack of digestive enzymes) and that food reaches the colon, it can putrefy and ferment. The problem is compounded if there is a lack of fibre and water in the diet. The longer food sits in the bowel, the longer gas-forming bacteria have to work, leading to bloating.

Stop bloating!

So, if you suspect that any of the above could be contributing factors to your bloating, how can you beat the bloat? Well, a diet packed with natural whole foods (such as raw fruit and vegetables, rich in enzymes); quality dietary fibre; fermented foods (rich in probiotics); low in saturated fats, additives, preservatives, salt and sugar; and with plenty of pure water, is a great start! Combine this type of well-balanced diet with regular exercise and you have one of the best ways to keep your digestive system healthy, regular and efficient, and therefore to beat the bloat. You can also help to ensure healthy bowel function by:

  • eating slowly and chewing well (to avoid fermentation, gas formation and therefore bloating)
  • eating only when calm and relaxed (to encourage the secretion of digestive enzymes)
  • supplementing your diet, as required, with high-strength, multi-strain probiotics, digestive enzymes and dietary fibre.

If you suspect that years of poor diet have resulted in a sluggish bowel or ‘hidden’ constipation (where, despite daily bowel motions, waste-matter actually sits in the colon for several days before elimination), a colon cleanse or full body detox may also be of benefit. All the long-established dietary and nutritional therapies used down the ages recognise the benefit of regularly cleansing the system, starting with the colon. This can help to rid your body of accumulated toxins and therefore reduce the likelihood of bloating.

Our best-selling digestive suppements include:

What’s in your supplements?

More and more people in the UK and around the world are turning to alternative medicine and natural remedies to support their health and well-being, or to help them achieve their health goals. However, as with anything, when it comes to health supplements you get what you pay for.

If you walk into a supermarket, health shop or pharmacy nowadays, you will more than likely find a huge (and confusing!) selection of vitamins, minerals and other supplements – often with wide ranging price points.

One important differentiating factor can be the quality of the ingredients used. It would seem logical that, in products that are designed to support health, quality and purity should be of paramount importance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some vitamin manufacturers focus more on profit margins and low retail prices than on the quality and effectiveness of their products. So, if your supplements are suspiciously cheap, take a look at the ingredients list. You may be in for a nasty surprise!

Added ‘nasties’

Many of us choose to support our daily diets with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in supplement form, to help ensure that we are meeting our body’s daily nutritional requirements. However, there is little point in taking supplements that are actually putting more harmful substances into your body. But, believe it or not, this is exactly what can happen if you are not careful in your selection.

For instance, watch out for vitamins, minerals or herbs in tablet form. Very often, the active ingredients (the actual nutrients) can make up as little as 15% of the tablet! The remaining 85% comprises additives, preservatives and other added ‘nasties’ such as fillers, binders, excipients, artificial colourings, sweeteners, disintegrants, dilutents and more.

The lower the price of the tablets, the more likely it is that a high level of these undesirable ingredients have been included. Ultimately, you get what you pay for. When it comes to your health, isn’t it worth spending that little extra if it means you are getting a purer, more effective product? Otherwise, you might simply be wasting your time and money on products that either pass through your body with little effect, or worse, could actually be harmful.

Reasons to avoid cheap vitamins and supplements

Apart from the fact that you will be paying for a sub-standard product that can have little if any beneficial effect on the body, there are some other very practical reasons why you might want to avoid cheap vitamins and minerals. For instance, there are many reports of cheap tablets either passing through the digestive tract undigested (which means that there has been no benefit to the user) or, more worryingly, that they can get stuck there – neither disintegrating or passing through.

Another common example is that of ascorbic acid, often used in cheap vitamin C supplements. Ascorbic acid is actually a man-made chemical, which is manufactured in chemical plants by applying heat, pressure and chemicals to glucose (sugar), which converts the glucose to ascorbic acid.

Contrary to popular belief, ascorbic acid and natural vitamin C are not the same. Vitamin C is a naturally-occurring nutrient, found in a variety of fruit and vegetables, while ascorbic acid is an artificial, reduced form of the natural vitamin. When it is heated, the vitamin itself breaks down and can become largely ineffective.

Ascorbic acid is an isolate, a fraction, a distillate of naturally-occurring vitamin C – basically the “antioxidant wrapper” which protects the functional parts of vitamin C from rapid oxidation or breakdown. In addition to ascorbic acid, vitamin C must include rutin, bioflavonoids, Factor K, Factor J, Factor P, tyrosinase, ascorbinogen and other components. In addition, mineral co-factors must be available in proper amounts. If any of these are missing, there is no vitamin C and, more importantly from a health perspective, no vitamin activity. When only some of them are present, the body will draw on its own stores to make up the difference, so that the whole vitamin may be present. Only then will vitamin activity take place, provided that all other conditions and co-factors are present – but this is, of course, a drain on your body’s own reserves – not ideal.

What’s more, isolated ascorbic acid is not absorbed or used by the body in the same way as food, and (as an acid) can actually upset the stomach and irritate the digestive tract, and even worsen medical conditions. In the same way, alpha-tocopherol is not vitamin E, retinoic acid is not vitamin A and so on through the other vitamins. Another key difference between whole food vitamins and synthetics is that the former naturally contain within them many essential trace minerals necessary for their synergistic operation. In contrast, synthetic vitamins contain no trace minerals, relying on, and depleting, the body’s own mineral reserves.

It is telling that the man who coined the word “vitamin”, Dr. Casimir Funk (a Polish biochemist), stated that synthetic vitamins “… are highly inferior to vitamins from natural sources, also the synthetic product is well known to be far more toxic.”

Food form – sticking close to nature

The body is unable to manufacture most vitamins itself. As such, they must be obtained from the food we eat. The best sources then are obviously natural whole foods, rich in vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that are in a form that is easily recognised, absorbed and utilised by the body – what we call “food form” or “food state”. Unfortunately, because of soil depletion, mineral depletion, pesticides, air pollution, erosion and other toxins and pollutants in the environment, foods grown in soil today have only a fraction of the nutrient value of even 50 years ago. That means a fraction of the vitamins and minerals necessary for normal cell function and overall health and vitality. What we are often left with in the supermarket, is a choice of empty, ‘dead’ foods of commerce. This is one of the main reasons why so many people now choose to support their nutrient intake with natural food form supplements, where you can be sure of what you are getting.

Natural, unadulterated food is what our bodies are best able to break down; in contrast, they struggle with synthetic vitamins, chemically polluted and refined / processed foods. A “food form supplement” is simply one which has been specially prepared to be as similar to real food as possible to assist this process, which in turn means that the body can absorb the nutrients more easily. Food form supplements usually come in capsule form. Not only are capsules easier to swallow, they help to increase the absorption of the product and you will not find a capsule passed through the digestive tract – it is designed to dissolve. This means that the supplement’s nutrients can be efficiently released into the system and absorbed much more easily.

And why not go organic?

In an age when we are exposed to an ever-increasing number of environmental toxins and chemicals, opting for both organic food and supplements wherever possible is an ideal means of helping to reduce your toxic load and get the most out of the nutrients in your diet. Produced from organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains, organic food form supplements will not have had any chemical compounds (such as additives) introduced into their plants at any point. Health supplements that are organic and natural may also have a higher content of vitamins and minerals and contain lower levels of toxic metals (including mercury, lead, and aluminium) than their non-organic counterparts. Don’t obsess about the milligrams! And one last thing, don’t overly concern yourself with ingredient milligrams. While you will, of course, want an idea of the concentration of nutrients in your vitamins and supplements, synthetic vitamins are refined, high potency chemicals, and therefore may be accurately measured in milligrams, just like drugs. This has nothing to do with vitamin activity or nutrition (except in a negative way), and is actually much more difficult to measure in natural food form products. This is not a reflection of their efficacy – quite the opposite.

Here are our most popular food-form supplements, free from unnecessary additives or synthetic vitamins!

Natural food form vitamin c elderberry rosehip

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