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

Can’t beat a beet!

So you think you know beetroot – the humble root vegetable, so often found in pantries in its pickled form since World War II.

But truly, it is so much more. In fact, it is a nutritional powerhouse now widely regarded as a superfood!

Humble beginnings

The beetroot is no stranger to the average household. Also known as “table beet”, it is one of the many cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris and the most common variety found in Britain, North America and Central America today. In the earliest days of its consumption, the leaves were most commonly eaten by people living in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The Romans then began to make use of the root for various medicinal purposes. Over the years, it became popular in Central and Eastern Europe for culinary purposes too. Beetroot, as we know it today, was only cultivated in the 16th century. You may be surprised to learn that modern varieties are derived from the sea beet, an inedible plant that grows wild along the coasts of Europe, North Africa and Asia.

A super-root in disguise

Unlike some of the other, better known superfoods, like wheatgrass, spirulina or acai berry, beetroot is not overtly exotic. But don’t let that fool you! What has traditionally been viewed as a boring, somewhat unappetising vegetable, is really a “super-root” in disguise! It is a rich source of both carbohydrates and plant proteins, along with a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients (considered in more detail below). At the same time, it has a very low caloric value and is almost entirely free of fat. It is also a low-GI food – the sugar conversion process is slow, which supports stable blood sugar levels.

Antioxidants

You can’t have failed to notice the vivid colour of beetroot – whether the deep purple, the bright yellow or the lesser seen candy-stripes! Like so many other superfoods, these colours offer a visual clue about the high level of antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids found in beetroot.

The notorious red colour compound is called betanin (or beetroot red), a pigment which is a well-known antioxidant and phyto-chemical. However, all beets contain betalain antioxidants – a class of red and yellow pigments found in plants.

Vitamins and minerals

Beetroot is also rich in a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, contributing to its reputation as a superfood. For example, it contains high levels of folate and vitamin C (another powerful antioxidant), as well as riboflavin, niacin and thiamin, vitamin K, calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and iron.

Dietary fibre

Beetroot is high in dietary fibre – both soluble and insoluble. A 100g portion “ about two or three small beetroot “ contains as much as 10% of your recommended daily allowance. Fibre is an essential component of healthy digestion and supports everything from stable blood sugar levels to natural cleanse and detox processes in the body.

Dietary nitrate

More recently, much research has been undertaken on beetroot’s capacity to absorb and store exceptionally high levels of nitrate – a nutrient involved in many of the processes that are essential for efficient exercise performance, including blood flow and oxygen usage. In particular, a study conducted by Exeter University in the UK received a lot of media attention when it found that cyclists who drank a half-litre of beetroot juice several hours before setting off were able to ride up to 20% longer than those who drank a placebo blackcurrant juice. Since that study, both beetroot and beetroot supplements have been of particular interest to athletes.

Supporting health and vitality

The unique combination of nutrients found in beetroot mean that it can offer ideal support for all-round health and vitality, including:

  • a healthy heart and cholesterol levels
  • detoxification and liver function
  • a strong immune system
  • healthy homocysteine levels
  • normal tissue growth
  • musculo-skeletal health
  • healthy skin, hair and nails
  • stable blood sugar levels
  • stamina and energy levels
  • stable moods
  • and healthy digestion.

Belonging to the same family as two other nutritional titans, chard and spinach, both the leaves and roots of beetroot can be eaten. Incorporate it into your daily diet and your body will thank you!

Bad breath?

I think that most of us have experienced bad breath at some point in our lives, even if only as a first thing in the morning.

However, when it becomes a lingering problem, it can cause embarrassment and have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life when it comes to work interaction or even social life.

Identifying the cause of bad breath is often the first step towards treating this mostly preventable condition.

So, what is bad breath and what can cause it?

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is basically an unpleasant odour emitted from a person’s mouth. It is a common problem, which can affect people of all ages. In fact, as many as 1 in 4 people are estimated to suffer with bad breath on a regular basis, although the level of its severity can vary grealtly between them.

What are some common causes of bad breath? Bad breath can be caused by a number of factors which may range from dental health and hygiene, to digestive problems and dietary choices, e.g. persistent bad breath is often caused by the smelly gases released by the bacteria that coat teeth and gums. Bits of food that get caught between the teeth and on the tongue will decay and can sometimes result in an unpleasant smell. However, strong foods like garlic, coffee and onions can add to the problem. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the role of digestive health and diet in causing bad breath.

Poor Digestion = Bad Breath?

For many people, grabbing a mint or a piece of gum is their ‘go-to’ solution, as it quickly masks the problem. However, this approach often fails to address the root causes of bad breath, which for many people includes digestive problems or dietary deficiencies. In addition to that, most of chewing gums are packed full or artificial sweeteners which may not be the best solution for your overall health.

The digestive tract extends all the way from the mouth, right through to the anus. It is therefore logical that any digestive disorders (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, poor digestion, fermentation in the gut and putrefaction in the stomach), could result in bad breath. Similarly, if your digestive tract is overloaded with accumulated toxins, if you have a poor diet, routinely use antibiotics or have a lifestyle that is otherwise conducive to an imbalance in your bowel flora, bad breath could merely be a side effect of another underlying problem – most likely related to digestion.

In adults, bad breath is often one of the earliest signs that bacteria levels in the gut are out of balance. Dysbiosis (also sometimes called dysbacteriosis) is a microbial imbalance on or in the body; in other words, an imbalance of friendly versus harmful bacteria (and other micro-organisms, such as yeast, fungi and parasites).

When levels of friendly bacteria in the digestive system are low, partially digested food is allowed to decay, resulting in the production of foul gas (as well as the release of toxins into the bloodstream).

Efficient digestion is essential for keeping things moving in the gut. The quicker that food is broken down, nutrients are absorbed and waste and toxins are removed from the body, the better. If you suffer from constipation, have a sluggish digestive system or a high toxic load, you are a prime candidate for developing bad breath. This is because these conditions create an excess of gas in your body, and much of that gas exits through your mouth. Digestive enzymes, both produced by the body and obtained from dietary sources (in the natural whole foods, fruits and vegetables that we eat), are essential for the efficient breakdown of food. However, these enzymes can be in short supply for a number of reasons, e.g.

  • age: our production of digestive enzymes decreases as we age, plus we have a finite reserve of them
  • the cooking process: a large percentage of the digestive enzymes naturally present in foods is destroyed by heating
  • stress: stress inhibits all enzyme secretion

Low levels of digestive enzymes can potentially lead to excess gas formation and putrefaction in the intestines. For many, this can contribute to bad breath gases travelling through the bloodstream and to the lungs, where they are exhaled.

Love dairy?

Whether or not you suffer from a dairy allergy or intolerance, many people find that reducing their dairy intake can help to control bad breath odours. Not only is dairy a highly acid-forming food, which is hard to digest, it can also thicken mucous in the mouth and contribute to the anaerobic environment that bacteria thrive in. This can in turn lead to the production of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs).

Yeast overgrowth

Yeast overgrowth is now so common that it is referred to as a “silent epidemic”, particularly amongst women. All of us naturally have low levels of Candida growing in our digestive tract. It is only when digestion is poor, and the immune system and liver aren’t functioning correctly, that Candida is allowed to flourish. When it does, it then gradually spreads to other parts of the body (systemic candidiasis). It is a resilient and invasive parasite, which usually attaches itself to the intestinal wall and can (if left untreated) become a permanent resident of the internal organs. One of the known symptoms of Candida is bad breath. This is because an abnormally high level of fungal organisms in the intestines result in increased fermentation of the carbohydrates you eat. This then produces a variety of toxins and gases. If you want to find out more about candida, check out my blog post dedicated to Candida overgrowth.

The link between bad breath, poor diet, inefficient digestion and an imbalance in gut flora is clear. So, what can you do to support your body if you suspect that any one of these factors could be the cause?

  • Improve your diet: avoid foods that are hard to digest (such as meat and dairy), that are going to disrupt digestion (such as refined foods) or that are going to feed harmful micro-organisms (such as sugar). Instead, eat more probiotic-rich and fermented foods (like kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha), which can help to support your levels of beneficial bacteria naturally. Many people also choose to supplement with probiotics. In 2011, a study published in the journal ‘Current Opinion in Gastroenterology’ found that probiotic supplements can help to replace odour-causing oral microbes with beneficial varieties.
  • Eat more raw foods: Raw fruit and vegetables not only contain higher levels of digestive enzymes than cooked foods, they are also rich in dietary fibre – useful for ‘sweeping’ the digestive tract clear of waste, toxins and debris and keeping the digestive system healthy and regular.
  • Stay hydrated: Surprisingly, dehydration is one of the most common causes of bad breath. It is so simple to remedy, but many people drink far too little water throughout the day to ward off the bacteria in the mouth that are largely responsible for causing bad breath.
  • Consider a body cleanse and detox: Cleansing the blood and eliminating toxins from the body can help to stimulate the lymphatic system, increase the excretion of uric acid through the kidneys and boost adrenal function, all of which target halitosis at its root. Bad breath is often indicative of a system overloaded with toxins and a strained liver. Consider a colon cleanse, liver flush or full body detox!

Antioxidants vs Free Radicals

We all know that oxygen is essential for all life…

But did you know that, as well as being an absolute necessity for our survival, its use in the body can also result in the production of certain unwanted by-products? They are known as oxidants. Some of these oxidants will act as free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage DNA and cell structure. They cause harm because they are constantly trying to stabilise themselves by attempting to ‘steal’ electrons from nearby molecules. This, in turn, damages those molecules and makes them unstable too, causing them to also seek out other electrons in order to become stable again. And so, a vicious circle is created.

Free radicals are produced as a result of both internal (endogenous) and external (exogenous) factors. Endogenous free radicals are produced as a result of normal biological processes, like aerobic respiration, metabolism and inflammation. In contrast, exogenous free radicals are produced as a result of environmental factors, like:

  • pollution,
  • sunlight,
  • stress,
  • UV rays,
  • poor diet,
  • alcohol intake,
  • smoking,
  • strenuous exercise
  • and X-rays.

Unfortunately, in our modern age, filled with ever-present pollutants and toxins, both in the environment and in the foods we eat, the levels of free radicals within our bodies are higher than they have ever been before. It is impossible to avoid damage from free radicals, and our body’s own defences against it are not foolproof.

When the levels of free radicals within our bodies exceed the protective capabilities of those defences, it results in a phenomenon known as “oxidative stress” which means that the defence system is no longer able to readily detoxify or to repair the occurring damage.

As the time goes on, cell parts which have become damaged by process of oxidation accumulate, contributing to the toxic load of the body as well as speeding up the processes of ageing and causing a further stress on the immune system.

Our bodies are really amazing in terms of being capable to run many complex processes which keep us healthy and in a harmonious balance. One of the main keys to staying healthy revolves around providing our bodies with as much nutritional support as we can, in order to fuel our natural defences. Our primary line of defence against free radicals are antioxidants – substances that help counteract the damaging effects of oxidation in tissue.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, polyphenols and other phyto-chemicals), as well as enzymes (proteins in the body that assist in chemical reactions). While it is not entirely clear how antioxidants work, their most important characteristic in terms of supporting the body against free radicals is that they are stable with or without the extra electron, so they can help to stop the chain reaction (or the vicious circle) referred to above. These beneficial compounds are present in many natural, whole foods (such as fruit and vegetables).

In many cases, it is possible to identify antioxidant-rich sources through their distinctively bright colours. For instance:

  • the deep red of cherries;
  • the deep purple of beetroot;
  • the bright orange of carrots;
  • the yellow of turmeric;
  • and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries and grapes.

Vitamin C and vitamin E are two of the most potent antioxidants found in nature, present in high levels in foods such as parsley, rosehips, elderberries, blackcurrants, citrus fruits, broccoli, nuts and whole grains (like oatmeal, rye, barley). Foods that have exceptionally high levels of antioxidants are often referred to as “superfoods” or “superfruits”, for that reason. The most common examples of those are: green tea, acai berries and wheatgrass.

How to support the level of antioxidants within your body?

Our bodies produce metabolic enzymes that are extremely effective antioxidants but their capability of sufficient production drops dramatically in our twenties. Likewise, if we are adding to the free radical production though our lifestyles, it is a good idea to support the antioxidant levels through external (dietary) sources.

Antioxidant foods
Eating a balanced diet, rich in a variety of seasonal (preferably organic) fruits, vegetables, green leafy plants and whole grains, is one of the best ways to support your body’s antioxidant levels.

However, if you feel that you need additional support due to your life and health circumstances, a more concentrated intake, or a more convenient and reliable source, food-based antioxidant supplements can be the perfect solution.

You can find plenty of antioxidant options to suit your lifestyle and healthcare needs in our eBay shop.

Antibiotics vs Gut

Good health begins with balance in the body.

Friendly Bowel Bacteria
Did you know that there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells inside our bodies?

Having the right kinds of bacteria (often “friendly bacteria”), in appropriate quantities, is essential for virtually everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections. It’s no wonder that more and more people say that health starts within your gut- it really does!

What can disrupt gut flora?

The delicate balance of healthy gut flora can be disrupted by a range of circumstances, which may include:

  • excess alcohol consumption,
  • diet high in sugar,
  • poor digestion,
  • stress,
  • exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants.
  • antibiotics

For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of the imbalance of bacterial flora within the gut – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the digestive tract?

In present times, antibiotics have been arguably prescribed and used far more than they should have been and, a result, antibiotic resistance is, unfortunately, now a fairly common problem.

Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a type of drug resistance where a pathogenic microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic.

If that wasn’t enough, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their negative impact on the digestive system and the fine balance of gut flora since antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria within our bodies, with no differentiation between them.

Antibiotics work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – which great news in terms of ‘bad’, pathogenic bacteria, but really bad news in terms of our ‘good’ bacteria, which help to keep us healthy!

It is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people start taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, often not realising that the medicine is destroying one of their bodies primary lines of natural defence.

The most important part of our Immune System resides in the gut, where Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) works hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria or viruses) from entering our body.

I’m not completely dissing antibiotics, they do have a very significant role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections but there should be a time and a place for them, when there is no other, less drastic and more natural alternative at hand. It is so important to use antibiotics sensibly and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after antibiotic treatment, in order to ensure that they won’t cause any longer term damage. This can be done through a specialised detox treatment which can deal with any residual after-effects whilst helping your body to regain the optimal balance.

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread. An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis) increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, which may include:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains after eating
  • wind
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome
  • and Candida overgrowth

This is one of the main reasons why antibiotic programmes often result in thrush (an infection caused by overgrowth of Candida which is an opportunistic yeast).

Digestive Problems after antibiotic treatment
Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last for far longer than was previously thought.

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in 3 healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater. As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor problems and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is really unavoidable, you may consider a detox therapy or support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements, at the very least.

Cultures around the World have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) which are often include as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh, to name just a few.

Introducing these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a really good way to promote healthy intestinal flora. However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through. Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that are capable of colonising the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a far more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

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