The supplements ‘yes or no’ question is a seemingly innocent one.
And coincidentally clients ask it always right at the end of a coaching session which entices me to give them the quick and simple answer of: Take X but not Y. That, however, is not empowering and certainly does not satisfy my desire to make you a well-educated activist for your own body. And that’s not my style. I am all about empowering you to make healthy choices.
If I were to tell you “take X but not Y, the next time you see a practitioner she may say something different. She might say take Y but not X. Another may say take a bunch, and yet another may say not to take any at all. This can be very confusing. The time is ripe for you to step it up and learn how to consult with your own body. You can learn how to do that here.
Here is the thing. Anything you put into your body has to be digested and absorbed whether that is in food, tea or pill form. We are the moderators of how we feed ourselves and how well the body is digesting it.
But lets take a step back and start with the definition of supplement. When I think of supplements, I think of pills from a store. And indeed the definition of a dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to add further nutritional value to supplement the diet. This may be a vitamin, mineral, herb or other botanical.
Whether to take supplements or not depends on various factors. In order to figure out “supplement yes or no”, ask yourself the following questions:
1. HOW are you eating?
Are you eating in a way that allows your body to absorb the nutrients from food? In other words are you following the guidelines for healthy eating?
In Ayurveda, we say that it is not so much WHAT you eat that determines our health but HOW you eat. Are you slowing down? Are you eating without distraction? Are you chewing your food properly? Are you grateful when you eat? Are you stressed or at ease? You get the picture. There are many more of those little habits that are seemingly insignificant. But they are not; they have an impact beyond measure.
2. Is my agni (digestive fire) strong enough to handle the supplement?
Everything you put into your body needs to be digested. Herbs included. An herbal pill may seem inconspicuously small but the herbs all need to be broken down into components. If your digestive fire is weak (which can be seen in gas, bloating, heart burn, ama (toxins), bad breath, stinky sweat, constipation and many more), your body will not be able to absorb the goodness from the plant. Hence, taking the herb will be useless.
Let me give you a practical example. Ashwaganda is a beautiful adaptogen which means it is very good to counteract stress and strengthen the nervous system. The trouble is that Ashwaganda is very heavy and hard to digest. It is best to either have a very strong digestive fire or add a hot spice like trikatu to it, to help with the absorption process.
3. Can you get the nutrients through food?
If you eat primarily processed food, a low veg or low fruit diet, mostly unorganic food, have complex food combing or eat foods that your grandmother has never seen, it is time to up-level your kitchen and cooking experience.
Can you source your food from the farmers market or natural food store? Can you eat more organic? Can you grow veggies, fruits or herbs in your own garden? Simply up-leveling where you source your food from may make supplements obsolete. And you’ll save tons of money, too.
4. Do you have a specific need for the supplement?
There may be circumstances where adding additional vitamins, minerals or herbs might be smart. For example, if you are pregnant are it might be wise to take a prenatal vitamin which contain a good amount of folic acid and iron. That prevents abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord in the child.
Maybe you are not pregnant but you have a cold coming on? In that case, it might be a good idea to take tinctures like echinacea or goldenseal to kill of the virus, or drink lemon-ginger-tonic throughout the day to boost your immune system.
Do you find yourself in a particular stressful time in your life? Then taking Ashwaganda or Brahmi might be a good idea to strengthen your nervous system.