Guide to natural food supplements
Supplementation, when your diet does not provide the necessary nutrients
While the consumption of food supplements has exploded in France in recent years, their very definition seems difficult to understand. Composed of vitamins, minerals or plant extracts, these health-related products are governed in Europe by regulations that specify their characteristics and control their distribution. Supplementation is an excellent way to fight against nutrient deficiencies due to modern lifestyles and a diet that is constantly becoming poorer. However, it is important to understand that these products are active substances which, if they are effective when used in the right conditions, can be dangerous if their origin is doubtful or if they are badly used.
What are food supplements really? The European regulatory framework.
The designation food supplement is defined by Directive 2002/46/EC on food supplements containing vitamins and minerals. It set a number of requirements, in particular concerning the minimum and maximum dosage of vitamins and minerals, but also concerning the labelling of products. Regulation 1170/2009 of 30 November 2009 is an amendment to the 2006 directive. It defines the list of authorized minerals and vitamins. Each substance is subject to a complete analysis by EFSA, the European Free Safety Authority, which authorizes or not its marketing. Between 2005 and 2009, EFSA received 533 dossiers concerning food supplements. 186 were withdrawn during the investigation, and half of the others did not present sufficient evidence of any effectiveness. Finally, 39 of those rejected had safety concerns. EFSA's role is therefore of paramount importance in ensuring that the supplements you consume are safe.
How to recognize quality food supplements?
As you can see, not all food supplements are equal. To find a quality product, you should first look at its composition. Give preference to natural products or products of natural origin and avoid supplements stuffed with excipients and other preservatives.
Secondly, the origin of the supplement is also a guarantee of quality. France, but also Germany and Belgium have many manufacturers who have demonstrated their know-how. Products from the United States or other non-EU countries are not controlled in the same way. These products do not meet any standards and can even be very dangerous to health. With the Internet, it has become easy to obtain substances from all over the world. However, for a safe and secure use, prefer a supplement made in Europe.
Secondly, the traceability of ingredients is a key criterion for identifying a quality supplement. Knowing where the product you are consuming comes from allows you to know how it was produced or collected, which can also influence the quality of the final product.
Finally, the seriousness of the manufacturer and its expertise are also valuable indicators when it comes to verifying the quality of a product. How long has he been manufacturing micronutrition products? Is it surrounded by experts? Does it use certified laboratories? These are all questions you should ask yourself before buying.
Supplements sold in pharmacies are subject to a reinforced verification process. They are evaluated by the French Medicines Agency, which ensures their safety and effectiveness. By buying your products in a pharmacy, you are therefore assured of consuming a supplement whose origin, composition, manufacture and effectiveness have been checked.
Are food supplements essential for good health?
The market of food supplements is a growing market. More than a fashion phenomenon, it is a global awareness of the general poor health of the population. Illness is caused by deficiencies, caused by poor nutrition, stress, but also the lack of nutrients contained in the food we eat. Even with a balanced diet, our modern life creates a number of deficiencies that our bodies are unable to make up for.
Iron deficiency is very common in women. It causes fatigue, loss of muscle tone, headaches and hair loss. However, even if you eat a lot of iron-rich foods, the low absorption of iron by the body does not make up for the lack.
Zinc is an essential trace element that plays a key role in the immune system. It is recommended to consume 12 mg of zinc daily to avoid deficiency. However, zinc is contained in oysters, pork and veal livers or lamb meat, foods that are difficult to consume on a daily basis.
As for vitamins, 25% of adult women suffer from a vitamin A deficiency, 20% from beta carotene and more than 10% do not consume enough vitamin C. As for vitamin D deficiency, it is the most widespread, particularly in the northern regions of France. Deficiencies in vitamin B1 and B6 are also very common, especially in adult women. Fatigue, stress, depression, pain, loss of energy, are all symptoms of a vitamin deficiency. The consumption of fruit and vegetables is of course recommended, but in the event of significant deficiency, food alone cannot provide 100% of the daily requirement.
Food supplements provide a solution, by filling its deficiencies easily, they can avoid health problems. Vitamins and minerals are concentrated allowing to consume large quantities of nutrients in a simple capsule. Some forms of food supplements offer enhanced bioavailability, such as the liposomal form, which allows a reinforced effect thanks to its action in the heart of your cells. So, even if it is true that all the nutrients are present in food, food supplements guarantee an ideal daily dosage and allow easy intake. They are the only ones that can effectively make up for deficiencies to prevent health problems from arising. We can therefore say that in the event of a proven deficiency, they are indispensable and are widely prescribed by doctors.
What do food supplements really contain?
Capsules, pastilles, powders or liquid ampoules, food supplements can take many forms, but what do they really contain?
Our food is our only source of vitamins since they cannot be synthesized by the body, with the exception of vitamin D. In food supplements, you will find mainly vitamin C and E, vitamin A as well as the whole series of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12).
- Minerals and trace elements
Magnesium and selenium are the most common trace elements found in food supplements. Next come calcium, chromium, copper and fluorine. These minerals have multiple effects on the skin, joints, but also fatigue or morale.
- Proteins, fatty acids and amino acids
As far as fatty acids are concerned, omegas 3, 6 and 9 are the most important essential supplements. They are most often derived from fish oil and have an effect on the cardiovascular system and on mood. Creatine, an amino acid known to improve physical performance, is also a micronutrient found in food supplements.
- Plant extracts
The extracts of plants also enter the composition of the food complements, extract of carrot for the complexion, of artichoke or black radish for the liver, of guarana to burn greases, of green tea to drain, or ginger to detoxify.
Food supplements may also contain excipients: preservatives, flavourings or colourings. Each substance must be clearly indicated on the product label.
Manufacturers of food supplements now offer formulas that combine several active substances for combined effects. Vitamin C and E associated with selenium to fight against oxidative stress, magnesium and vitamin B6 to strengthen the immune system, YAM and CIMICIFUGA to fight against the effects of menopause, these mixtures formulated to meet a specific need offer a concentrate of effectiveness.
Food supplements, not always natural
Food supplement does not always mean natural product. In some cases, the molecule present in the product is synthetic, i.e. it is produced from a chemical process, and is therefore not natural. Active substances, when they are natural, are more easily assimilated by the body, we speak of the bioavailability of molecules. In concrete terms, the human body recognizes natural substances more easily and uses them more readily. This means that a dietary supplement whose compounds are of natural origin is better tolerated by the body and therefore more effective.
Take for example the case of vitamin C, which is available in some food supplements in synthetic or natural form. If synthetic vitamin C seems at first sight to be as effective as that from acerola for example, in reality things are much more complicated. The synthesis of vitamin C gives rise to two different molecules in the form of L-ascorbic acid and D-ascorbic acid. While the former has the same characteristics as natural vitamin C, the latter cannot be absorbed by the body. Depending on the percentage of one or the other in your food supplement, you will not absorb the same amount of vitamin C that your body can use.
Generally speaking, choosing a dietary supplement made from natural ingredients guarantees a better quality of the product, optimal absorption and enhanced effectiveness. The risk of side effects is also significantly reduced, with the exception of allergies.
Can food supplements be dangerous to your health?
Faced with the boom in food supplements, some people tend to say that they could represent a health risk. In reality, food supplements do not present any risk if they are of good quality, but as they are composed of active substances, they should not be consumed in any way. Indeed, a plant extract can be potentially dangerous if taken in too large quantities. Its action can be altered if it is combined with other products or medicines. Some substances are contraindicated if you suffer from certain pathologies.
Here are some examples of natural products that are contraindicated for certain pathologies:
- Beta-carotene, although it seems harmless, increases the risk of cancer in smokers. It is therefore not recommended for them. Beta carotene is found in supplements intended to prepare the skin before the summer to tan.
- Soy is a phytoestrogen and is totally contraindicated if you have suffered from breast cancer. It is found in many food supplements.
- St. John's Wort, a powerful natural antidepressant, reduces the effects of your birth control pill.
- Licorice indicated for chronic gastritis is forbidden to people with heart disease or high blood pressure, because it contains glycyrrhizin, a substance that increases blood pressure. If you are in this case, you should use extracts of deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DGL, i.e. rid of its glycyrrhizin.
In general, you should seek advice from either a doctor or a nutrition specialist before taking any food supplements. You should never disregard their effects on your body, as they are active substances. They are often useful and beneficial to your health, provided they are used correctly.
Ever more effective food supplements, the liposomal revolution
You have recently discovered a new form of food supplements called liposomal. This new formulation aims to reinforce the effects of the active ingredients contained in the food supplements. The liposome allows in fact a targeted action and an ideal absorption of the active substance by the body.
The cornerstone of orthomolecular therapy, the liposome is a lipid vesicle used to transport the active ingredient into the heart of cells. Able to penetrate the cell membrane and resist enzymatic attack, the liposome protects the substance it contains in order to deliver it where the body really needs it. The creator of Orthomolecular Medicine, Linus Pauling, was convinced that vitamin deficiencies were the cause of many disorders and diseases. His work on Vitamin C, now available in liposomal form, gave rise to this new form of medicine, which he himself described as "biologically correct", i.e. based on the bioavailability of natural principles.
The liposome is now widely used in cosmetics, but also in the field of food supplements. The liposomal form, when applied to vitamin C or curcumin for example, allows the formulation of highly effective supplements. As it can also carry enzymes, genes and antibodies, the liposome is the subject of much research in the fields of vaccination, cancer and gene therapy.
In terms of supplementation, vitamin C is one of the most widely used vitamins. In liposomal form, it is made up of ascorbates and flavonoids, exactly like the one contained in fruits and vegetables. It is better tolerated by the body as a whole, particularly in the intestines, and is therefore better assimilated. This new generation vitamin C has a reinforced anti-free radical action and allows to fill effectively the deficiencies in vitamin C responsible for migraines, bone pains or even immunity problems.
Why are some supplement products much more expensive than others?
The price of a food supplement is very variable. Depending on the dosage of the active ingredient it contains, its quality and the origin of its components, the price of supplements can vary from simple to triple. It is therefore essential to check some essential information before comparing prices. In Europe, food supplements are controlled and their effectiveness must be proven, which is not the case in the United States for example. This accreditation process guarantees the quality of the supplement you wish to buy.
Concerning the dosage and composition of the product, here again, only products sold in Europe are subject to controls and labelling obligations. But even among European products you should be careful about the quantity of active ingredients contained if you want to compare prices objectively. In some cases the price seems cheaper, but if the dosage is lower you might have to consume 3 times more for the same effectiveness.
Finally, the origin of the active ingredients and the way they are manufactured can also affect the price of your product. Here again, traceability is mandatory in Europe so you can easily find this information. For products coming from other countries outside the EC, you have no guarantee concerning their formulation or the origin of the elements that compose them.
Food supplements sold in pharmacies are subject to additional control by the French Agency for Medicines. Often more expensive than products available in supermarkets, they are the only ones to guarantee effectiveness and safety.