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Dietary Supplements – Quality is Key

Americans spend $27 billion on dietary supplements, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, and supplement use is on the rise.  According to the CDC between 1988 and 1994 one third of the population took a supplement.  By 2006, over half the population was taking a supplement. In women over aged 60, calcium supplement usage has increased exponentially.  Between 1988-1994 only 28% of women aged 60+ were taking calcium, but between 2003 and 2006 that percentage had grown to 61%.

Supplements can be an excellent way to fill in dietary gaps and imbalances, as long as they are high quality.  Buying the cheapest supplement on the shelf will likely backfire, as many nutritional supplements use the lowest cost ingredients, or are lacking the necessary co-factors for absorption. The cheapest calcium supplement at the drugstore will probably be a form of calcium that is not optimally absorbed, and missing one or more of the necessary co-factors needed for proper absorption and use.  Buying poor quality supplements might not just be a waste of money, they could be causing the body more harm than good. For example, unabsorbed calcium can end up in places where it is not wanted, like kidney stones and calcifications of the arteries of the heart, which is why it can raise the risk of athlerosclorosis.

Foods are the body’s best source of nutrition, as they contain a synergistic combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to be best used and absorbed by the body.  A healthy diet rich in nutrient dense foods like vegetables, fruits and protein and healthy fats is very important for all biochemical processes.  Especially when multiple foods are consumed together – the antioxidants’ effects can multiply (read Eat Your Sunscreen to learn more about antioxidants and their effects). I always tell my clients to “eat a rainbow” – to try to get as many different colors of plant-based nutrition into their daily diets.  But most diets are not perfect 100% of the time, which can be further complicated by issues like mineral depletion of our soil – so taking a high quality supplement can be useful to fill in any gaps.  I prefer foods-based supplements over synthetic ones, because they are more bio-available. Many calcium supplements are made from rocks, which is not something that the body is designed to digest and absorb.  However, because algae is a food source, calcium supplements derived from algae are just better utilized and absorbed by the body.  Unlike single ingredient synthetic supplements, foods-based supplements provide multiple health benefits.

Isolating one vitamin or mineral into a supplement form, means there is no synergy from the natural co-factors.  Co-factors are helper molecules that assist in all biochemical processes in the body (read: Bone Building Co-Factors:Vitamin D).  If the right co-factors are not available, there will be reduced absorption and utilization of the vitamins and minerals that are present.   For example, in building strong bones, we not only need calcium, but a combination of minerals and vitamins.  When choosing a calcium supplement, look for high quality, highly bio-available forms of calcium (such as algae), along with the following co-factors that are required for proper mineral balance in the body and to form strong bones:

  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin K
  • Magnesium
  • Trace minerals

Searching for the best calcium supplement, I was disappointed until I came across AlgaeCal’s website.  AlgaeCal is a high quality foods-based calcium supplement that contains the necessary co-factors for optimal absorption and use.

Vitamins and minerals obtained from foods work together synergistically, supplements should be used to complement – not replace – a balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods.  A well-balanced diet boosts the immune system, improves energy, mood, and digestion – so the benefits extend way beyond the bones.

Author: Monica Straith, BS

Monica is the PR and Outreach Manager and Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal. She’s an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, and has a B.S. and B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she played varsity soccer for four years. Monica pulls from her experience in athletics and health to contribute to AlgaeCal and has also been featured on myfitnesspal blog, Prevention, and Huffington Post.