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Natural health trends for 2017

Every year I attend the CHFA (Canadian Health Food Association) trade show that’s open only to retailers and health professionals. This past Sunday I spent the day wandering through the aisles with my mom (she’s a nurse practitioner), checking out what’s available in health supplements and healthy food options.

This is what I picked up.

CHFA health show 2017 natural health product trends

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the tried and true stuff. After all, I am practicing a medicine that has a history of thousands of years–Traditional Chinese Medicine’s foundations began 4000+ years ago. But, I also like to find out what’s new. Even TCM continues to evolve, with elements of our practice being fully modern. After all, don’t you prefer your acupuncture with sterile, fine, filiform needles that are thin as hair and glide with ease rather than a sharpened stone? Uh huh, I thought so. Plus, I love being able to offer biopuncture, press needles, silicone cups for cupping, microcurrent stimulation, Swarovski crystal ear seeds (a different post I’ll need to write about soon), and other newer aspects of TCM practice.

So, without further ado, here are some of the things I was most excited to see at this year’s CHFA trade show: foods with more medicinal benefits, companies giving back, healthy things that are also convenient, people passionate and knowledgeable about health!

Functional foods

Okay, so I’ve often been a bit perplexed about the idea of “functional foods.” After all, aren’t all whole foods functional, i.e. have health benefits? But the term functional foods refers to foods that “have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.” Still, the category is pretty broad. We’re finding out more and more that many foods contain phytonutrients, i.e. chemicals that the plants produce for their own benefit that also provide health perks for us. 

probiotic health food bar CHFA 2017Another definition of functional foods is “processed foods containing ingredients that aid specific bodily functions in addition to being nutritious.” What I saw at the show were foods that have been added to. You get the food…plus you get a supplement of some sort. It’s not a new idea. Vitamin D has long been added to dairy products, you can buy omega-3 eggs, and iodine is added to table salt. What I saw though, were the addition of herbs and other nutrients, like this probiotic granola bar. This one is delicious (if you have a sweet tooth), soft, and chewy. It contains 4 billion active probiotic cultures. That’s a good amount! They also make drinks with their probiotics too, though I haven’t tried it yet. Plus, I see that they’ve partnered with the Creation of Hope initiative to help build water wells in Africa, with 5 cents donated for every bottle they sell.

You may know, I’m a big fan of reishi mushrooms. It’s one of TCM’s top herbs! How can it not be, when its Chinese name “ling zhi” translates to “holy mushroom,” and when it’s also known as the “mushroom of immortality!” I write articles regularly for Mikei Red Reishi Mushroom, so I’ve done lots of research beyond the usual for this particular power herb. So, I was excited to see a snack bar with reishi in it (and one with cordyceps too–another powerful Chinese herb!). Though this brand’s reishi uses only the mycelia (root-like structure of a fungus), rather than the fruiting body (the stem and cap–the part you usually think about when you think “mushroom”)–unlike the Mikei brand–meaning it doesn’t contain all the beneficial compounds, it does still contain many polysaccharides that help with immune health. The powerful medicinal compounds in reishi and cordyceps taste awful. They are bitter. So, I was surprised to see them in a granola bar. But, here they were, and the bars taste good. They are crunchier, much firmer than the probiotic bars, and much less sweet. I’m not giving up my daily reishi supplement, but I’d have these snack bars as a topper up on occasion.

tea health food natural health VancouverOk, this food isn’t about adding something medicinal to a food, but instead, it’s a functional food that is now being used when it was previously tossed away. Do you love coffee? Did you know that the coffee plant leaf has health benefits? Like many teas, it is rich in antioxidants. The cool thing about attending a trade health show is learning the stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know. Like, the coffee plant leaf contains mangiferin (found in mangoes, but not only mangoes), a compound that is anti a lot of things–antioxidant, antimicrobial (kills bad things you don’t want in your body), anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic–and analgesic (should I have called it “anti-pain”?). It also contains about as much caffeine as green tea and chlorogenic acids–the same compound that has made green coffee beans popular for weight loss. Bonus is jobs. The coffee industry is huge and many people are employed by it, but only for the 3-4 months per year when coffee beans can be harvested. What can they do during the remainder of the year? By harvesting the coffee leaf instead of tossing it, those people can still be employed. Plus, waste not, want not. This really a wise product: Wize Monkey Coffee Tea Leaf.

Essential Oils

I’ve recently become minorly (my husband might say it’s not that minor) obsessed with essential oils. I blame two of my friends/colleagues (you know who you are!) who are even nuttier than I am about E.O. I’ve spent way too much money stocking up on oils, but the good thing is that I use them regularly, and I find them helpful! It’s a whole huge topic to go into all the health benefits of E.O., but it’s way beyond smelling nice. For one, did you know that your sense of smell is one of your most primitive and powerful senses? Your olfactory (smell) receptors are directly linked to your limbic system, the part of your brain that helps control your drive for survival, emotional stimuli, motivation, and some types of memory. You’ve likely experienced a powerful memory prompted by a smell–I love the smell of ice rinks because I spent a lot of time there as a figure skater, and Chinese herbal stores always make me feel instantly better.

essential oils natural healthSo, when I came across this company, Divine Essence, I was riveted with amount of information I learned about oils. Many of their oils are organic and they can offer the chemical breakdown analysis for proof of purity, if you ask. The thing about essential oils is that quality can vary. I bought one set of E.O. on a Groupon from a different company. Serves me right. It was cheap. Too cheap, and what I found was that the oils they sent are more like water. Good quality essential oils will have the Latin species name (there are many types of lavender, for instance, each with a different profile), where it was sourced, and that it’s 100% pure and natural. You know when you meet someone who is clearly passionate about what they do? These guys are that. Plus knowledgeable. This may be my favourite product I picked up at the CHFA show: organic helichrysum (also called everlasting or immortelle). It’s beautiful for skin health, an antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, etc. (note that most E.O. should be diluted in oil to use topically and should only be used internally with guided support from someone who’s qualified, despite what some marketing companies say).

essential oils natural health VancouverIf you’re not planning on going E.O. nuts, but you’d like your car or closet or gym bag to smell nice, here’s an option. I’m trying the peppermint one in my car. It’s strongly scented right now, so it’s a good thing I love peppermint. They apparently last for 3 weeks. Please, please, please don’t use the fake scents–those cardboard pine tree-shaped smelly things for your car, Febreeze, fake scented air fresheners, cologne, perfume. The chemicals in those products are harmful to us and to our environment. Raise your hand if you, like me, hold your breath when you walk through the perfume section of a department store or past the store Abercrombie & Fitch (stinks like a cologne war). I love these Purple Frog air fresheners because they combine one of my favourite animals (I collect frog knick knacks) with essential oils. 🙂

Toiletries and Topicals

Toiletries. What an awful name for things that you use to make yourself look better. But, I didn’t create the word and it makes for nice alliteration in my subheading. 😉 

dental health natural health vancouverBrushing your teeth may not be exciting or ground breaking. But this oil (Body Food Dental) used as an alternative to toothpaste is quite different. It doesn’t foam. It doesn’t have chemicals. No SLS (sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate) or fluoride. You don’t need much. Just add 1-2 drops on your wet toothbrush and brush as you normally would. It’s a specially chosen blend of essential oils (you’ve already seen my love for E.O., as mentioned above) in coconut oil. It also tastes great. Not sure yet if I’ll convert over entirely, but I am alternating it with my natural toothpaste.

lymphatic support drainage natural health vancouver bcI often recommend dry brushing. Why? Because your lymphatic system will benefit, as will your skin. Why do I want to support my lymphatic system? Because the lymphatic system is part of your circulatory and immune systems, clearing away the garbage–dead cells, bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, toxins, excess fluid, and other waste products. I’ve written about lymphatic support here and here. This isn’t a new product at all, but it’s one I was happy to pick up–a dry brush. Practice dry brushing before you hop in the shower and you may find you catch fewer colds, have less puffiness, feel more energy, and have healthier skin. This brush by Urban Spa has a nice long handle, but I did notice that some of the bristles came off when brushing, so I might better recommend the Merben brand, as it comes with options for sensitive skin and is ethically sourced and made.

topical natural pain relief natural health Vancouver BCThis product counts as the one I’ve used the most since I picked up a sample. Some of you, as my patients, have already had this EpsomGel applied to your area of pain. I’ve tried topical magnesium products before. But they made me itchy, so I stopped using them. This one didn’t itch. Plus, it also contains arnica, which is good for treating injuries. It does have a light scent, but it’s not overwhelming. If you find that epsom salt baths help you relieve muscle tightness and cramping, then here’s your quick version that doesn’t require you to draw a bath (though you still might like to do that). I find it helpful for menstrual cramps or other muscle cramps, as well as tight muscles in general. If you want something topical for joint pain, and something that you can really feel as cooling and instantly pain relieving, then you might want to try SierraSil’s topical spray (I use that at the clinic). Either way, it’s great to have options for pain relief that won’t damage your liver, stomach, heart, or kidneys. 

I didn’t take a picture, but if there was one line of product I wish would disappear, it’s the bottled water category. I get it, sometimes you’re out and you want water. For sure, buy bottled if you’re in a country where the water will make you sick. Otherwise, drink tap or filtered tap water. I have a filter at home and plenty of re-usable, very nice looking and practical containers (some are collapsible and thus more portable for travel). At the trade show, I saw Mood Water. It was plastic bottles of a clear liquid and labels with pictures of emoticons. Cute, but “what’s in it?” I asked. “Water,” she said. Simply that. It was a marketing gimmick: Water is healthy; people like emoticons. But what an environmental waste. As much as I loved the show and am excited to see the innovations put forth next year, I’d like to no longer see stuff like that.

I’ve now recovered from my sampling of too many gluten-free, dairy-free, free trade, organic, vegan snacks, chocolate bars, cookies, ice cream, pastas, breads, spreads, etc. from last Sunday. But I’m still absorbing all the information that I gleaned from that day!

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Health Product Review

I recently attended the CHFA show, a trade show for those in the health industry. I always like seeing what’s new and learning about healthy supplements and foods. And I love testing things out myself. The day I got home, I took pictures of what I was most looking forward to trying. I haven’t tried it all yet, but here’s my review, so far.

Fermented Milk Thistle

I’ve used Botanica’s other fermented herbal products before, so I was looking forward to trying this. Milk thistle helps support a healthy liver and the fermentation helps make the herb more easily digested. I often say that I’m not a good judge of what other people might find tastes good, or even okay. That’s because I have taken Chinese herbs on and off for over 16 years. But this is a great way to help cleanse the liver, so I think it’s worth holding your breath if the taste doesn’t work for you.

 

Oregapet Dog Treats

Oregano oil helps kill bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens and since one of my dogs just had 17 of her teeth removed, chew treats that can help prevent the loss of more teeth is something I’m happy to give them. And, well, they seemed to like them. Simple as that. I haven’t tried it, but I am also interested in their Bed & Body spray. It’s meant to prevent and kill ticks, fleas, parasites, and bacteria on animals and the materials they come into contact with. It looks like a great alternative to the chemically unhealthy Febreeze.

 

Itoen Green Tea

Reminds me of my time spent in Japan, so I love this cold green tea. To avoid the plastic bottles, I’ll make my own from loose leaf tea. But, if I’m out and looking for a drink on the go, I’d rather skip the pop or juice and choose this option instead. Green tea, as you’ve probably heard, is a healthy beverage. It’s high in antioxidants, boosts metabolism, fights cancer, and supports a healthy heart.

 

Arayuma Cinnamon

Did you know that most of the cinnamon you buy is not actually cinnamon? What you may actually be eating is cassia, or Chinese cinnamon. True cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum (“true cinnamon”), is medicinal, helping to balance blood sugar, kill bacteria, support healthy blood vessels, and aid digestion. This cinnamon really does taste better. Not only that, but it’s also Fair Trade Certified, organic, and gluten-free. I use cinnamon a lot, so I think I’ll need to get this one by the dozen.

 

Kokuho Rose Rice

I’m half Japanese, so I grew up with rice as a staple of my diet. Though most of the rice of my childhood was white rice, I now choose brown or other more whole rice options for their health benefits. At the health show, my mom and I recognized this rice label immediately, as Kokuho Rose is the brand she used most. I didn’t know that what I might be buying in the store may be different from this one. We chatted with one of the granddaughters of the founder of this rice company. Just as grapes vary depending on the soil and their growing conditions, so too does rice. The northern grown rice yields faster growing strains, but may not taste as good as this particular one, grown in the south. After trying it, I have to say, I agree. Maybe I’m turning into a food snob. I don’t know anything about wine, but am “particular” (i.e. picky) about dark chocolate, tea (especially green), and maybe now also rice. 🙂

 

Goji & Milk Thistle Nut Butter

I love nut butters, especially almond, cashew, and hazelnut. This one caught my eye because the addition of the herbs sounded intriguing. Now, I’m not sure if the quantity of the herbs in here would be significant enough to have therapeutic health benefits–I doubt it–but healthy foods eaten regularly accumulate their benefits, so I think it’s worth it. These are the ingredients: raw organic cashew butter, raw organic almond oil, raw organic goji berry powder, raw organic agave, raw organic milk thistle, raw organic vanilla powder. This is a superyum superfood. There are other flavours as well–marine phytoplankton, blue-green algae (looks disgusting as it’s a dark green, but it tasted good), berry antioxidant, and acai berry. There are 2 downsides. One is that I’m not sure if you can find it on the shelves yet, as I was told it’s new to Canada. And second is that it only comes in single-serve packets. I wouldn’t buy it unless it came in jars.

 

One Degree Products

I only got the business card for this, but what I found most unique is that every product they sell (bread, flour, seeds) has a QR code on it that will lead you to their website with specific information about where each ingredient is sourced. You “meet” the farmer online. Can’t comment on the taste, but a very interesting idea in this world of mass production.

 

Tea Tibet

This is a 100% (!) non-profit tea company. All profit goes to benefit charities in Tibet. The management of this was spearheaded by the co-founder of Stash tea and Tazo tea. Beautiful packaging with lovely quotes on the back of the teabags. Wonderful causes.

 

Your experience?

Have you tried any of these products and have comments on them?

 

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Are your fish oil supplements up to par?

The good news is that most of my patients know about the benefits of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) from fatty fish. Some of them take fish oil capsules because of the good things that they do:

1. Treat inflammation

2. Lower elevated blood pressure

3. Reduce high cholesterol

4. Improve memory, concentration, and focus

5. Support balanced mood: help with depression and anxiety

6.  Improve skin health

7. Support immune system

and more!

But, if you are taking fish oil supplements, are you taking good ones? No point in taking something that is either ineffective or actually unhealthy!

Some supplements you can select based on the sale price. Vitamin D3. Maybe. Vitamin C (though you might like to consider Ester-C instead of regular C). Ummm….well, not many in this category. Quality in the things you consume is important.

Fish oils–any oils, for that matter–can vary widely in quality, and thus in their health benefits, so here are some key things to note.

What kind of fish is used in your fish oil supplement? Tuna? There aren’t many that use tuna anymore as they are a big fish that tend to show an accumulation of heavy metal toxins like mercury. Halibut and cod liver oil are other options. They are also large fish, so quality of selection, processing, and testing is really important. A lot of questions have been raised about the healthiness of wild versus farmed salmon. Most healthcare providers recommend wild salmon over farmed.

Your best choice may be sardines and anchovies as they are small fish with high levels of the omega 3 EFAs called DHA and EPA. These fish have short lifespans and do not eat other fish, so they are less likely to bioaccumulate toxins.

It can be hard to know how well a company has chosen their fish stock; how carefully they process the oils so as not to damage them; how well they remove any toxins and test for safety; and whether the oil quality is still high (and not starting to go rancid) by the time you consume it. Because of this, I recommend choosing fish oils from companies with a good record. Some of the companies that I like for their quality of fish oils include: Integrative Therapeutics Inc (ITI), Nordic Naturals, Nutrasea, Barlean’s, and Xymogen.

Does your fish oil supplement repeat on you? Try another brand. Eat them with a large meal. Perhaps you also need to improve your digestive health.

The next time you are shopping for a fish oil supplement, look at more than the price tag so that you will better benefit from their many healthy properties.

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Relearn how to eat

When was the last time you thought about HOW you eat? No, I’m not talking about what you eat, that’s another posting or two or three, probably lots more.

Think about how you eat. Do you notice that you finish your snacks or meals without knowing how that happened? I recall studying in university and eating my favourite study snacks, Wheat Thin crackers. At that time I thought those were healthy. Now I know better. Especially as I would sometimes reach to the bottom of the box without even knowing how I got there! A whole box! Not a great choice for dinner.

Think about whether you chew your food. It’s too easy to scarf down a meal like a dog. Well, even my dog Hana chews her food better and more than many people I know. Have you ever seen a dog chew lettuce, really chew each little piece? She does! Smart dog! Chewing your food is the start of your digestive process. Skipping this step makes it harder for your body to digest your food.

Be mindful when you eat. Here are some tips:

1. Nicely present your food to yourself. Make it look appealing. You might appreciate it more.

2. Before you eat, think about how this food will nourish you, not just physically, but also emotionally (do you feel good eating this?).

3. Chew your food well. If counting bites helps, try that for awhile.

4. To slow you down, try some of these simple tricks. Put your utensils down between bites. Try eating with your non-dominant hand (it might get messy, but it’s also good for your brain). Eat with chopsticks, not just Asian food, but other foods as well.

Unlike either of my dogs, however, stop eating when you are no longer hungry. If you give your body time to assess how you feel as you slow down your eating, you will have better cues and satiety. Stop eating before you feel you HAVE to stop eating. If you realize you need more food and are still hungry, you can always go back for a bit more.

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I heart TCM

One of the inside jokes we have as Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners is that TCM has two hearts and no brain. It may sound like it, but it’s really not a dig. In TCM we discuss function more than form. The two hearts are the physical heart and the emotional heart.

The “no brain” is because we don’t discuss the physical form of the brain on its own. We discuss the brain as being encompassed by the marrow and that is most linked to the energy of the TCM Kidneys. Long-term memory is also more directed to the TCM Kidneys. Short-term memory, focus, and concentration are most connected to the TCM Spleen.  Various emotions come to play via the assortment of TCM organ systems, but the “house” of emotions (the centre of our emotions) comes from the TCM Heart.

The emotion allotted to the TCM Heart is joy. So if you want to improve both your physical and emotional heart, find ways to incorporate more joy in your life. There are so many reasons to do so.

  1. Don’t you like to be happy?
  2. Joy, like other emotions, can be contagious.
  3. Happiness improves your ability to learn by about 31%!
  4. Happiness may make you more successful, in marriage, business, income, health, and friendship!
  5. You will handle stress better.
  6. Happiness may help protect you against getting sick!
  7. Joy helps reduce inflammation and protect your heart!

The physical heart works so hard! It gets no holidays, no time off. It keeps us alive! Do you take good care of your heart? Do you offer it regular exercise to help keep it strong? Do you eat healthy foods that provide it with the nutrients it needs? Do you help it to recover with sufficient sleep, rest, and some sort of relaxation routine like meditation?

If you have high (or low) blood pressure, high cholesterol, have suffered a cardiovascular condition like a heart attack or have angina, you need to take extra special care of your heart. Taking pharmaceutical medications is not enough.

Some supplements and herbs that can help your heart include:

  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs), especially the omega 3s DHA and EPA
  • Selenium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamins C, B, E
  • Plant sterols
  • Chinese herbs: Shan zha, gou qi zi, dan shen

* Keep in mind that each and every person is different, so it’s important to get a proper assessment to determine what best suits your body and what might not be right for you.

Acupuncture is also very effective at improving blood circulation, reducing stress, lowering high blood pressure, regulating heartrate, and more.

I heart TCM because TCM hearts my heart!

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Supplements: To Take or Not To Take…And, Which Ones To Take

The following very LONG blog is from 2 articles I wrote for a local magazine. I thought some might find it useful here:

Have you ever walked into a pharmacy or a nutrition store and gazed upon the bottle upon bottle of options for supplements? Perhaps you want to buy some calcium, but find it hard to pick out the best one. Price is certainly one thing to consider, but it is definitely not the most important thing to mull over when purchasing. You wouldn’t just pick the cheapest car when auto shopping, just because it’s the cheapest. That $200 deal might just be trash on wheels and what a waste of your money it could be.

To Supplement, or Not to Supplement, That is the Question…

The first question is whether you actually need to buy any supplements. Even the Canada Food Guide now recommends a multivitamin/mineral supplement. There are many reasons why a supplement may be useful or even essential.

1. You don’t eat enough healthy, nutritionally balanced and varied meals. Broccoli, tomato, and lettuce are not good enough to cover your vegetable category. Can you try to guess the most consumed vegetable of North America? Potatoes. Usually in the form of French fries. Really not good enough.

2. You have higher nutritional needs. Illness, stress, medications, and higher activity levels are examples of situations that cause a need for more nutrients. Some medications cause specific nutrient deficiencies. Ask your health practitioner or pharmacist about your medications and their impact.

3. You have poor digestion/absorption. Just because you consume something does not mean that your body uses all those nutrients. We tend to produce fewer digestive enzymes as we age. Those with digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, colitis, indigestion, and others may not have good digestive absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients. Also, as we age, we produce less stomach acid and fewer digestive enzymes. Even if you have heartburn or acid reflux, you may still have insufficient stomach acid. It may be that the problem is not enough of a protective lining of mucus to shield the stomach tissues or that the valve that stops stomach acid from rising is too loose and allows stomach acid to seep back and irritate the esophagus (the tube that brings food from your mouth to your stomach).

4. Our food is less nutrient-rich than it once was due to nutrient-poor soils from over farming, early harvesting so that foods can be send on long journeys across the continent or from the other side of the world, pollution, and poor quality foods. We used to grow our own food or buy it from our neighbours. We used to pick up fresh foods daily. We now buy foods laden in preservatives. We add artificial or “natural” flavours to try to make them tasty again. We buy foods from the other side of the world. Try eating a banana in Thailand. It tastes totally different than what we eat here. Why? Because we don’t grow bananas here! Those bananas are picked long before they are ripe.

Some Basics

It is impossible for me to list all the supplements that you could or should consider, so we’ll just cover a few fundamentals about multivitamins/minerals in this article and expand on other important supplement categories next month.

Multivitamins/minerals

If any of the four listed issues above are ones that you think affect you then consider a multivitamin/mineral. As mentioned, not all supplements are created the same. When picking up a multi, read the label or ask someone to help you. These are some things to look for:

a) We all have different needs at different stages of our lives. Women are different than men. Age plays a factor. So, if you are over the age of 45 or 50, pick a multi designed for “seniors” or “older adult”.

b) Some nutrients are trickier than others. Looking at a multi, one way to assess quality is to check out the vitamin E. Does it read “dl-alpha-tocopherol”? If so, then that company is using a synthetic vitamin E which is poorly absorbed. Make sure that it reads “d-alpha-tocopherol”. Note the missing “l”. If the multi has “mixed tocopherols” or, even better, includes “tocotrienols”, you are getting a leg up on your vitamin E source and that multi is likely a very good one.

c) Check out the “non-medicinal” list of ingredients. I recommend avoiding supplements that add in extras like aspartame (an artificial sweetener—more likely found in the chewable forms), hydrogenated palm or soybean oils (hydrogenation produces trans fats, that bad stuff you have been hearing more and more about), sodium benzoate (a preservative), and FD&C dyes.

d) Remember, multis are a mix of various vitamins and minerals. If your multi is a single colour (usually a bright reddish orange), then dyes and other coatings have been used. Multis also often smell bad. The B vitamins, in particular, smell bad. That’s normal. If you have to, plug your nose when you take them.

Here’s a hint about swallowing these usually large pills: Have a small mouthful of food, chew it well, and pop in 1 or 2 of the supplement tablets or capsules with the food. You will find it much easier to get down.

Supplement How-To, part 2

Last month I covered some basic things to consider for choosing and taking supplements to optimize your health. This month’s article will cover a few specifics about some particular areas of health, but do remember that these recommendations are still generalized and you may want to discuss your particular needs with your health care provider or qualified natural health practitioner as each individual’s needs will vary.

Bone Supplements

Note that for this category, I didn’t simply label it “Calcium”. Many nutrients are key to good bone health.

a) Calcium: Calcium carbonate is commonly used, but it is generally poorly absorbed. Calcium carbonate is what antacids use to decrease stomach acid. The problem with that as a calcium source is that we need stomach acid in order to absorb calcium and our stomach acid tends to decline as we age (even if you have acid reflux, it does not mean you have too much acid, just likely not enough mucus to protect from the acid). Better options include calcium citrate, calcium chelate, and my preferred, calcium microcrystalline hydroxyapatite complex (MCHC). The last one can not only slow the rate of bone loss, but also reverse bone loss attributed to osteoporosis.

b) Magnesium: More than 60% of the body’s store of magnesium is in the bones. Sufficient magnesium is required for vitamin D and calcium absorption. In addition, magnesium on its own has been shown to slow the rate of bone loss. Magnesium oxide is a poorly absorbed form, so what you are best consuming in supplement form is magnesium citrate, magnesium chelate, or magnesium glycinate.

c) Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for optimal calcium absorption. While your body can make this nutrient from exposure to sunlight, many of us do not get enough sun throughout the year to support our needs.

d) Others: Manganese, copper, zinc, strontium, boron, and phosphorous are other key bone nutrients.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)

You’ve likely heard about the importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Some best sources are found in flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds (yes, of the famously known “Chia Pet” plants), and fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and mackerel. The merit of EFAs is not overstated. They are “essential” because your body cannot make them on its own and they need to be consumed in foods.

There are some supplements where the cheapest brand may be just as good as the most expensive. That is not the case with EFAs. While you don’t necessarily have to search out the most expensive one, quality of oil is important.

When choosing fish oils, the small fish are best, i.e. sardines, mackerel, herring, rather than the large salmon, tuna, halibut, and cod. This is because the larger fish, being higher up on the food chain, have potential for a higher accumulation of heavy metals such as mercury.

Flax seeds are a great source of omega 3 EFAs (and fibre), but in order to get the oils out, you need to either buy flax oil, flax oil capsules, or grind flax seeds. Once ground, the flax seeds need to be kept in the fridge. Another option is to buy husked flax seeds as the oils are readily accessible and they are shelf stable.

Hemp seeds and chia seeds are great snacks as they can be chewed to access the oils, protein, and fibre.

Digestive support

In order to properly absorb and utilize all nutrients, your digestive system has to be working well enough. You may not need any of these supplements, but if your digestive system is impaired, you can ask me which, if any, might be best suited for you and what others might you include that I haven’t written about here.

Some key digestive nutrients include the following:

a) Digestive enzymes: As we age, we produce fewer digestive enzymes, substances that our bodies need to break down the foods that we eat so their nutrients can be absorbed and used. Eating raw or lightly cooked (TCM prefers lightly cooked, steamed, slow cooked, and soups and stews) vegetables, fruits, grains (especially sprouted grains), and legumes will provide some enzymes. Supplemental enzymes in capsule format are also available. If you are lactose intolerant (problems digesting milk and dairy products), make sure your enzyme supplement includes lactase.

b) Probiotics: Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that you hear a lot about in yogurt commercials. Yogurt is a good source, but if you are taking or have taken a lot of antibiotics, or if you have digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, cramping, etc.), probiotic supplements are best as they contain much higher dosages of the good bacteria. There are many strains of these bacteria, so it may be best to talk to a natural health care practitioner to determine which is best for you. This is another category where quality makes a difference because if the quality is poor, not enough of the good bacteria will survive and live in your intestines.

c) Fibre: Most of us do not get enough fibre in our diets. Although many people think that we only need to worry about fibre if we are constipated, its benefits are many. Fibre does help with regulating bowel function, will not cause “too many bowel movements” when taken properly, helps keep blood cholesterol in check, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and may even help prevent cancer, kidney stones, and gallstones.

d) Senna: I want to mention this one because it is commonly taken to remedy constipation. Note, however, that it can become habit forming because the body can become dependant on it. Talk with your health care provider for other options so that you can limit your senna use.

“Supplements” is a huge topic and I’ve only covered a very small part of it, but some things to remember are that no supplement should be used to replace a healthy diet and lifestyle, that while generally safe you should make sure that the supplements that you take are suitable for you and in combination with any medications that you take, and that quality of product and an appropriate dosage will impact the effectiveness of any supplement.

Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncturist with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Guelph in Ontario. In addition to running her own clinic, Dr. Carr also acts as a natural health and nutrition consultant for a several companies and writes for health magazines. Believing that her role is as guide, teacher, and motivator, her goal is to work in partnership with her patients to bring them to their optimal health. www.activetcm.com 604-783-2846

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