science of supplements

The Verdict: What Science Says About Supplements

Recently, a report on calcium supplements was made public.  This is not the first time researchers have taken a deeper look into ingredients in supplements, but the conclusion of the calcium study echoes the conclusions on supplemental vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, and broccoli supplements.

The calcium study
A federally funded study at Johns Hopkins University analyzed 10 years of medical tests on 2,700 people and concluded that taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries, but a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears to be protective. The report on the research was published Oct 10, 2016 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. According to report co-author John Anderson, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina:

There is clearly something different in how the body uses and responds to supplements versus intake through diet that makes supplements riskier.”

Beta carotene, vitamin E, lutein, and broccoli
A 1994 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 29,000 Finnish men who were smokers were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease when given beta carotene supplements for five to eight years, compared to those who only took placebo.

A review, published in 2005 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that, in 19 trials of nearly 136,000 people, supplemental vitamin E increased mortality.  In 2011, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tied vitamin E supplements to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

A 2014 study published in Advances in Nutrition found that in assessing the efficacy of lycopene supplements versus tomato products on cardiovascular disease, “there was more support for consuming tomato products versus taking a lycopene supplement daily for improvements in lipoproteins, lipids, and protein and DNA from oxidative damage.”

The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry published a study in Oct., 2011 highlighting that broccoli as a food has more of the critical enzyme myrosinase than broccoli supplementsThis enzyme is critical in converting glucosinolates into other compounds which have been suggested to be powerful anti-cancer agents.

The whole perspective
These studies highlight what BioStar has been saying for a decade: whole food provides the best nutrition.

The New York Times published a piece on November 5th, 2007 that looked at whole food versus individual nutrients.  In the article was a quote from a nutrition researcher, Dr. R. Jacobs from the University of Wollongong in Australia: “Every food is much more complicated than any drug.” Jacobs believes that nutrition science needs to consider the effects of food synergy—the notion that the health benefits of foods aren’t coming from a single nutrient but rather a combination of compounds that work better together than apart.

The narrow focus on single nutrients stems from the earliest days of nutrition research, but attributing health benefits to a single compound is proving to be more unbalancing to the body than beneficial.

Horses and dogs and humans
Although no studies have been done on isolated vitamins and nutrients for horses and dogs, we can extrapolate that real food, which is arguably better for human health, is also better for equine and canine health.

If you have ever called to ask about a BioStar supplement, you may have heard me ask this question: What kind of diet is your horse or dog on?  Because for me, that is the beginning and foundation of health, and it is the starting point of re-balancing the body…not adding more supplements.

Since we don’t always have access to organic foods for our horses and dogs, or herbicide-free hay, the kind of supplementation we use becomes even more important.  With isolated nutrients that are not from food, we can end up creating a new imbalance while trying to re-balance the body system.  The absorption and bioavailability of isolated nutrients also demands higher amounts—what is known in the industry as mega potency.

We are conditioned to believe that more is better, but in supplementation, particularly with ingredients that are not from food, that is not the case.  In food, there are no mega potencies of nutrients.  In an orange, you will never find 500 milligrams of ascorbic acid.

Real food may not be as convenient as processed food, and may take a little more time each day, a little more thought. I believe that we and our horses and dogs are worth it.

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