In recent years, much attention has been paid to the multiple benefits of a class of nutrients called omega-3 fatty acids, most commonly found in fish oil.
“Omega-3 acts as anti-inflammatories, they raise HDL levels, and they support brain function,” says Conzo. “In addition, they are good for improving cell sensitivity and restoration. However, they are lacking in our diet.”
That’s because omega-3 only occurs in certain seeds such as flax and hemp, and in fatty, coldwater fish. But many people hesitate to consume fish frequently because of expense, availability, and possible mercury contamination. This is where a supplement can help. “If you use an omega-3 supplement derived from flax seeds,” Conzo advises, “grind up the seeds, keep them in the freezer to maintain freshness, and add one or two tablespoons a day into your cereal, yogurt or salad.” For those who choose to supplement with fish oil, Conzo recommends choosing a distilled brand, such as Nordic Naturals (also a favorite of ours!), which is mercury-free.
Fiber plays an important role in maintaining good health by facilitating the elimination of toxins from the body. Elson Haas, the author of Staying Healthy With Nutrition (Ten Speed Press, 2006), is a family doctor who practices integrated medicine, including nutritional health, in Marin County, California. Haas recommends additional fiber to patients who are constipated, have irregular bowel movements, or who suffer from colon disorders such as diverticulitis should add fiber to their diets. He also frequently recommends fiber supplements.
High-fiber foods include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Good fiber supplements include round flax seeds and psyllium seed husks.
“Psyllium seed husks, often combined with other detoxifying nutrients such as pectin or aloe vera, help cleanse the mucus along the small intestine, create bulk in the colon, and pull toxins from the gastrointestinal tract,” he says. However, Haas cautions that over time, too much fiber supplementation can strip the body of important minerals; therefore long-term use should be avoided. Several weeks or months of fiber supplementation are often sufficient amounts of time to get elimination processes back on track.
Haas recommends taking 1 to 2 teaspoons each of psyllium husks and bran several times daily (with meals and at bedtime), along with 1 teaspoon of olive oil to help detoxify the colon. An acidophilus supplement (or a portion of yogurt, a natural source of acidophilus) further helps to neutralize the toxins in the gastrointestinal tract and reduce the metabolism of other microbes.
“Remember to drink plenty of clean, preferably filtered water during any program of detoxification,” says Haas. “I recommend eight to ten glasses daily. Two to three glasses of water 30 to 60 minutes before each meal and at bedtime help to flush toxins from the body.”
Quite a few supplements including vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium have received attention for their properties as antioxidants. The interest in this class of vitamins is certainly justified. Antioxidants protect the body’s cells from damage by free radicals. Plus, they have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems. “A lot of cancers have a viral involvement, and the presence of any kind of toxin or virus increases the oxidation process, which makes it worse,” says Luc Maes, a doctor of naturopathic and chiropractic medicine and the founder of the Maes Center for Natural Health, in Santa Barbara, California. “Antioxidants protect cell metabolism from shifting into pathologies.”
Antioxidants occur naturally in green tea and garlic, as well as such vegetables as broccoli, carrots, beets, spinach, kale, and alfalfa sprouts, as well as such herbs as ginkgo and milk thistle. Iodine has also been identified as a strong source of antioxidants, and seaweed, high in iodine, helps prevent thyroid and breast cancer. Maes adds that turmeric, a food spice, has recently been found to have cancer-preventative properties. “There is also a lot of research right now focusing on berries of all types, from exotic varieties like acai and goji berries to commonly consumed berries like blueberries and blackberries.”
Most doctors recommend taking a multivitamin, which offers a spectrum of antioxidants. Maes often recommends taking a specific complex of antioxidant nutrients including coenzyme Q-10, lipoic acid, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. Maes also sometimes recommends concentrated berry extracts. However, he adds, “the need for supplements varies widely from person to person. The human body is like a unique environment. Whereas regular medicine targets the cancer, naturopathic medicine targets the environment around the cancer.”
The Importance of Diet
All experts agree that the best way to obtain antioxidants is through food sources. The benefits of a diet rich in fresh, locally grown, organic food is a common refrain. “All foods have healing properties, but some have more than others,” says Maes. “The closer you eat to nature the better.”
Maes frequently recommends supplements, but stresses that they should be just that a support for healthy habits, rather than a way of compensating for unhealthy ones. The keys to good health are clear: a variety of nutritious, pesticide- and hormone-free foods as well as fresh air, exercise, and plenty of rest.