Home / Health & Well-being / Supplements – nutritional essentials or money waster?
Supplements – nutritional essentials or money waster?

Supplements – nutritional essentials or money waster?

jaciBy Dr Jaci Schultz

I am frequently asked by patients if taking supplements are actually necessary and worthwhile, or if they are literally just expensive urine?

The sad truth is that the answer to whether we need to take supplements is yes, yes, YES!  Supplements are indeed nutritional essentials!The reasons are numerous, but the main ones are:

Depleted soils:

Even if you eat a healthy, predominantly plant-based diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, chances are good the food comes from soils that have insufficient mineral content.

When foods are grown over and over again in the same soils, the mineral content of that soil becomes depleted over time.

Minerals are vital for certain physiological processes such as muscle functioning (magnesium), mitochondrial functioning (magnesium), immune system regulation (zinc and many others), hair, skin and nail growth, energy production (iron) to mention just a few…

A study conducted by the Medical Research Council showed that over a period of fifty years from 1940 through to 1991, there was a 49% reduction in sodium present in the soil, a 16% reduction in potassium in the soil, a 24% reduction in magnesium in the soil, a 46% reduction in calcium present in the soil, a 27% reduction in iron present in the soil, and a staggering 76% reduction in the presence of copper in the soil! Interestingly enough, due to the frequent use of fertilisers, the phosphorous level increased by 9% in the soil.

Long Transit Time for Delivery:

Have you noticed an increasing amount of produce finding its way to your grocery store comes from other countries?

If you think your favourite avocado pear or asparagus (from Spain or Israel) was just cut at its peak ripeness, then immediately boxed, rushed to the airport and shipped overnight to your favourite grocery store, you’re sadly mistaken.

Sometimes, foods are picked weeks and even MONTHS before we see it on our shelves.

There is a great drive at the moment for produce that comes straight from the farm to the table – buy as much of your food as possible from local growers to reduce transit time and improve the nutritional value of the food you’re eating.

 Overcooking Our Foods:

South Africans have a bad habit of cooking our food “to death”, resulting in a massive loss of nutritional value, meaning far fewer vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes available for absorption.

As far as fruits and vegetables are concerned, consuming them in as close to a raw (uncooked) state, or just lightly steamed is considered one of the most nutrient saving methods of cooking.

Not Eating Regular Meals:

Our daily schedules are extremely busy, with the result, many of us land up skipping meals.

Grabbing a bagel, pastry or protein bar while gulping down some coffee and rushing to work does NOT constitute a meal.

Making up for it later in the day at dinner time is not in the best interest of our bodies either, as it puts much undue stress on the digestive system and can eventually cause symptoms such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome.

Normal Aging = Digestion Issues:

As we age, our bodies produce fewer enzymes, including all the important ones needed to properly digest and assimilate the foods we eat.

If we cannot assimilate the foods optimally, we cannot utilise the available vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

What most people seem to forget is that vitamins, minerals and amino acids play such a crucial role on a biochemical level that I often explain it to patients using the following analogy…

If I ask you to get in your car and drive 1000km to Cape Town , but don’t go and fill up your car with petrol, how far are you going to get and then what? Your car can not run without fuel and neither can your body!

Vitamins, minerals and amino acids play roles in the body that are crucial to optimum health, but you are only aware of their presence once you are deficient in one or more of them and become symptomatic.

Stress = Compromised Immune System:

No question, we all lead busy lives and some of us are busier than others! Between commitments to your family, school, work, community, faith and other obligations, our lives are stressed to the max!

What actually is the definition of stress?

It is the impact of the environment on the body…

Or perhaps, possibly a more realistic explanation is that it is our perceived ability to deal with our environment.

All of this stress takes a toll on your body and weakens your immune system.

Taking good quality, well researched supplements can help to bridge that gap and give your body some of the nutrition it needs to function optimally.

Are all supplements equal in absorption and effectiveness? Absolutely not!

Remember, as with just about everything in life, marketing and making money drives an industry and as a result of many people having access to vast quantities of information thanks to the internet – pharmacy and health shop shelves are filled to the brim from ceiling to floor with all sorts of products and supplements often of questionable quality.

In fact – there is currently no governing body that watches over and legislates natural products, so it is up to you, the patient and consumer to know what supplements you are buying and what results you can expect from it.

Consider that when you are buying a supplement or for that matter a medication, what you are actually paying for is not necessarily what is in the container, but rather the research done on that supplement or medication to prove that it is not only effective in what is ‘promises’, but more importantly, it will not do you any harm!

And that brings me to my last statement…


Herbs are often included in vitamin supplements, such as ginseng, and by their very nature they are as pharmacologically active as any other drug.

This means that:

  •   you can over dose on them
  •   be allergic to them
  •   they can be contra indicated to a medical condition that you may have
  •   they can be contra indicated and cross react with other medication that you are taking

So what’s the bottom line?

Sadly our food, even if it grown organically, will not contain all the vitamins, minerals and amino acids that we require for optimum health.

Supplements are not regulated in this country so it is up to you to do your homework and ensure that you take well researched, quality controlled and dosage standardised supplements that are specific for your health requirements.