The human, equine and companion animal markets are saturated with dietary supplements intended to impact everything from joint health to cardiovascular support. The supplements seem to be so targeted sometimes, that I feel that often we are losing touch with what is occurring, how health is impacted and what the ultimate bottom line is to us, our horses and our pets. We have to view ourselves as a car, a machine with requirements. If those requirements are met, then health and balance are achieved. If not, then problems develop and health, performance and soundness are impacted.
The body is like a car, really, and requires maintenance and upkeep. No matter if we are referring to our body or that of an equine athlete, the situation is the same. If you put poor quality fuel into the body, you will feel the results either in poor gas mileage, poor engine performance or possibly a rattle or knocking noise. We like to believe that all gas is the same, but I am here to testify that in my own personal truck, I can get up to 5 more miles per gallon if I use a certain fuel from one company versus the same octane fuel from a different one. The body is the same; what you put into it dictates what comes out. Not all food is the same and just because you satisfy a hunger in your body, doesn’t mean that you are providing the proper fuel. There is no way of getting around this, but yet, it seems like a tough concept for some to understand and grasp.
The body has many processes going on at any given time and each of these processes is performed through cellular activity. Those cells require specific nutrients, vitamins and protein to do their job properly and if those requirements are not met, conditions will go astray, often contributing to things as simple as ongoing fatigue but also more serious health conditions. When we look at the diet that most individuals consume in today’s society, we begin to realize that many foods are simply ’empty calories’, providing no nutritional value and just satisfying a hunger. This problem carries over to our pets and to our horses on a certain level. We are surrounded by processed foods for ourselves, our pets and our equine companions. These processed foods often have no nutritional intentions, being loaded with sugars, artificial sweeteners and preservatives we don’t need, but some actually claim to be healthy or beneficial on a certain level, while the fact is that they are still processed foods by design which often limits their nutritional value and may actually contribute to more problems. In some instances, people and pets are exposed to such a high level of processed foods, full of sugars, that they ‘forget’ what real food actually tastes like and reject it.
We also have to take into consideration that the body is active and with more activity, nutritional requirements increase exponentially. If we are an athlete, we burn more calories, require more protein, balanced fat intake and higher levels of various co-factors needed for energy production, tissue repair and recovery. If we are sedentary, the diet needs to be altered to reduce calorie intake but yet, we still have to supply important nutrients to maintain daily bodily functions and likewise health. All too often we see the individual or horse that is placing increased demands on their body, and exhibiting recovery issues, breakdowns or other health problems. We need to realize that with increased demand, supply needs to likewise increase but in proper balance and form. We cannot be a world class athlete but yet eat fast food at every meal or even once weekly.
With all of these considerations, we come to the topic of dietary supplements. By definition, these supplements are intended to replace nutrients which are not directly being supplied through the diet. It is a complicated issue, from my perspective, as first we must understand that the diet is supposed to supply everything that our bodies need to function and the nutrients found in food are often much different from those obtained through a dietary supplement. Vitamins and minerals found in food are often lower in volume but are in the company of many other beneficial nutrients and cofactors that aid in absorption and assimilation. Most dietary supplements provide vitamins and minerals in their synthetic forms, which are not as readily absorbed by the body. Many overcome this issue by supplying much higher levels than are really needed, in hope that a certain percentage will be absorbed. Many supplements themselves are in forms that also create direct absorption problems, such as tablets or pills, requiring a higher level of digestion and assimilation. The reality is that we need many different vitamins, minerals and protein to keep our bodies working optimally, but ideally those nutrients should be consumed through foods and not synthetic supplements.
In the news recently, there was a study released that revealed a lack of health benefits from daily consumption of a vitamin/mineral supplement. The medical profession took the stand of “I told you so”, but in reality they are wrong. We have to first look at it for what it is and in those studies, often a broad spectrum of nutrients was not supplied and when they are supplied, they are in synthetic form. The irony here is that when this research was revealed in an online medical site, other studies were also concurrently released demonstrating the many benefits of Vitamin D3 supplementation and Alzheimers as well as vitamin E supplementation and breast cancer. How can one say that a vitamin mineral supplement is a waste of time and money, but then turn around and demonstrate benefit with other nutrients? It is two-faced, in my opinion and often the result of higher motives. We cannot deny the many benefits of nutrition and proper diet, it is basic science, cause and effect, however, we fail to emphasize the scope of the benefits and the proper route of nutrient acquisition. We can say a vitamin/mineral supplement isn’t needed but yet, we have studies demonstrating the impact of fast food diets on obesity and likewise poor health. If we are making that connection, then essentially we are acknowledging that a nutrient deficient diet impacts health.
We all have different patterns to our diets, liking some foods while turning away from others. We don’t consume all of the foods that we should and thus do not gain all of the benefits. Supplementation is probably necessary for a high percentage of people and animals, but the question is which form is best. The term ‘whole foods’ has been tossed around over the past several years and is an important one to consider and remember. Whole foods implies the use of food as a source of dietary nutrient replacement, instead of synthetic nutrients. By going this route, we tend to get a broader spectrum of nutrients and often medicinal like activity from the biochemistry of the food. One of the main whole foods that I like to use for myself and my patients is herbs, which provide many vitamins, minerals and protein in their natural form but yet, we also gain other benefits such as inflammation reduction, enhancement of the immune response, a healthier cardiovascular system and stronger bones, ligaments and tendons. Whole food or natural sources of nutrients are better absorbed and I believe the intended source of nutrition. Despite many of us eating a well balanced diet, due to conditions beyond our control, those diets may still be deficient on many levels, requiring us to supplement above and beyond. The benefits of whole foods can be seen in individuals consuming pea protein for instance, reaping the many health benefits and reporting improvement in joint function. Others note the tremendous restorative capabilities to spirulina blue green algae, providing nutrients and protein in a natural form literally soaked up by the body.
The horse industry is saturated with supplements for many reasons, often leaving horse owners with confusion and lack of direction. I am often presented horses that are on 3-4 different supplements but yet are still having clinical problems. In those situations, it is common that I request that the owners stop the supplements, as from my perspective they are not working and possibly contributing to the problem, not to mention wasting money on the owner’s part. Often, I encounter resistance with this request as the owner believes, due to marketing, that their horse ‘needs’ this product to be well and healthy. In some situations, we discontinue the supplements and the horse’s condition actually improves. In others, the condition stays the same, but yet may provide us an opportunity to see that that particular product was of no value and likely a waste of funds.
The approach I take with my patients and myself is simple; provide the body with what it needs ideally through high quality food and herbs. I like to see results and often in my own head, I set a mark at 2 weeks to see some positive changes. I don’t think this is unrealistic, but should be expected. If I don’t see changes, then I regroup and determine the next strategy as I don’t like to waste time or money. If we can better understand what is going on that is contributing to poor health, poor recovery and lameness, then we can better target our approach. I don’t like to just target the problem specifically, such as joint degeneration, poor immune health or even tendon problems, but I like to step back and see the bigger picture. The reality is that the current issue at hand is likely a manifestation of a much larger problem, which stems back to cellular health and lack of proper nutrient delivery. If we approach this problem properly, then results should be evident rather quickly, which may help us to eliminate potentially wasteful supplements and keep things simple.
I am a huge believer in the motto “you are what you eat”. I see it every day and feel it when I stray from my normal diet. We all can testify to this but sometimes fail to heed the warning. I am not perfect and don’t expect perfection in others as I feel it is hard to achieve. Knowing this, I do supplement my body with whole foods on a daily basis through the use of our products. It is what I believe has helped me recover from my illness and improve my health beyond that which I was 20 years ago. The interesting thing to note is that up until several years ago, I was a supplement junkie myself, putting my hands on every possible remedy or supplement that I thought might provide some health benefit. During that time, despite my heavy supplementation, I found that my health was subpar on many levels ranging from energy to overall immune function. Only when I stepped back did I realize that most of the whole foods I was consuming through the use of our supplements provided most of what I needed on a natural level in combination with my daily diet. I was taking, at the time, a proclaimed ‘whole food vitamin’ supplement, but when looking deeper I began to see that I was oversupplementing in the end because of the combination with our formulas and only after I stopped taking that daily vitamin supplement, did my health actually really begin to improve. We have to realize too that some nutrients when oversupplied, can actually prove toxic instead of beneficial.
I think we can do better for ourselves, our horses and our pets. Health shouldn’t be expensive, period! We shouldn’t need 10 different supplements for our horse, but we may just need 2 or 3 that are capable of providing what they need. We shouldn’t be persuaded by marketing ads or by peer pressure from our friends, but we SHOULD listen to our body and determine what we need. If you are one to oversupplement, take a moment, step back and determine what you truly need. It is possible to reduce your daily health bill, while still getting superior results. I think in many situations, if we took what we spent monthly on all of the supplements and put it back into a proper diet and whole food nutrition, we may actually reap better results. I truly believe that with the right program or whole food/herbal approach, many health conditions can be improved dramatically, but first we need to see the light and gain understanding. Until this happens, we are resistant to seeing the facts for what they are. I am not completely against synthetic forms of some nutrients, but find they are needed and necessary, often best in combination with a whole food approach. I try to use these approaches with our supplements, utilizing herbs that provide not only a good basis of nutrition but also other health benefits on many levels. I try to keep things simple and yet, get results with the use of 1 or 2 products. Sometimes this is hard to understand for some and often, I will use this as the sole approach to managing various health conditions in my patients. It often leaves many with open mouths as they are expecting a more complicated therapy regimen. It shouldn’t be complicated, but is basic science on a fundamental level.
Just my thoughts,
Tom Schell, D.V.M.
Nouvelle Research, Inc.