How long should you take a supplement for?
As naturopaths, when prescribing supplements, we are looking to correct an imbalance and return the body to a place of optimal health. We also want to make sure we’ve done everything we can to reduce the risk of that deficiency returning. Sometimes this is a straightforward process, however not everyone’s treatment plan is going to look the same. So how long should you take a supplement for? Well, the answer will vary based on a few things.
Why have you decided to take the supplement?
If you’ve had some blood tests done and a deficiency has shown up, then it is likely you’ll need to supplement, alongside making dietary changes, for a minimum of 3 months.
However this will also vary depending on what vitamin or mineral you are supplementing and what dose you are taking.
When treating a Vitamin d or Iron deficiency, we typically wait at least 3-6 months before retesting to see where your levels have come up to.
What type of supplement are you taking?
Not all supplements are created equally. Let’s look at Magnesium for example.
You’ll find Magnesium comes in various forms, for example ‘Magnesium Citrate’ where the Mineral, Magnesium, is bound to an amino acid, Citric Acid.
What element or amino acid the magnesium is bound to can impact how it is absorbed and how the body utilises it.
Magnesium Citrate is absorbed in the digestive tract and has a natural laxative effect, so it is often used to treat constipation. In this case, you will find the impact fairly rapid (within days).
Magnesium Threonate, on the other hand has been shown to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and is an excellent form of magnesium to support brain health, including mood disorders, behavioural disorders and sleep disorders.
Magnesium Threonate takes up to 6 weeks of daily supplementation at the correct dose before we see therapeutic benefits.
Supplementation is often the fastest way to correct a nutritional deficiency
It’s important to mention that we don’t recommend taking a cocktail of vitamins.
But at the same time it’s also very difficult for any person to eat their way out of a nutritional deficiency. This may be especially true for children or adults who have very selective eating habits.
So with that in mind, how long you need to supplement for, will also be determined by your diet. If, while you are supplementing, you are also making dietary changes to consume more nutrient dense foods, then it is fair to assume that your need for medium to long term supplementation will reduce.
Are you consistent?
Like most things in life. consistency is key, particularly when it comes to maintenance.
Our aim, with all clients is to get them off of supplements and maintain good health, simply by eating well and living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
However, you may find, from time to time, a need to return to supplementation.
Let’s take probiotics for example, we can re-introduce a diverse range of bacteria to the digestive tract via supplementation and maintain this with a healthy diet. However, during periods of extreme stress, travel or after taking a course of antibiotics, you may find a need to return to supplementation in the short term.
A note on Nutritional deficiencies in childhood
It’s important to correct a nutritional deficiency as quickly as possible. When we’re talking about a deficiency of essential nutrients during childhood specifically, the quicker we correct the deficiency the better.
Because this is a period of rapid growth and development – not just physically but psychologically as well. Childhood nutritional deficiencies are common, but carry significant risks.
Severe nutritional deficiencies have the potential to delay physical growth and development. They also interfere with the way your child behaves, concentrates and retains learned information.
It’s going to take between 6 weeks and 3 months to correct most nutritional deficiencies
Another good example is iron – it takes 3 months for the human body to make new red blood cells. So as a general rule we usually aim for 3 months of supplementation. We then recheck stored and circulation iron levels.
If they’re back up to a healthy range, perfect, job done.
If they’re still not quite right we may need to modify the amount we’re giving, or the way we are administering it. We may even need to dig a bit deeper to make sure nothing else is going on that’s interfering with the ability to absorb iron.
Zinc is another nutrient commonly supplemented, and again takes on average 3-4 months for levels to build.
We also need to have a look at why the deficiency has occurred
While we’re supplementing we’re working on ways to include whatever foods are naturally high in these nutrients into the diet.
We may also need to address gut health. Plenty of the right foods may be present in the diet, but not properly digesting, absorbing and assimilating. So in this case, gut issues are actually what has led to the deficiency. If we resolve the gut issues and get the body absorbing nutrients more effectively, we can cease the supplements without the deficiency returning.
Genetics will also play a part here. For example, 80% of how your body absorbs vitamin D, is due to genetics. We also know that Genetic variations such as MTFHR will impact the bodies ability to utilise certain forms of B Vitamins and for people with this genetic mutation, we need to use different forms of supplemented B Vitamins.
Supplementing isn’t black and white.
It’s often not as simple as popping down to the discount pharmacy and grabbing what ever is on special. We really need to take an educated, personalised approach to supplementation.
This is where our team of Naturopaths and Nutritionists excel.
If you would like to be assessed for nutritional deficiency and supported while you bring your body back to surplus, book an appointment now.