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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?

Do you struggle to remember every morning?

We know how busy we are and we know you’re probably very busy too. None of us have much free time available in the mornings to remember to take our own vitamins, let alone run around after kids and try to get them to take this, that and whatever else as well.

Supplementation is often the simplest way to correct a nutritional deficiency

Firstly, we want to mention that we don’t want you or your child to be 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 who have very selective eating habits.

So how long do you need to take a prescribed supplement for?

For example, if you or you’re child has been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia and you (or your child) wont eat red meat, either because of taste preferences or ethical preferences, you’ve probably been advised to supplement with Iron.

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.

So obviously treatment is a very personalized thing. There are many factors at play in regards to how long a specific nutrient needs to be taken to boost up circulating and stored levels of a specific nutrient.

The supplement needs to be taken for long enough to correct the deficiency

So, let’s go through some of the different factors that can influence the length of time you or your child may need to take a nutritional supplement.

Different nutrients take different amounts of time to exert a noticeable effect on the body.

For example, Magnesium Threonate. This is the only chemical form of magnesium capable of crossing the blood brain barrier. Magnesium Threonate is used quite often in the treatment of mood, behavior and sleep disorders. Magnesium Threonate takes up to 6 weeks of daily supplementation before we see therapeutic benefits.

Having said that, the more severe the deficiency is the quicker we see benefits with magnesium supplementation. This is particularly true in children. So this length of time can obviously vary.

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.

So as you can see if we’re going to do it right, it can definitely take some time. However, as mentioned earlier – we don’t want supplementation to have to be an ongoing thing, particularly for kids.

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.

Supplement correctly and address the cause to break the cycle

It can be a bit of a process, but we don’t want it to be forever. What we want is to make sure we’ve done this properly so we’re setting up our bodies and our children’s bodies with all the right building blocks needed to grow and develop and be strong and healthy.

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