We are what we eat. Can supplements help?

The debate on vitamin and micro-nutrient supplements is ever-present.

We have a debate going on within our family. An aging relative, Bev (not her real name), is  cause for the question of whether supplements could help with her increasing problems with dementia.

She has lived on her own since starting work. She is fiercely independent and her stubbornness is becoming more entrenched as her mental function worsens. She has never smoked and does not drink alcohol.

Her family includes 5 doctors from varying specialties. Two have retired, myself and my wife; we have an interest since retiring in nutrition and nutritional support.

When we all gathered together at Christmas we were all shocked by her physical condition, as she had lost three stone in weight, and was showing signs of scurvy. Scurvy is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C.

This patient presented with a “scorbu...

This patient presented with a “scorbutic tongue” due to what proved to be a vitamin C deficiency. The condition referred to as “scorbutic tongue”, i.e., related to scurvy, involves inflammation of the tongue, or glossitis, which includes areas of erythema and petechial submucosal hemorrhages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She ate everything that was put in front of her (and more) in the 10 days that she was with the family. As she ate her physical and mental function began to improve.

After New Year the family had to return to their homes and work. So Bev had to go home too. She has been investigated in the recent past by a geriatrician after she was admitted after a fall in the bath, and after brain scans revealed Alzheimer’s, she went through a rehabilitation program and allowed home with social service support.

When we took her home after New Year, we soon discovered why she had lost the three stone. Microwaveable meals provided by social services were lay about, rotting in their packets and we also found rotting fruit and vegetables on the worktops, the floor and in the bin.

We were shocked also by the choices she was making on the menus for the microwave. She was choosing nothing with any B vitamin content, which we now added to her deficiency status along with the Vitamin C deficiency.

We were now faced with a major problem, because the “care facilitators” or some similar name, were being supplied by social services, through a contract with a private sector “care” company. They were not ensuring that Bev was actually eating, and were leaving the rotting and out of date food around the place. They were only contracted for “check” visits. It became obvious that checks were being done but nothing else.

We looked in their log of contacts with Bev and saw the usual drivel along the lines of “Bev was up and dressed when we arrived. She said that she had eaten”. This was despite the mountain of evidence that she was not doing so. Worse than useless. It looked as if no report of the state of Bev had been communicated, or if it had then no-one had acted appropriately.

The GP had agreed to visit Bev on her return home, and he worked wonders, by getting Bev to agree to consider residential care.

We advise Actwell International who have a series of pleasantly flavoured multivitamin and micro-nutrient drinks such as Vibe Fusion. These have the advantage of being more efficient at getting the constituents absorbed by the gut.

When we mentioned this to the family we were surprised when an immediate veto against using these or similar supplements was made. This was on the basis that “there is no evidence that supplements improve health when a normal diet is eaten”.

This came from the “evidence based medicine” tick box culture that is now part of modern medicine in the UK. There being a lack of evidence does not mean there is no evidence, and somethings are obvious with no need for evidence. No-one would contemplate a controlled trial looking for evidence that water is good for you.

In Bev’s case she was the evidence. She has Vitamin C and Vitamin B (all the Bs) deficiency and she does not eat a normal diet. Thus saying there is no evidence of benefit from using efficient supplements when you do not eat a diet that contains everything the body needs to function, is a nonsense as in Bev’s case.

After all, supplements of vitamins and micro-nutrients, are just concentrations of what is in food. If you don’t eat food which has these vital substances in it, then you will go short on them. It is that simple.

You know what you eat. But do you know what it contains in terms of nutrition? The best thing to do is wise up, and take care when buying processed food. Always read the label.

 

 

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