New to “nutraceuticals?”

By: Alison Dunn Sep 29, 2010

Food and mineral-based supplements can cure what ails you – but only if you know what you’re doing

You can feel a cold coming on any minute now. You’re sneezing, sniffling and blowing your nose every minute. A coworker suggests you take some oil of oregano to stop that cold in its tracks. Do you do it?

According to Dr. Kandis Lock, a naturopathic doctor based in Ottawa, Ont., the market for foods and food products that claim to provide health and healing benefits is wide and varying – and pretty confusing for the average consumer to navigate.

“It can be confusing, especially when you walk into a health food store and there are eight types of the same product, all from different companies,” she says. “Not all products are created equal either, so you can’t be sure you’re getting the right product or even that what it says on the label is actually in the product.”

Can the supplements out there really cure what ails you? “It’s true,” Lock says. “Every vegetable and fruit does have properties that help heal you. But a whole foods diet with lots of vegetables and fruit, good quality fats and good quality protein is the key to preventing many, many diseases. Just switching to this diet, you’re going to be protecting yourself against many diseases.”

Foods that heal

Most food-based supplements are designed to give you the therapeutic benefit of the food without needing to consume it in great quantities, Lock says. For example, to get the anti-oxidant and cancer fighting properties of green tea, you’d need to drink eight to 10 cups of it per day – a bit much for the average person!

“Supplements are what you need to achieve more of a therapeutic value,” Lock says. “That’s what most people reach for when they reach for supplements.”

So which foods are you most likely to find in supplement form? They include:

  • Garlic: This wonder food is said to ward off colds, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and is a good anti-bacterial or anti-fungal agent.
  • Ginseng: Often seen in energy drinks, ginseng can balance out your hormones and help with stress reduction. It is also often found in cold medications to help boost your immune system.
  • Glucosamine: When combined with chondroitin, glucosamine can help rebuild joint cartilage and improve arthritis.
  • Green tea extract: Green tea’s anti-oxidant powers are well known, and many use it to help boost metabolism.
  • Oil of oregano: Derived from oregano, this oil has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
  • Turmeric: This spice is an anti-inflammatory, and it offers some anti-cancer benefits.

Making the choice

If you’re considering a nutraceutical, the best thing you can do is check with a health professional, Lock says. Taking too much of some things can be toxic, and many interact with other pharmaceutical medications you may take.

Similarly, if you’re taking too little of a nutraceutical, it won’t have any effect and you will end up wasting your money. The quality of supplements varies widely, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid most drugstore brands, Lock says, because the quality won’t likely be as what you’d find from a health food store or through a health care practitioner.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.