As the raft of EU legislation casts an increasingly gargantuan cloud over the food supplement industry, it’s become difficult for even the most optimistic proponent of natural medicine to find a silver lining. Nevertheless, in perhaps the ultimate ‘holistic irony’, these unnecessary restrictions to safe nutrient forms, potencies and ingredients could (and should) be the perfect catalyst for the supplement industry to re-invent itself.

While the recent ‘ramping up’ of absorption technologies and other innovative production tools could be seen as a step in the right direction, a true re-invention requires a re-evaluation of the very paradigm in which we, as manufacturers, formulate our products. Such a shift is necessary not merely to compensate for legislation; it’s necessary to overcome the fundamental limitation to the effectiveness of every food supplement – the human body itself.

Research confirms that nutritional supplements have a significant role to play in prevention and treatment of numerous health disorders, as well as in the maintenance of general health and wellbeing. However, the extent to which a supplement provides these benefits totally depends on three key objectives being met; a) the level of the nutrients must be sufficient, b) the nutrient must be efficiently absorbed, metabolised and utilised, and then c) the nutrient must take part in a multitude of interactions with other nutrients, enzymes, co-factors, etc. – an exceedingly complex array of biochemical processes sometimes referred to as ‘nutrition synergy’.

Regarding the first objective, scientific evidence suggests that even the best of diets cannot provide optimum preventive (let alone therapeutic) levels of most nutrients for the most common diseases that affect people in the western world. Food supplements overcome this problem through their ability to provide significant concentrations of any nutrient – so mission accomplished on that one. However, even the most technologically advanced food supplements cannot overcome most of the challenges that stand in the way of the other two objectives. And some would justifiably argue that some technologies used in the industry actually interfere with fulfilment of the other two objectives.

The Challenge

In order to get the most out of any supplement that you take it’s necessary to achieve an intense state of nutritional synergy in the body. Nutritional synergy occurs when interactions between nutrients and numerous other metabolic compounds produce effects that are greater than the combined individual effects of each one. In addition to being absorbed, distributed, metabolised and utilised, in order to provide its optimum effect a vitamin, mineral or any other nutrient must participate in a wide array of synergistic interactions with enzymes, co-factors, other nutrients, etc. In plain terms, this means that a supplement is only as effective as the body allows it to be – and herein lies the biggest challenge that supplement companies face in trying to make efficacious products.

The body needs a precise biological environment in order to generate maximum nutritional synergy, and the body needs maximum nutritional synergy in order for nutrients in a supplement to carry out their numerous functions to the maximum possible degree. The crux of the problem is that not one single person possesses the perfect environment for ANY nutritional supplement to fulfil its maximum potential. It’s not that they don’t work at all – it’s that their effectiveness is limited by various factors within a person’s biochemistry and/or physiology, such as their genetics, diet, lifestyle, gender, age, stress levels, digestive function, level of toxicity, etc. And while there are some adjustments we can make to enhance the synergistic environment in our bodies (see box 1), the bottom line is that even in the healthiest of people there is considerable room for improvement.

It is precisely this issue which highlights the severe limitations of the formulation approach typically used within the supplement industry – i.e. manufacturing a pill with the concentrated, pharmaceutical form of nutrients (either individually or in combination) with no means whatsoever to facilitate the body’s utilisation and efficient use of those nutrients. The nutrients in our body do NOT function independently or in isolation, so why, as an industry, do we persist in providing products which only contain pharmaceutically isolated nutrients? It’s not that we shouldn’t use them; it’s that we shouldn’t wholly rely on them when no one’s body can make them work to their fullest extent without significant metabolic assistance. Admittedly, the pharmaceutical form of vitamins and other nutrients (often referred to as nutraceuticals) have the distinct advantage of providing the concentration and precise, consistent quantity that cannot be acquired from foods. However, this form of nutrient does not provide enzymes, co-factors and other synergistic catalysts needed to make it work in the body. On the other hand, whole, raw and freshly harvested (and fresh freeze dried) foods and botanicals provide the synergistic catalysts that make the nutrients in that food or plant function more efficiently. But they do not provide the high concentrations and precise quantity of individual nutrients that people expect within a supplement.

With this in mind it’s highly likely that the marriage between nutraceutical ingredients and raw, fresh and freeze dried wholefoods and botanicals will produce the most effective supplements by virtue of providing the nutrient concentration combined with the synergistic means to make those pharmaceutically concentrated nutrients work better in the body. And yet, inexplicably, this approach was virtually unheard of in the supplement industry until around three years ago.

So how can we benefit from the advantages of nutraceuticals without being cheated out of their maximum health benefits by their disadvantages? Is it enough to just combine your favourite multivitamin or B-Complex product with some raw food? Well, not exactly. It is true that raw whole foods which are fresh harvested contain numerous metabolic compounds (nutrients, enzymes, co-factors) that make vitamins, minerals and other nutrients work better. And it’s likely that some ‘random’ or ‘accidental’ synergy will occur just by virtue of taking certain nutraceutical products with fresh, raw wholefoods or ‘superfoods’. Random, accidental synergy is better than only relying on the synergy that the body can generate on its own. But the optimal approach would presumably be to use products where concentrated nutraceutical ingredients were already combined with those fresh, raw, enzymatically-active superfoods and botanicals that are specifically relevant to the metabolic needs of the vitamins, minerals or other nutrients in that product.

For example, if you need to take a B-Complex, it’s bound to work significantly better if the concentrated B-vitamins in the product are combined with food and plant ingredients that provide the precise enzymes, co-factors and other metabolic compounds that B-vitamins need in order to be optimally absorbed, metabolised, utilised and activated. What we’re talking about is precise, tailored synergy, as opposed to random or accidental synergy. Also crucial to generating this intense synergy is ensuring that the food and plant ingredients are in a form that retains as much of their metabolic chemistry as possible. Freeze drying of a food or plant from its fresh-harvested state is, by far, the most effective way to retain this sensitive chemistry. As it happens, unadulterated superfoods and botanicals are also rich in a mind-boggling array of phytonutrients which provide biochemical (often medicinal) effects which complement the role of nutraceutical ingredients.

Although they are a rarity, nutritional supplements that utilise this tailored, intensely synergistic approach – and featuring freeze dried, metabolically-active superfood and botanical ingredients – do exist. You can also follow some simple tips to assist your body’s own ability to generate biological synergy. You might be stuck with your genetics, age and gender, but you can make certain adjustments in your diet and lifestyle which facilitate a more synergistic environment. The following chart highlights some of the most important general recommendations:

BOOSTING YOUR BODY SYNERGY

Address inefficient digestion and imbalanced intestinal environment: use broad-spectrum digestive enzymes and probiotics; increase intake of soluble fibre (this is particularly valuable in enhancing the environment for both absorption and overall bioavailability.

Utilise stress-reducing techniques: deep breathing; mediation; aerobic exercise

Reduce toxic and free radical load: eat more fresh vegetables and fruit (especially organic); drink more sure water; avoid processed foods and reduce red meat intake; reduce alcohol intake; avoid smoking; reduce exposure to environmental toxins

Follow a diet high in alkaline-forming foods: eat more green vegetables and low-sugar fruits; eat less meat, dairy products and sugars

SUPER-SYNERGISTS FOR YOUR SUPPLEMENTS

Stabilized rice bran

Spirulina and chlorella

Barley grass and wheat grass

Nettle Leaf

Watercress

Acai berry

There are also certain superfoods and botanicals that make especially versatile metabolic synergists for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. In addition to what’s found in synergistically enhanced supplements, many of these can also be added to the diet or through additional supplementation. See box 2 for some of the best examples:

Kale
Beetroot
Sea Buckthorn berries
Ginger root
Dandelion leaf
Cayenne

It’s clear that what matters most is not how a supplement performs on paper, or even in a Petri dish. The formulation of supplements must evolve in a manner that takes into full consideration how the supplement is going to perform in the body, taking into consideration all of its challenges and biological imperfections. And this means not just utilising technology that gets the nutrients to where they have to go, but also means making sure that the nutrients are able to do what they’re supposed to do when they get there. To do this requires intense, profound synergy. . . and when such a state is truly achieved, the results are nothing short of remarkable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stephen Terrass MRNT, founder and CEO of award-winning supplement company Terranova Synergistic Nutrition, is one of Europe’s leading authorities in natural medicine, with a particular focus on nutritional and botanical science. During his 36-year career in the natural healthcare field, including more than a decade as the Technical Director of one of Europe’s largest supplement brands, Stephen has presented more than 500 lectures in 20 countries and is the author of eight books, an award-winning series of audio tapes and several magazine articles, as well as participating in many interviews in the press, radio and television.