Nutraceuticals have, quite rightly, carved themselves a seemingly permanent niche in the future of healthcare. But is it possible that the food supplement industry has taken its collective eye off the signs which would lead to an even brighter future. . . an even more profound impact on health and wellbeing? Based on my 36 years in this industry, I’d have to say that the answer is undeniably YES.
In an industry which has spent twenty years severely hampered by the spectre of destructive legislation and saturated with ‘hand-me-downs’ from a broadly dysfunctional American supplement sector, what’s needed is more than just new products and new technologies. We really need a re-invention of our industry’s mindset – an honest re-evaluation of the very paradigm in which we, as manufacturers, formulate our products. Such a shift is necessary not merely to compensate for the effects of legislation or overseas competition; it’s necessary to overcome the fundamental limitation to the effectiveness of every food supplement – the human body itself.
The effectiveness of a nutritional supplement totally depends on three key objectives being met; a) the level of the nutrients must be sufficient, b) the nutrients must be efficiently absorbed, metabolised and utilised, and then c) the nutrients 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 ‘nutritional synergy’.
Food supplements address the first objective through their ability to cost-effectively provide significant concentrations of any nutrient. However, even the most technologically advanced supplement cannot overcome most challenges standing in the way of the other two objectives. In fact, some supplement technologies actually interfere with fulfilment of these objectives. The answer to this conundrum lies in the body, not in a lab.
In order to get the most out of any supplement 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 (and even functions) that are greater than the combined individual effects of each one. In addition to being absorbed, distributed, metabolised and utilised, to provide its optimum effect a vitamin, mineral or any other nutrient in the body must participate in a wide array of synergistic interactions with enzymes, co-factors, other nutrients, etc. In essence, 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 optimally effective 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 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 genetics, diet, lifestyle, gender, age, stress levels, digestive function, level of toxicity, etc. And even in the healthiest of people there’s considerable room for improvement.
This issue highlights the severe limitations of the formulation approach typically used in the supplement industry – i.e. manufacturing a pill with the concentrated, pharmaceutically isolated form of nutrients (either individually or in combination), with no means whatsoever to facilitate the body’s complete utilisation and efficient use of those nutrients. The nutrients in our body do NOT function independently or in isolation, so why, as a supplement industry, do we persist in developing products which only contain pharmaceutically isolated nutrients? It’s not that we shouldn’t use these ingredients at all; it’s that we shouldn’t wholly rely on them when no one’s body can make them work to their fullest extent, at least not without considerable metabolic assistance.
Admittedly, pharmaceutically isolated nutrients have the distinct advantage of providing the higher concentration and precise, consistent quantity that cannot be acquired from foods. However, pharmaceutically isolated nutrients do not contain the enzymes, co-factors and other synergistic catalysts needed to make them work in the body. On the other hand, whole, raw, freshly harvested (and fresh freeze dried) foods and botanicals provide the synergistic catalysts (enzymes, co-factors, etc) that make the nutrients present in that ingredient function more efficiently. But they don’t provide the high concentrations and precise, consistent quantity of individual nutrients that practitioners expect within a supplement.
It’s been my experience that the marriage between pharmaceutically isolated nutrients and the right combination of raw, fresh, freeze dried wholefoods and botanicals produce the most effective supplements by virtue of providing the nutrient concentration along with the synergistic means to make isolated nutrients work significantly better.
But this isn’t just a matter of combining isolated nutrients with some random raw wholefoods or superfoods. While better than just relying on the synergy the body can generate on its own, the synergy this would produce would be random. The optimal approach would seem to be to combine isolated nutrients with fresh, raw plant ingredients which provide metabolic chemistry that is specifically relevant to the biological requirements of the isolated 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 fully activated. What we’re talking about is precise, tailored synergy, as opposed to random, 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 original (fresh) metabolic chemistry as possible. Freeze drying a plant from a fresh-harvested state is, the most effective way to achieve this.
So what matters most is not how a supplement performs on paper, or even in a Petri dish. The formulation of supplements should be based on how the supplement is going to perform in the body, taking into full consideration the potential challenges and biological imperfections that might be faced. And this means not just utilising technology to get 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 in a supplement, the results are nothing short of remarkable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stephen Terrass MRNT, founder and CEO of award-winning supplement company, Terranova, 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.