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Food Suplements: What Are They Good For?

The last time I was in seeing my pain specialist we discussed the idea that I should consider taking a supplement called Malic Acid. According to the one trial conducted using doses of Malic Acid with Magnesium there is some indication that it might assist people with Fibromyalgia, although it is unclear how the way the body metabolises Malic Acid has anything to do with it. Because I suffer from a type of chronic pain similar to Fibromyalgia he hoped there might be a chance that this could also play a role in treating my condition.

The results of the one clinical study done on the combination of Malic Acid and Magnesium as a means of alleviating the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, was inconclusive. A double blind study using placebos at low doses for four weeks (200 mgs Malic Acid and 50 mgs Magnesium three times a day) was followed by and open label test (subjects knew what they were taking) for six months where the dosage was increased to six tablets a day.

While the initial double blind test showed little beneficial results, when the dosage was doubled and the patients knew what they were taking, more noticeable relief was indicated. As of yet there is no means of finding out what if any contradictions there might be from taking high levels of Malic Acid for any length of time as it has never been done before.

According to proponents of Malic Acid it works to help the body detoxify itself of high levels of Aluminium and Phosphorous absorbed from other foods and plays an essential role in the production of energy. It's the latter effect that is supposed to have the pain relieving attribute for those of us suffering from various chronic pain conditions; although no one is willing to go out on a limb say just how it increases energy, or why that increase in energy would alleviate my pain.

Now I think it's wonderful that I have a doctor who is ready and willing to look into alternative ways he can use to treat his patients. I wish more doctors were like him, and open to a more holistic approach to medicine. (Don't panic, holistic just means treating the whole body not just the symptoms and makes sense when you're dealing with long-term acute conditions) But neither of us really knew anything about Malic Acid and he doesn't have time to do research, so he knew that by planting the idea in my ear I'd check it out.

Does the expression, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" sound familiar to anyone? Well guess what, Malic Acid is the acid freely available in apples and all fruit. In fact it's referred to as the fruit acid by a lot of the literature. When you check the ingredient list on the side of a bottle of Malic Acid it says: Apples, plus a list of non-medicinal items.

Apples, you know they are round, come in colours ranging form bright red to yellow to green, and are found on the shelves of most grocery stores? So why are they being sold in a pill form and being advertised as the latest, and greatest medical breakthrough? To me it just sounds like the latest in a long series of supplements for inadequate diets.

It seems like vitamins have been around forever. As a kid in the 1960's I remember my mom making me take one a day plus iron because I didn't eat meat and the doctors scared her into believing I was anaemic and suffering from a deficiency of iron. But that's about as far as it went with food supplements in those days.

Our diets were either better in those days, less processed foods on the market and more whole foods, or nobody had figured out yet how bad all this processed and packaged stuff was. The convenience of being able to thaw supper rather than having to cook it from scratch was still too much of a novelty to question what was being left out of the equation aside from labour.

Considering that it was the 1960s and 70s that saw a proliferation of frozen and processed foods I would say that the world was too busy being excited by progress to worry about any bill that might come due further on down the line. (You can apply that theory to probably most things, not just diet. It really wasn't until the late eighties that some people became aware of the costs involved from the post World War Two industrial boom)

Today, not only do drug stores stock shelves full of vitamins and supplements for the diet, (who had ever heard of Omega Acids thirty years ago) there are specialty stores catering to just those items. Health Food stores that sell nothing but organic, whole grain, fair trade, non-dairy, gluten free and meatless products now also carry every sort of pill and powdered concoction possible as compensation for deficient diets.

For those not satisfied with those facilities there are stores dedicated solely to the sales of oxidants, minerals, molecules and electrons (at least that’s how it looks) that will tone and buff your cellular makeup. Why bother going to the gym and beautifully sculpting your muscles and the spa to revitalize your appearance, it you don't have the energy to stand up because you haven't bothered to leave time to eat properly?

But that's okay because now you can buy work out regimes for your molecular structure. If you don't eat enough green vegetables there is a program you can follow for a couple of hundred dollars. Anything you're missing can be replaced.

As I mentioned earlier the idea behind a holistic approach to medicine is to treat the whole body and not just the symptoms. When a holistic doctor notices that a patient is deficient in iron for instance, the doctor will recommend the patient take a supplement temporarily until a balance is achieved again. The doctor will also treat the various other ailments that are causing the client's illness and give suggestions for a change in diet that might prevent underlying conditions from recurring, like the iron deficiency for instance, that may have contributed to the problem.

Supplements are not used as replacements for anything that can be readily obtained through eating properly. Some individuals can have temporary deficiencies, or in chronic cases long term ones, where it would be impractical to correct them using diet so the use of a supplement makes sense.

But far too often now these items are being used instead of people eating properly. We don't know enough about the molecular structure and how some of these supplements work on the system to know what sort of long term affects large doses will have. We've already seen the disasters that can happen when people abuse herbal remedies thinking they are harmless because they come from plants.

Ephedra is an asthma medicine that people were taking for weight loss and who knows what else. It is only to be used in very specific conditions; otherwise it can be harmful and potentially fatal. Well too many people found that out about Ephedra by dying of strokes because it was misused and sold under false pretences.

There should be no need for people who are not suffering from some illness or chronic condition to be taking food supplements. But as our foods have become more and more refined and processed the parts that are of value to us in them have been eliminated. For the majority of us supplements can be avoided through the simple expedient of eating a properly balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, grains, fruit, and vegetables.

It's not rocket science, it just takes a little pre planning and exerting a little effort in taking care of yourself. Maybe instead of one of your trips to the gym why not do some meal planning? Instead of paying a couple of hundred dollars on a substitute for green leafy vegetables, buy a head of lettuce and make a small salad with your meal. Think of the money you'll save.

I'm going to report back to my doctor what I've found out about Malick Acid. I know that I don't eat enough fruit; my wife is allergic to the majority of fruit – something about the sugars they produce – so we don't normally have it in the house. So I'm going to try eating an apple a day, or its equivalent in apple sauce, and see if that helps any.

Maybe it will help keep my doctor away!

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