Let’s say we have a health niggle, a fairly common one like poor sleep. It usually doesn’t warrant a visit to the doctor, but it needs a solution all the same – ideally, not a sedative. So we look at the alternative health space for a supplement that could help.
A bit of research tells us that broadly, there are two types of supplements that could help with sleep: nutritional ones like magnesium and melatonin (the sleep hormone) and balancing ones like valerian root and passion flower.
We could choose nutritional supplements like magnesium and melatonin. But we also know that isolated synthetic nutrients have several drawbacks. Isn’t whole foods rich in these two nutrients a better option, especially when both are found in meal regulars like broccoli and nuts and seeds? Following a good sleep routine alongside this enriched diet may be all we need to get our z’s back.
For better results, we could then choose balancing supplements like valerian and passion flower to complement the effect of the improved diet and lifestyle.
Now comes the big question: which of these is right for us? (No, both is not the right answer!)
Let’s take a step back.
Before we try to know what is right for us, we need to know ourselves right. What exactly is our sleep problem? How do we normally sleep? Basically, we need to identify our metabolic personality, which decides how we function on our best days and on our worst days.
- Are we unable to get to sleep because, being the busy bee that we are, we are making lists and chalking out plans even in bed? Then passion flower is the thing.
- Or do we have a streak of restlessness that makes us wake up in the wee hours and worry about random stuff? Then valerian root is the answer.
- But suppose we do neither. Suppose we are unable to fall asleep as our body is not tired enough, probably because we engage in very little physical activity during the day. Neither valerian nor passion flower would help as much as a warm spice called nutmeg would. It doesn’t just usher in sleep, it also revs up the sluggish metabolism, which here is the root cause of the sleep problem.
Or let’s take digestion. We aren’t digesting as well as before and we’d like the common digestive herbs and spices – like cinnamon, carom, coriander, or fennel – to step up to the challenge. Just like us, these have different personalities. Cinnamon and carom are warming, coriander and fennel cooling. So if our digestion needs a poke, it must come from the first two. If our digestion is already fiery, it needs the latter two.
The writing on the wall is clear. What we really need depends entirely on who we are as a person. So anything that means to give us just what we need must be personalized for us.
Personalization is essential because each of us has a different metabolism and, hence, different needs.
Despite sharing 99.9% of our genes with everyone else and having the same cells as the basic units of our life, we all function differently. Our genes don’t work in a vacuum. They are constantly talking with our environment (which includes what we eat, what we do, how we work, and where we live). The genes and the environment keep influencing each other. The upshot is that the same cells interact with each other in slightly different ways, making our metabolism different.
We don’t even break down the same food into the same amount of glucose. Not even identical twins. Nor do identical twins have the same population of microbes in their body (which are acquired at birth or during different environmental experiences).
We are all similar, not the same.
So anything that is not cut exactly to our size, whether food or supplements, could only give us limited benefits, if at all.
We have been personalizing our foods, clothes, and even our social media feeds, but not our supplements
With food, however, we personalize intuitively according to what our body likes or doesn’t like – someone who heats up quickly generally likes a cucumber salad, while someone who digests slowly is usually loath to have a generous serving of lasagna for dinner.
Even when we eat according to weather or activity – like hot soup spiced with paprika or peppercorn on a chilly day or a cool glass of watermelon juice after an intense workout – we personalize heeding our body’s likes and dislikes. For instance, someone who heats up easily would relish the hot soup on a cold day but likely skip the paprika which could cause heartburn.
We’ve been personalizing our gadgets, clothes and cosmetics, our TV subscriptions, and our social media feeds more consciously.
With nutritional supplements, however, we have always been choosing one-size-fits-all pills. Not our fault entirely. Mass-produced supplements cannot offer each of us the exact and unique amounts of nutrients we need. There’s a risk of overdose.
It’s another matter that we don’t need the many vitamin, mineral, or antioxidant pills that we pop in, since most of us are not deficient. More often than not, they are not the right type of supplements for us anyway.
The right kind of supplement is natural, whole, balancing, and personalized
Because our body understands whole better than isolated, the right supplements are those made with natural, organic, whole herbs and spices that complement our diet and lifestyle. Just like food, by either providing supporting nutrients or making the body use its resources more efficiently, they balance our functions.
Unfortunately, we don’t get it right even when picking up the right supplements.
Natural is good, but not universally so.
Let’s learn to ask the right questions.
Does it address our need?
The answer to this is like coming up with passion flower and valerian as fixes for our sleep problem. But we cannot stop at choosing just about anything that matches our symptoms. It’s a superficial fix. If we’re lucky, it clicks. But it could also miss the mark entirely.
For instance, nutmeg improves sleep. But could this metabolism-boosting herb help someone who owes poor sleep to an already overactive metabolism? On the contrary, it could spark trouble in other areas like digestion or mood.
Should we leave our health to the vagaries of chance?
No, let’s ask another question.
Does it take us seriously?
Let’s check whether the supplement is personalized for our body. That is, does it also look for the roots of our symptoms in our unique body type, tendencies, activities, diet, and lifestyle – in short, everything that influences our metabolism?
Yes says we are on the right track. But there’s one more thing.
Is it a team player?
Our body functions – everything from digestion to mood and sleep to immunity – depend on each other, like a team of trapeze artists. An imbalance in one area quickly unbalances the others. The right supplement has a combination of herbs and spices to support all functional areas simultaneously – like the stage-managing team members who ensure the balance and safety of the trapeze team.
Of course, if DIY is more our thing, we could make our own supplements. We could gain thorough knowledge about our metabolism. We could round up herbs and spices that help. Then we could sieve out the ideal combination in the right amounts through trial and error. But that’s rigorous, time consuming, and far from foolproof, not to say risky. We could miss something altogether (yes, one more reference to the nutmeg!) or we could have too much of another.
The safest option is to find a one-size-fits-one supplement, made using our unique metabolic personality as the basis.
If it knows us personally, it’s going to treat us right.