The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Listen up sick students: there’s nothing fishy about the preventative power of vitamins and Omega-3

By in Culture
Prairie residents tend to lack Omega-3 fatty acids and, especially during the winter months, vitamin D. Taking vitamins and supplements can help.
Prairie residents tend to lack Omega-3 fatty acids and, especially during the winter months, vitamin D. Taking vitamins and supplements can help.

Those who believe in the preventative powers of vitamins and health supplements might just be on to something.

While catching a winter cold or two every year may be the status quo, mineral deficiencies can leave one needlessly vulnerable during the snowy months. Taking your Flintstones isn’t the only way to repel the flu, though; there are several ways to get your required daily intake of nutrients outside of the medicine aisle.

Here are a few tips and tricks from a naturopathic doctor on how to stay healthy for the rest of the winter.

Vitamin D: How does it work?

According to Jacqui Fleury, naturopathic doctor at True Potential Health services in Saskatoon, essential vitamins work by augmenting dietary and environmental deficiencies. Of these, vitamin D deficiencies are most commonly prevalent among Canadians, especially during the winter months when the days are shorter and sun exposure is limited.

“If we’re not exposing our bodies to sun every day, then we’re not going to be producing vitamin D,” Fleury said.

She said that vitamin D can be purchased over-the-counter or obtained through light therapy, an exercise in which specialized lamps are used to expose the body to light similar to sunlight.

“Light therapy can generate vitamin D while treating skin conditions such as psoriasis.”

Vitamin D deficiencies vary from person to person and Fleury recommends taking blood tests in order to receive treatment tailored to one’s nutritional requirements.

There’s something fishy…

According to Fleury, our prairie lifestyles aren’t just lacking in sunshine. Landlocked Canadians may suffer from a lack of Omega-3 fatty acids in our diets because we do not consume enough fish.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an “anti-inflammatory” and can be useful in treating conditions such as eczema. They also help digestion and are helpful in the maintenance of cardiovascular and brain health.

Multivitamins are generally safe and a healthy choice, and you’re less likely to have a reaction to one than to a pharmaceutical, but they’re not a surefire way to prevent the flu. A balanced diet rich in good fats and exercise should be the primary focus of a preventative health plan.

“Omega-3 fatty acids are something we have to work pretty hard at getting here, as we don’t have a lot of fish on the prairie,” Fleury said.

If you’re looking for a homegrown solution, Fleury recommends flaxseed, though supplements also help.

And no, you can’t get Omega-3s from just any fatty food, so put down the french fries already. Please.

“Looking at the ratio of good fats to bad fats, so to speak. If you’re consuming larger amounts of artificial or trans fats, you’re not getting enough good or healthy fats,” Fleury said.

Tragically delicious, these bad fats work opposite to Omega-3s, causing inflammation throughout the body. In order to avoid these trigger-foods, Fleury suggests following a straightforward rule when it comes to diet: if you can’t pick it, dig it or hunt it, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.

That rule “takes us back to our whole foods roots, when we ate good-quality protein. It’s a basic hunter-gatherer philosophy,” Fleury said. “If you can’t pronounce a word on a package, think twice about what you are putting in your body.”

“You get what you pay for”

Sadly for university students on a budget, not all vitamins are created equal. According to Fleury, the pills that are tougher to absorb are usually cheaper to manufacture, so investing in high-quality (read: expensive) vitamins can pay off health-wise.

“Some brands are better than others,” she said, adding that some companies save money producing vitamins by including “filler” and minerals that are hard for the body to absorb.

“One way of supporting your immune system is through vitamins, but if you’re catching many colds or flus, look at the bigger picture. Eating Tim Hortons or McDonald’s five days a week will suppress the immune system.” Coincidentally, you can’t grow, pick or hunt Egg McMuffins.

“We as a society over-consume sugar and carbohydrates, and that can come in many different forms,” Fleury said.

When coupled with the absence of UV rays in the winter, this sugary, carbohydrate-laden, nutrient-low diet inadvertently makes it too easy to contract the flu bug.

So what’s the easiest way to stay healthy?

Multivitamins are generally safe and a healthy choice, and you’re less likely to have a reaction to one than to a pharmaceutical, but they’re not a surefire way to prevent the flu. A balanced diet rich in good fats and exercise should be the primary focus of a preventative health plan.


Photo: Happy Sleepy/Flickr

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