Nutritional deficiencies can not only reduce one’s capacity for optimal health, but also cause disease. For example, a deficiency of Vitamin D can cause osteomalacia, a disease of the bones, whereas Vitamin C deficiency can cause scurvy, a disease predominately of the skin. But vitamins and nutrients affect more than just one part of the body, and even mild deficiencies can cause suboptimal function in multiple areas of the body. Sometimes nutrient deficiencies arise from poor dietary habits, but more often there are other predisposing factors, for example, the use of some medications can cause certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and natural processes like childbirth and menstruation can promote temporary nutritional deficiencies. When situations such as this occur, nutritional supplements and dietary recommendations can be advised to correct such imbalances.
Many traditional cultures used diet as medicine, and in fact it was Hippocrates, a father of modern medicine who said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. Special dietary recommendations are often made for patients with cancer as well as those with heart disease, diabetes, allergies, pain, and other conditions. Dietary protocols alone can also be a part of achieving optimum health when there is not yet disease. As an example, someone with a family history of heart disease, but no current signs of heart disease, may be encouraged to adopt a diet shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. In contrast, with Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, certain foods or spices may be prescribed in order to balance a particular “nature” of the patient, or to support the health of a specific organ as opposed to targeting a particular disease or disease risk factor.
When dietary recommendations are not enough, nutritional supplements can provide additional support. When used to treat medical conditions, nutritional supplements should be used under the guidance of doctors or healthcare providers trained in nutritional medicine. Nutritional supplements may be in the form of single nutrients or combination formulas targeting a particular body function. They can be given as tablets, capsules, powders, or liquids and by oral, sublingual, transdermal or other routes. They may be given just until the deficiency or condition is resolved, or for longer depending on the circumstances that triggered the deficiency.