Preparing the Body for Supplementation


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Although taking supplements is a significant part of nutritional therapy, from a holistic perspective, there’s more to the healing process than “popping pills”. Martin Hum PhD, DHD explains the importance of preparing the body for supplementation and provides a three-step plan for their optimal function

One of the questions that I am asked most frequently as a nutritional therapist is “How can I be sure that I'm getting enough of the right vitamins and minerals?” Certainly, nutritional deficiencies are widespread and it is an important part of a nutritional therapist's job to recognise them and to address them appropriately. Nutritional supplements have a central role in this. But before we rush to the health food shop to stock up with all the latest products, perhaps we should stop and ask ourselves whether our body is actually ready to make use of them.

Many people are dehydrated and have a high level of body toxicity. This prevents the free movement of fluid in the body and so blocks the proper utilisation of vitamins and minerals. The body may be showing the signs and symptoms of nutritional deficiencies, but these can as easily be the result of dehydration and toxicity, as of inadequate intake. Once the body is re-hydrated and detoxified, the remaining symptoms will show a much truer picture of the illness.


It was Hippocrates who said “the natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well”. What factors can prevent that force from operating, so delaying healing? Well, more often than not, when we are ill, our most pressing need is to get toxic products out of the body, rather than to put supplements in.(1)

It takes energy for the body to make use of nutritional supplements. When we are stressed because of illness, that energy is in short supply and would in most cases be better directed towards detoxification. Using too many supplements too soon can lead to stagnation and suppression rather than true healing. The holistic way to use supplements is by returning integrity to the body, so that it can heal itself. This comes through encouraging movement, freedom and elimination -mobilising the lymph, increasing blood circulation and opening up the routes of elimination. The body needs to cleanse before it can absorb. The key to this process is re-hydration.


When explaining this concept, I often use the analogy of a garden after a long summer drought, the earth baked hard and the plants wilting. Would you sprinkle compost straight onto the dry ground, or would you water the garden well first so that the worms can get to work and the nutrients can get into the ground and do their job? Many of us are like that parched garden, unable to blossom to our full potential because of a lack of water. If you drink tea, coffee, cola or alcoholic drinks, their diuretic effect is actually robbing you of more water than they provide. A survey in fifteen American cities has shown that whilst the average intake of water is four and a half cups a day, the same amount of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages is also consumed. The result, according to Dr Barbara Levine, Director of Nutrition at New York’s Cornell Medical Centre, USA, is “a dehydrated nation.”(2)

The situation here in the UK is likely to be no better. And one of the insidious effects of low-level dehydration is that it causes the thirst signal in your brain to “switch off”, so you don’t feel thirsty. Anyone not drinking two litres of pure water a day is likely to be suffering from some level of dehydration. Chocolate and sugary foods, salty snacks, highly processed foods, artificial additives and tobacco smoke (first or second hand), air conditioning, air travel, computer screens and watching television all dehydrate the body further.

What are the physiological effects of dehydration? Well, we are designed to survive temporary water shortages by conserving and rationing the water available. We reduce urine and sweat production and extract more water from the contents of the colon (this is a common cause of constipation). But by limiting the amount of water we lose, we become less able to eliminate poisonous waste products, resulting in headaches, lethargy and bad breath. And if the kidneys, skin and colon are not eliminating these wastes properly, more strain is put onto the liver to detoxify them.


One response that the body makes to the signals of dehydration is to increase the production of cholesterol. This is incorporated into the membranes surrounding the cells, which as a result become less permeable to water.(3) This is a short-term move to protect the fluid inside the cells and is an example of the body doing its best to maintain its integrity in any given situation. However, in the long term, nutrients are unable to enter the cells and toxins cannot escape. If the body's natural response to dehydration is not switched off, stagnation and toxic overload will go on increasing. This can lead to serious problems.

A further consequence of dehydration is that water is rationed and reserved for the most essential functions (e.g. the brain, heart and other vital organs), at the expense of less urgent needs. One of the first functions to suffer is the removal of cellular wastes via the lymphatic system. Lymph is very similar to blood plasma and provides the interstitial fluid that bathes every cell of the body. It receives the waste products from the cells and transports them through a system of thin-walled lymphatic vessels to the main blood circulation. At intervals along the lymphatic vessels are lymph nodes, which are a part of the immune system and destroy pathogenic organisms and cancerous cells. Dehydration leads to a reduction in the volume of lymph, so that the system becomes sluggish and stagnant. It can even become completely blocked by sticky mucus.

Drinking plenty of pure water and avoiding the factors mentioned above that cause dehydration, one can start to redress the balance. But the body also needs to get the message on a physiological level and for that to happen it needs mucilaginous foods that hold water in the colon (e.g. brown rice, linseeds, psyllium husk) and essential fatty acids and lecithin to replace the cholesterol in the cell membranes. Once the body is no longer receiving the physiological signals of dehydration, it stops producing cholesterol.


There are three steps that will make the nutritional treatment of virtually any disease condition more effective:

Step 1

Increase water while reducing challenges to the body. Gradually increase water intake to at least two litres of pure, uncarbonated water a day. Some foods are dealt with easily by the body and some present more of a challenge. Whilst we can handle most foods well if we are healthy, in illness the least challenging foods should predominate in the diet. High water content foods should also be chosen over drier foods.

Rice and millet should be chosen over wheat and rye.
For proteins, seeds and pulses are less challenging than animal foods, although some fish may also be eaten.
Dairy products, sugar, salt and stimulants should be avoided entirely.
Fresh fruit and plenty of vegetables should be eaten twice a day, preferably locally grown, in season.
Reducing the challenge of foods in this way and providing ample water allows the body to start to detoxify.

Step 2

Supplements to restore body integrity. As mentioned earlier, some supplements can help the body to make use of the increased water intake and to re-hydrate itself. Re-hydration doesn't occur immediately as a result of drinking more water. Most of the water will pass straight through initially, just as water poured onto sun-baked earth will run off the surface without soaking in. It can take weeks or months for a severely dehydrated body to return to a healthy state, with the detoxification and elimination processes working properly.

Linseeds, soaked in water until gelatinous, provide a combination of water, soluble fibre and essential fatty acids that give a positive hydration message to the colon.
Lecithin works as an emulsifier between essential fatty acids and water and helps to restore the permeability of cell membranes.
Essential fatty acids are needed to replace some of the cholesterol in the cell membranes and maintain the correct level of permeability, so that cells function optimally.(4) A combination of Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 fatty acids is needed.
Aloe vera juice also seems to encourage the distribution of water in the body and to re-moisturise the skin and mucous membranes.
By the time steps 1 and 2 have been completed, the body will have re-hydrated sufficiently and have enough spare energy to detoxify. It may well be presenting a different symptom picture from that evident before treatment started.

Step 3

Supplements to treat the underlying condition. Once the symptoms linked to dehydration and toxic overload have disappeared or diminished, there may or may not be an underlying disease condition to be dealt with. In some cases, all that may be required is to continue with the above diet and supplements to achieve a full resolution of the problem. Other people will need further specific nutrients or herbal supplements to correct imbalances and encourage the body's own healing response. It is important to remember that most supplements will need to replace other substances in the body in order to be effective. For instance, magnesium taken as a supplement is likely to replace sodium and calcium in chemical combinations. The displaced materials must be removed from the body efficiently, so that they do not cause further problems.

Whilst we can handle most foods well if we are healthy, in illness the least challenging foods should predominate in the diet. High water content foods should also be chosen over drier foods.


It was stated earlier that the most pressing need in most illness situations is to get toxins out of the body. It is important to ensure that this process, which is started by re-hydrating the body, continues throughout the treatment. Once toxic materials have been allowed to escape from the cells, by increasing the permeability of the cell membranes, and have been transported via the lymphatic system to the bloodstream, they still need to be rendered harmless and removed from the body. The liver is the prime organ of detoxification, where harmful substances are broken down to less damaging forms. Steps 1 and 2 will not only increase movement of fluids in the body, but will also greatly enhance liver and colon functions. However, when faced with a flood of toxins that may have been held in the tissues and stagnant lymphatics for months, the liver can easily become overloaded. It may need extra support from a supplement of SAMe or phosphatidyl choline or from herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion or artichoke.

It is vital to ensure proper bowel function and to avoid constipation. The diet and supplements given in Steps 1 and 2 should achieve this, but in some cases enemas or colonic irrigation may be needed to hydrate the colon directly and to clean out impacted deposits. In addition to ensuring sufficient water intake, the function of the lymphatic system can be improved by techniques such as skin brushing and hot/cold showers. Skin brushing should be done with a dry, natural bristle brush, working towards the heart from the feet, arms and head. It should be followed by a shower, to remove dead cells. As well as stimulating the lymphatic system, skin brushing improves the elimination of toxins directly through the skin (the body's largest organ of elimination). Alternate hot and cold showering, after the body has been washed, gets the lymph moving and improves cellular elimination. Use each temperature for a few seconds at a time and finish off with cold.




Wren B, How to Prepare your Body for Supplementation (Unpublished manuscript).
Harris P, Hydration: A New Paradigm, National Institute of Energy Medicine, 1998.
Watterson J, The Role of Water in Cell Architecture, Mol. Cell. Biochem 1988;79:101-105.
Erasmus U, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Alive Books, 1993.


Batmanghelidj F, Your Body's Many Cries for Water, Global Health Solutions Inc., 1995.
Jensen B, Tissue Cleansing through Bowel Management, Bernard Jensen Enterprises, 1981.
Lazarides L, Nutritional Therapy, Thorsons, 1996.

Martin Hum is a registered nutritional therapist who regularly writes for nutritional magazines and is a member of the Optimum Nutrition Advisory Board.




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