Supplements – Snake Oil or Science
What are supplements anyway?
Supplements contain, among other things, vitamins. Vitamins consist of a group of thirteen organic compounds. Vitamins are very important because they ensure normal growth and development. They play a significant part in our overall health acting as hormone messengers, regulating tissue growth and cell differentiation, and serving as antioxidants. They are responsible for the function of many of our critical chemical reactions. We can’t make them in any sufficient quantity ourselves. Many of us do not eat foods that contain enough of them, or we eat foods that are lacking them altogether.
Why We doubt the Need for Supplements
There are those, however, who believe that vitamins and supplements are not necessary. They feel if you eat a “healthy and wholesome diet”, you’re getting all you need. Some go way out on a limb and claim they are harmful to us…that they create disease and can cause death.
Every now and then you see a ‘scientific study’ released warning the consumer about the dangerous effects of various supplements. Many of these reports ignored why patients started taking the supplements in the first place. Some included patients who were in poor health and start taking supplements but already had an increased risk of illness and death from all causes, regardless of whether or not they took supplements. Many of the studies looked at a very specific, skewed population making it impossible to render valid conclusions for the population as a whole. Frequently the quality, quantity or form of the vitamins used in the studies was not standard or what is used in real life practice.
We all can agree that unsupervised and uninformed use of vitamins can carry some risk. However, it is clear from years of quality research that the benefits of supplements far outweigh the risks. At a time when thousands lose their lives every day from taking “properly” prescribed medications from their doctor, we feel supplements are relatively safe.
Supplement for Disease vs Supplements for Optimal Health
In medical school, we learned that recommended levels of nutrients were the minimum levels needed to prevent diseases such as scurvy, rickets, beriberi or pellagra. Most of these guidelines were established in the 1940s when our food and soil were very different. They were also established with disease prevention in mind and have little to do with optimum health. For optimum health, mere adherence to the traditional ‘recommended daily allowance’ (RDA) is grossly inadequate. The sad truth is that many of us have one or more nutrient deficiencies, despite consuming ‘sufficient’ amounts recommended by these obsolete guidelines.
Individual Supplement Needs Vary
The nutrients our bodies need varies for each individual. It is truly impossible for the RDA’s estimate to meet the needs of every individual. Supplements, therefore, are needed to replenish specific nutritional deficiencies. Some may need more than others.
Your unique needs, specific activities, environmental exposure, specific stressful or emotional times in life, and health conditions may result in higher needs for certain nutrients. For example, protein and carb needs are greater for athletic competition; folic acid needs tend to be higher during pregnancy, while menopausal women may be vulnerable to calcium deficiencies.
A body suffering from inflammation, which occurs in cases of all chronic pain or disease, requires more of many nutrients than a healthy body. Your activities, age, sex and health conditions are unique to you, so your needs are not the same and will vary over time.
Why We Need Supplements
We evolved from eating wild foods containing dramatically higher levels of all vitamins, minerals, and essential fats. Because of depleted soils and industrial farming and crop hybridization, the animals and vegetables we eat have fewer nutrients. Processed factory-made foods, which are convenient and tasty, have almost no nutrients. The modern burden of environmental toxins and lifestyle factors such as lack of sunlight and chronic stress lead to higher nutrient needs
The US Department of Health and Human Services has shown that the typical American diet does not always provide a sufficient level of vitamins and minerals. In todays culture, most of us eat processed, easy-to-grab foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition. We tend to eat based on what we prefer, and our preference is often based on flavor and convenience rather than nutrient richness. Subsequently, we all have deficiencies, and therefore, potential illness. We eat low-nutrient, high-calorie foods that are highly processed, hybridized, genetically altered, shipped long distances, and grown in nutrient depleted soil.
As a matter of fact, large-scale nutritional deficiencies in our population, including omega-3 fats, vitamin D, folate, zinc, magnesium, and iron, have been well-documented in government-sponsored research projects. Supplements are not a replacement for food, but they can give the less-than-stellar diet that extra edge. And they work.
A Closer Look At Why Everyone Needs Supplements to Stay Healthy
We live in a soup of toxins – and they are inescapable. The US Environmental Protection Agency published in 2002 that more than 7.1 billion pounds of 650 different chemicals had been released into the air or water. Researchers found that the blood of the subjects contained nearly 100 chemicals that did not exist 40 years ago.
At time of birth, babies born in the U.S. have an average of 200 foreign chemicals in their bodies.
Toxic exposure happens throughout your day (sunscreen, fragrances, cosmetics, hair color, smog, cleaning products, outgassing from new carpets, paints, plastics, and construction materials, pesticides, etc.) and requires specific nutrients to process.They are used to help the liver detoxify, and then to combine with the toxins to help eliminate from the system.
Farming Practices Affecting Our Food
In the post-World War II era, commercial farmers began replacing standard mulch and manure fertilizers with nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) fertilizer. Over time, the NPK fertilizer yielded crops that were deficient in many essential micronutrients. Studies reveal that the nutritional values in food have declined significantly over the past 75 years. Since 1950, levels of calcium, riboflavin, vitamin C, iron, potassium, and protein in vegetables and fruits have significantly declined.
Hybrid crops yield more food per acre. At least ten times as much rice or wheat are grown on the same land as was grown there 100 years ago, but the land is not stocked with ten times the minerals, vitamins and other nutrients. As a result, today’s wheat contains about 6% protein whereas 100 years ago it contained 12-14%. Trace mineral levels are similarly much lower due to high-yield farming methods.
Chemical Pesticides and Herbicides
These make food toxic and damage soil microorganisms. Soil microorganisms are needed to make minerals and other nutrients available to plants. So the plant becomes deficient. Also, our bodies require extra nutrients to process pesticide residues that remain inside the foods. Some of these agents contain lead, arsenic and other toxic metals that slowly accumulate in the body.
Long Distance Transportation of Food Diminishes Nutritional Content
As soon as a food is harvested, the levels of certain nutrients begin to diminish. Today, many foods are grown thousands of miles from population centers. They are shipped long distances and are stored for long periods of time,causing depletion of important B-complex and C vitamins.
Nutritional Depletion in Food Preparation
Food processing often drastically reduces the nutrient content of common foods such as wheat flour, rice, dairy products and others. For example, the refining of wheat to make white flour removes 80% of its magnesium, 70-80% of its zinc, 87% of its chromium, 88% of its manganese and 50% of its cobalt.
Similarly, refining sugar cane to make white sugar removes 99% of its magnesium and 93% of its chromium. Polishing (refining) rice removes 75% of its zinc and chromium.
Pasteurization and homogenization of dairy products drastically reduces the bioavailability of calcium, phosphorus and some proteins in milk and other dairy products.
Thousands of artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, stabilizers, flavor enhancers like MSG, emulsifiers, hardeners, softeners, chemical preservatives and other chemicals are added to most people’s food today. Many are toxic and many diminish the nutritional content of the food.
If our digestive systems functioned optimally, we wouldn’t need as many high-quality nutrients in supplement form – but that is not the case. It is estimated that one half of the US population produces insufficient stomach acid, which diminishes the ability to absorb nutrients from food and can increase inflammation, stomach bacteria and numerous other health issues such as bloating, stomach pain and even depression.
Almost everyone’s digestion is very weak today. This is due to eating poor quality food, hybridized varieties of foods like wheat, and having to digest and handle so many refined foods and chemicals in the foods. It is also due to low vitality, low digestive enzyme secretion, and imbalanced intestinal flora and intestinal infections like yeast that are extremely common.
As a result, most people do not absorb nutrients well at all. This further impairs nutrient levels in the body, and increases nutritional needs.
Our overwhelmingly busy lifestyles impair digestion and use up more nutrients. These may include calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, manganese and many others. Zinc begins to be eliminated from the body within minutes of a stress. .
Pharmaceuticals and Over-the-Counter Drugs
Drugs like Ibuprofen and antacids knock our acid & base balance out of whack. This reduces the breakdown of food and decreases absorption of nutrients. They can also break down our intestinal lining leading to malabsorption and food sensitivities. Antibiotics knock out “good” bacteria essential for digestion. When digestion is compromised, fewer nutrients are utilized.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the question is not how much of a certain nutrient or vitamin you need to avoid illness, but how much you need to be optimally healthy! The current vitamin recommendations are not accurate. They are based on disease prevention rather than optimal health. They can no longer be said to be biologically relevant!
In today’s world everyone needs a basic multivitamin and mineral supplement. The research is overwhelming on this point. Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies have been observed in thousands of patients.
I have found that by correcting these deficiencies, people feel better, mood is improved, mental sharpness is better, along with memory and ability to focus. Patients treated for deficiencies have more energy, resolve chronic health complaints or conditions, and even lose weight. Taking supplements also helps prevent disease.
The basic vitamin recommendations outlined below include nutrients that form the backbone for proper optimal biological function, robust health, and healthy aging. These nutrients work as a team. The basic workhorse team outlined below should be taken by everyone.
Supplements You Should Take Every Day
This is really the Bottom Line!! Here are the supplements I recommend for everyone, everyday:
- A high-quality multivitamin
- Calcium-magnesium with at least 600 mg of calcium and 400 mg of magnesium. The calcium should be calcium citrate or chelated versions of minerals. Do not use calcium carbonate or magnesium oxide, which are cheap minerals that are poorly absorbed.
- Vitamin D3, 5000 IU a day (people who are deficient in vitamin D will need more).
- Omega-3 fatty acids that contain the fats EPA and DHA, 1,000 to 2,000 mg a day.
- CoQ10 100 mg a day – feeds your mitochondria (your cells energy factories)
- Resveratrol – a strong anti-oxidant to help reverse the ‘rusting’ of your body due to aging effects of everyday metabolism.
- A high quality probiotic – this will keep the bugs in your gut ‘friendly’
The cost is low, the benefit is high, and the risk is non-existent for these nutritional supplements. Not only will you feel better, have better immune function, and improve your energy and brain function, but you will also prevent many problems down the road. So, eat a healthy diet — and take your nutritional supplements every day. It is essential for lifelong vibrant health.
Be a Savvy Supplement Shopper
The most expensive supplement on the market is the one that doesn’t work!! Supplements are a multi-billion dollar unregulated industry. The wide display of choices in drug stores, food stores, online, and even in doctors’ offices can make your head spin! It is more important now than ever to be aware of what you are and are not getting.
Be sure to pick quality supplements and ones that contain nutrients and compounds research has shown to be effective and safe. Think of them as part of your diet. You want the best quality food and the best quality supplements you can buy.
Because I use supplements in my practice as a cornerstone of healing and repair I have investigated supplement makers, toured their factories, studied independent analysis of their finished products and experimented with them personally.
I have learned there are few companies I can rely on. I want my patients to heal and get their life back so I need to be very cautious when evaluating what I recommend. This is how I judge quality supplements:
- The form of the nutrient is high-quality, well-absorbed, or used by the body.
- The dosage on the label matches the dose in the pill.
- They contain absolutely zero additives, colors, fillers, and allergens.
- The raw materials (especially herbs) have been tested for toxins like mercury or lead, and are consistently pure from batch to batch.
- The factory in which they are produced follows good manufacturing standards, so products are uniformly consistent in quality. I want to be sure I know I’m getting the same thing every time.
My favorite supplements:
Coenzyme Q10 – CoQ10is an essential component of healthy mitochondrial function. It is incorporated into cells’ mitochondria throughout the body where it facilitates and regulates the oxidation of fats and sugars into energy. Aging humans have been found to have over 50% less CoQ10 on average compared to that of young adults. This finding makes CoQ10 one of the most important nutrients for people over 30 to supplement with. About 95% of cellular energy is produced in the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the cells “energy powerhouses” and many maladies have been referred to as “mitochondrial disorders”. A growing body of scientific research links a deficiency of CoQ10 to age-related mitochondrial disorders.
This is a wonderful product for energy enhancement in anyone over 50 to 60 years of age. It is also excellent for cardiac patients, in particular, and may have other uses as well. Definitely take it if you insist on taking a “statin” drug because this class of drugs depletes Coenzyme q-10, which is very dangerous. I never recommend these drugs, by the way.Natural alternatives are far better and just as effective in most cases (such as red rice yeast or chromium or more fiber).
(Dosage: about 100 mg daily or a little more)
Fish Oil can reduce deaths from heart disease.Studies on omega-3 fatty acids are so impressive that an agency of the National Institutes of Health published a report stating this fact. The FDA itself states supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may actually reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
There are several mechanisms attributed to fish oil’s beneficial effects. The latest government report cites the triglyceride-lowering effects of fish oil on reducing heart and blood vessel disorders. Another beneficial mechanism of fish oil is to protect healthy blood flow in arteries.In addition, it is good for skin and hair, heart, cholesterol, neurologic states such as depression, ADD, ADHD and most other neurological disorders.
Magnesium is needed by most people due to dietary deficiencies. We give it with calcium to everyone. Extra magnesium may be used, at times, based on a high calcium/magnesium ratio, faster oxidation rate, or to help with difficult cases of constipation, and perhaps for leg cramps and some cardiovascular conditions. Endomet Labs sells several magnesium products such as Paramin, Magnesium Chelate, Spartan MK (aspartate) and ATP-Xtra (with malic acid). Epsom salts are a form of magnesium.
Magnesium is fairly safe in tablet form. One client had a stroke after using magnesium oil on the skin for several months. The dosage orally is 250 – 1000 mg daily. Too much by mouth will cause diarrhea.
Probiotics are friendly bacteria have a positive influence on the immune system (60% of our immune system resides within the gut), digestive system, vitamin production, detoxification. Destroyers of good bacteria are antibiotics, chlorinated water, antacids, high sugar diets, and diets high in refined and processed foods.
Multivitamins are important for everyone to take.Soil is depleted of nutrients with industrial food processing, and food processing destroys vitamins A,B,D,E and many minerals. 74% of Americans do not eat the recommended eight servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamin D deficiency is now epidemic in the United States. At risk groups for vitamin D deficiency are dark skinned individuals, hospitalized patients, obesity, and the elderly. Vitamin D tunes of the immune system helping with cancer surveillance and also have been shown to hinder cancer growth.
Calcium and Magnesium are minerals that are both good for bones, hair, nails, heart, thyroid, and leg cramps.
Antioxidants play an important role in destruction of free radicals. They also reduce oxidative stress in the body and slow the aging process.