Do Nutritional Supplements Work? by Sally Wallace Lynch, Functional Nutritionist
Do nutritional supplements actually work?
Every morning I shake out capsules from about 7 different bottles of supplements and swallow a handful of pills with a giant glass of water. This routine stopped a few months ago when I decided to go on what I call a “supplements fast”. I thought my body could use a reset since I’d been taking supplements for about 3 years consistently. Plus, I wasn’t sure these pills were worth all the expense and trouble every morning! NYT had just run an article, Studies Show Little Benefit In Supplements, claiming supplements were a big waste of money, and could actually be harmful. My health has been pretty good, something I definitely take for granted. So I went cold turkey off the extra nutrients.
Within a couple of months into my “fasting period,” I started noticing pain in my right thumb and both knees. I felt a little tired, and more easily overwhelmed by life’s stressors. I didn’t attribute any of this to my “supplements fast” and called my doctor for blood work. Sure enough, my vitamin D was super low, but she said everything else looked fine. “You need to supplement with Vitamin D,” she said.
In that moment, I made the connection. Wait. I stopped taking all of my supplements.
Maybe that’s it.
Definitely, the low Vitamin D made sense, but what about the joint pain?
So, the next day, I woke up and restarted my regimen. Of course, as you would expect, after a few days of load-dosing my fish oil and curcumin, my joint pain disappeared. My Vitamin D climbed back up to 42, my A1C dropped to 5.1 and my mood remarkably improved. For the record, I take a multivitamin that helps with blood sugar (horrific family history of diabetes, plus my genetic testing basically says I will get Type II eventually), fish oil, probiotics, SamE, DIM (hormonal needs), curcumin and adrenal support. This ranks me as a supplements junkie, I know, but my aging body chemistry sings with flow and rhythm when I’m adding this nutritional support to my everyday.
Even after this illumined connection, I’m not sure I’d recommend everyone just start popping pills based on symptoms. First of all, that’s how the allopathic medical model has worked for years, and it’s not helpful to our overall health if we’re only “treating symptoms”. We need to understand the root causes of our symptoms. I know my joint pain is arthritis. A combination of overuse and a genetic proclivity to autoimmune arthritis, my joints are a little creaky. “Oil up the tin man,” I say. 🙂 I also can tell when my diet consists of high sugar and junk we nutritionists call “inflammatory foods” because I’ll start to feel it in my right knee.
With a lot of experience, I’ve come to know my body, my genetics, and how prone I am to certain nutrient deficiencies (I’ve got all the genes that make producing Vitamin D almost impossible without supplementation). So, before embarking on your own supplement regimen, here are a few things to consider:
- Know your individual biochemistry. Our bodies are like our fingerprints, single and unique, no two the same. Go see a functional medicine doctor, a naturopath or a nutritionist who understands personalized medicine, and who can cater a plan designed to complement your body’s needs. Just because your friend feels better taking a methylated folate product from her doctor, doesn’t mean you’d benefit at all. In fact, it could harm you. Get a nutritional roadmap from a seasoned expert.
- Medical Interactions. Some meds deplete nutrients such as statin drugs cutting off our production of CoQ10. Other meds create hypersensitivities to vitamins and minerals. Nutrition is powerful. Your doctor or a pharmacist should be able to help you navigate the contraindications with your medications.
- Sleuth out the labels. All magnesiums are not created equally. There are dozens of forms including oxide, glycinate, malate, citrate — just to name a few. Supplements are a business, and some companies choose maxing profit over patient health. They use cheaper forms of nutrients to get a bigger profit. I can always tell a company that uses cheap vitamins by looking at their multivitamin. Beware of things like folic acid (cheap form of folate that can harm some people) or cyanocobalamin (cheap form of vitamin B12). Sleuth your labels for these red flags.
- Beware the 3 sham categories! Weight loss, sexual health and athletic performance are the 3 areas where the FDA has found the most deceit in product integrity. Protein powders filled with cheap amino acids, increasing the protein grams but with amino acids that won’t do you a damn bit of good; libido enhancement that’s just Viagra; and all kinds of empty ingredients in weight loss products. Look beyond the marketing! I know that’s difficult because the promises are so enticing, but be strong. In many cases, you may as well just flush your dollars down the toilet.
- Start slowly. A good practitioner won’t load you down with 10 bottles. Not everything is a nutrient deficiency. A diet plan is the first-line strategy, which might help fill those cracks in the body’s cement. After that, supplements can be implemented because most of the time, food alone just can’t do the job. Be sure your food plan considers food sensitivities, which can be the source of many problems.
- Seek nutrition from nature. Our biochemical wheels turn because of thousands of actions and reactions that need vitamins and minerals. Some, of course, we need to ingest as food or supplements. Others we can get by digging our bare feet into ocean water and letting the sun soak our skin. Walking in nature revitalizes our cells, and sends a calm to all systems. Also, we all know the Vitamin D story, but this paper in Interdisciplinary Toxicology highlights the importance of a process called “sulfation”. The standard American diet (SAD) can leave us nutrient-deprived, and nature is the antidote.
- Educate yourself. Science reveals new studies every day — so much information that not one doctor can know it all. Trust your practitioner, but educate yourself as well, so you work as a team. “You need iron,” a doctor might say. Ask why. Consider why you’re not absorbing iron versus just taking it because your numbers are low. Today’s medicine is a doctor-patient partnership. Keep the conversation open and fluid to maximize your health.
- “Know your source” is no joke. Choose a professionally graded line of supplements which emphasizes the importance on chelated minerals and one that can provide batch-testing information. Call the company. If they cannot provide documentation showing the ingredients have been tested for quality and potency, walk away.
Do supplements actually work?
Sally Wallace Lynch is the mom of three daughters and is a believer in inspiring women to “do Life in a vulnerable and empowering way.” She is a professional dietician and certified nutritionist. Over the years, her work experience has ranged from functional nutritionist, weight loss counselor, research nutritionist, and wellness manager. She can be found photographing nature and her kids, trying new gluten free recipes, or writing at her blog Almonds and Elephants.
I couldn’t agree more with Sally’s practical advice on what to consider before starting a supplemental regimen. I have been taking supplements for years. In the picture above, CBioFizz by Designs For Health is my go to source for getting my Vitamin C. Designs For Health only uses chelated minerals with provides for maximum absorption and bioavailability. For me, supplements are a nutritional complement to a lifestyle of healthy eating and exercising. You can learn more about the supplements I take by clicking mindfulhealth.ehealthpro.com. As always, please consult your own health care practitioner before adding something new.
For some other resources on nutritional supplements you can read, Why We Need To Supplement Minerals by Helen Sanders, chief editor of Health Ambition.