Although I use dietary supplements in my practice regularly and I have no problem with their use temporarily, I find myself being ambivalent about them overall. I do lean more toward whole food supplements such as Standard Process products and herbs, which have a pronounced ability to support specific body systems, and more importantly a good diet and any appropriate life style changes. I do use supplements as so called "neutriceuticals" when I have direct, clinical evidence that they may help.
Here are the issues with supplements in general:
- Unless you have a clear cut dietary deficiency or metabolic insufficiency of a particular nutrient, taking mega doses of vitamins and minerals rarely do much.
- On the other hand, RDA levels are not enough for most people, especially when stressed, so taking extra vitamins and minerals as a "safe guard" makes sense and clinical research supports that.
- In almost all clinical trials obtaining your vitamins and minerals from your food is better than taking them as supplements.
- When using supplements in high doses with the intent of modifying or supporting specific metabolic pathways (i.e. "neutriceuticals"), dose, absorption ability, interaction with the liver metabolic pathways and actual distribution and final uptake by the cell make all the difference.
- Sometimes simply improving digestion can make a big difference. Research in this area has expanded exponentially in the last decade or so and we are seeing amazing applications of simple dietary supplements for specific health concerns. As I become aware of these applications, I will report them via my blog.
So, I would rather see my clients focus on the quality of the food they eat and improving their digestion ability. Having said that, I do use supplements myself and often recommend them, especially if there appears to be a deficiency or metabolic need based on testing results.
Common deficiencies or insufficiencies* that I see:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- CoQ10 (especially in my older patients)
- Vitamin B12 (and other B vitamins, Folic Acid)
- Iron (as in iron anemia)
Because the body often has multiple routes to take care of our physiological needs, it is possible to achieve the same biological result via another biochemical pathway, so we may not immediately notice a dietary deficiency. Instead the alternate routes are usually less efficient and consequently take more energy to get the same result. Depending on the nature of the pathway involved this may lead to a cascade effect which causes accumulated inefficiencies and energy expenditures--there is a reduced energy and physiologic function in the entire organism. These insufficiencies may be genetic or epigenically, i.e. enviornmental stimuli which affect genetic expression, determined.
Examples of dietary insufficiency include:
- mineral insufficiencies which act as co-factors in many enzymatic reactions
- a tendency to be metabolically challenged by the type of diet we eat
- immune system degradation with increased allergies, sickness or propensity toward auto-immune or hypersensitivity
- increased system inflammation, because of the lack of key nutrients