Hi, friends! Happy Monday! I know today is usually “new recipe” day, but I’m switching things up on ya I like to keep it fresh, ya know? I used to tell the community college classes I teach that I am “pro-supplement” until it was brought to my attention that my message was being misinterpreted. I do not think supplements should be your first, second, or even third line of defense, but I do believe they have their place.
If you’d rather listen to me talk then read this long post about supplements, I filmed myself talking about it so you can watch that instead! Whatever works for you!
Dietary supplements come in a variety of forms: traditional tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as drinks and energy bars. Types of supplements include but are not limited too:
- fatty acids
- polyphenol extracts
- protein concentrates (whey, pea, collagen, etc.)
- amino acids
- other products
Please hear me when I say, nutrients are ALWAYS best absorbed from FOOD. Supplements do not take the place of a poor diet. Furthermore, supplements do not have the combined power that food has.
For instance, just one apple has over 50 vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. You’ll never be able to get as much nutrition in supplement form. Not even with a powdered form of apples because you would be losing the fiber and some of the nutrients in the processing. So, it’s essential for you to eat high quality, good food. Lots of vegetables, lean proteins, and other plant-based foods as tolerated such as potatoes, tubers, beans, whole grains, and fruit.
Where’s The Research?
That being said, I do, occasionally recommend a select few supplements to my clients to help support meeting a health goal, reduce pain, or enhance overall nutrition.
Many people don’t believe in supplements because they are not prescribed at their doctor’s office, and they’ve heard scary stories. It’s true, it’s multi-billion dollar self-regulated industry, which means there are a lot of shady companies out there looking to make a quick buck. This is one of the reasons why we have limited research on specific supplements that may be extremely useful, potentially as effective or more so than medication and safer. For example, some studies demonstrate that turmeric may be as effective if not more so than an NSAID at reducing pain and inflammation. So what’s the deal?
Here is what it boils down to: Supplements can’t be patented, so if one company pours money into research they will do so at their own expense because every other company selling that product will benefit. If the product is already selling, why compromise their well-being?
So, we are left well small, poorly designed, and underfunded studies. Researchers will put these studies together in a meta-analysis to be able to conclude a handful of studies instead of just one.
Supplements vs. Medicine
I’ll never forget going to a seminar at FNCE in 2014 that discussed a study done on 50 protein powders, and some were found to have only 3% of the whey protein the claimed to have. THREE PERCENT! I don’t know what else was in them but holy gross. So, there are significant concerns with supplements that you should not ignore.
- considered safe until proven unsafe
- lack long term double-blind controlled studies
- derived from natural ingredients such as extracts, concentrates, or powders
- no systematic way for reporting side effects and interactions
- may not be well absorbed
- potentially unknown interactions
- considered unsafe until proven safe
- heavy regulated
- provide long term double-blind controlled studies
- derived from natural ingredients or synthetically produced
- side effects are systematically reported
- side effects can be intense
What’s the Benefit?
Vitamin and mineral supplementation can fill in the gaps in your nutrient intake and help improve overall health, but we know that nutrients are still best absorbed from food.
- sometimes fewer side effects than medicine
- “naturally” derived may be better tolerated
- fill in nutrient gaps
The side effects of drugs can be gnarly. Yes, they are considered unsafe until proven safe, and then doctors can prescribe them, but we’ve all seen the lawsuit commercials. They don’t always get it right, and sometimes they get away with approving something that isn’t safe and causes more harm than good.
For example, turmeric has been shown (in small, underfunded studies) to decrease pain and inflammation as well as NSAIDS. NSAIDs are known to be hard on the GI and renal systems so that I might recommend a curcumin extract (the active component of turmeric) for pain and inflammation reduction. Studies on turmeric show it can help heal the GI tract and no impact on renal function, but the studies are small and not long term, so who knows.
Who To Get Your Advice?
Proceed with caution, but don’t be afraid. You should continuously review the supplements you take with health professionals, not just once. For instance, when I utilize cholesterol lowering supplements with my clients, I intend for those supplements to be made during our 3-6 month work together in the short term only. I mean for the supplements to help support what we are doing with diet and lifestyle changes. Supplements should always be used in combination with a diet and lifestyle regimen. Otherwise, it’s pointless. Make sure you understand how long you need to be taking the supplements that are recommended to you.
Also, if we are realistic:
- Doctors don’t have time to review your supplements adequately.
- Many naturopaths are quick to recommend too many supplements without a decent body of research behind them.
- Nutritionists, well may have a 2-day cert but even if they have a better cert, they may still not look at the whole picture. I find them to be snobby when it comes to “synthetic vs. naturally derived vitamins” when in reality a synthetic hypoallergenic version may be the best for a person with GI issues.
- Wellness consultants – what the hell does that even mean? No training, hard pass on their recommendations.
- Personal trainers are operating well outside their scope of practice recommending supplementation to you. I don’t care how knowledgeable they are or how jacked they look.
- Dietitians are not trained in supplementation as part of their basic training.
You need a Dietitian who has received additional training in supplements, stays up to date on the research and who can recommend reputable companies to purchase from. There are many of us out there. You have to do your research. For the love of God, do not get your advice from the kid at GNC or the shelf stalker at the natural food store. Just no, please no.
I do utilize supplements as part of my practice because they can be beneficial in combination with diet and lifestyle strategies. In many cases, they can help avoid serious side effects of medications and promote overall health. I make sure I stay up to date on the research and do not make my recommendations lightly. Aside from a multi-vitamin, fish oil, and probiotic supplements (and maybe turmeric and CBD) shouldn’t be used in the long term because we don’t have the research to support long term use. Hope that helps!
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