This article originally appeared as my column, Holistic Outlook, in The Times Herald Record.
It may surprise you that I think taking supplements is not a reliable way of improving your health. Supplementation is often misunderstood and overused, and I am distressed to see people come into my office with shopping bags full of pills and potions that cost a lot and aren’t benefiting them.
The best use of supplements is as a bridge between what the body should be able to do, and what it is capable of doing now. Chosen with knowledge and discernment, the right supplements help alleviate symptoms, and advance and support healing and repair. Ideally, they foster our own innate healing potential; then the body takes over.
Are there supplements that you should take indefinitely? Possibly, but they differ from person to person. I don’t subscribe to the approach that says everyone should take a multi, fish oil, probiotics and calcium, for instance. Rather, everyone should take the fewest possible supplements that are significantly beneficial for them as a unique individual. Generally, it is helpful to supplement a nutrient only if it is depleted. Let me explain with some examples.
- Zinc was touted as a cure for the common cold, helping you recover faster, with less severe symptoms. But research disproved that. Recently, more research disproved the previous research. How can that be? The explanation is simple, really. Zinc is essential for the thymus, and for detoxification. Both of these have a direct impact on immunity. If zinc is depleted, taking zinc can help cure a cold. But if you have sufficient zinc already, taking more won’t help.
- Melatonin helps us sleep, so people take it to cure insomnia. But melatonin only helps you if the reason you aren’t sleeping is low melatonin, and taking it in supplement form does NOT cross the blood brain barrier. Generally all it does is help your muscles relax a bit, which can be helpful, but not why you are taking melatonin. Besides, melatonin is a hormone, and I don’t mess around with hormones casually. There are many reasons for insomnia: caffeine, nicotine and alcohol consumption; depression; hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances; blood sugar issues, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, hypoglycemia, or obesity, just for example. Address the underlying issues, and the symptom (insomnia) should improve. p.s. If you really want to use melatonin to improve sleep, it should be in liposomal form, meaning bound with fats, in order to cross the blood brain barrier.
Similar contradictory studies arise in pharmaceutical studies all the time.
- Statins can have serious and debilitating side effects. A recent study shows the benefit to those without known heart disease is questionable at best. And the guidelines for cholesterol keep getting lowered, despite the fact that having too-low cholesterol is a risk factor for dementia! Yet, millions are still taking statins as a “preventive”.
- Hormone replacement looked like a life-saver, then, after more years of both use and research, was indicted as a killer. Because the endocrine system is so interrelated, every time you add a hormone, the other hormones re-adjust, leading to an endless cycle of short-term results and more hormones. In my practice (and personally as well) I prefer to give the body the support it needs to balance hormones naturally – and it does.
One more point… Nutrients work best in their natural form. That’s why I teach how to eat for optimal nutrition. If you’re going to use supplements, they should be “bio-representative”; in other words, how they are found in nature.
Vitamin E is an excellent example of this. Decades ago, researchers isolated the alpha tocopherol form of Vitamin E for commercial use. Then, research revealed that alpha tocopherol is not helpful in the ways hoped for, and can even be harmful.
There are so many similar examples I could give from my 23 years of experience! Research will always lag behind. That’s why your best bet is to make healthy food the linchpin of your health.
Tip #1 The Zinc Challenge
A simple way to check zinc levels is to do a Zinc Challenge. I have people sip just a spoonful of liquid zinc from a cup, swish it around and tell me what it tastes like. For those who are deficient in zinc, it tastes like water. If your zinc levels are good, it tastes horrendous.
Tip #2 Vitamin E: Team Player
Are you taking a formula that contains Vitamin E? Please check it right now. Vitamin E works best when you have the whole team. A full-spectrum Vitamin E product includes all 8 naturally occurring isomers found in nature. At least make sure you have Gamma and Delta – not just Alpha – tocopherols.
Tip #3 Melatonin: Lights Out, Sleep Well
To optimize your natural production of melatonin, sleep in a completely dark room: no night lights, LEDs, or light from outside. This darkness is the trigger for your own melatonin production. Even a little bit of light signals the pineal gland not to make any more.