#1 – Throw Away Your Supplements!!
For some people, this isn’t true, and I’m definitely not saying to throw away supplements before discussing any changes with your doctor… but for most people, this will be a big step towards health. This could apply to you if you’re taking a multivitamin “just because”, or you’ve added Costco brand Vitamin D to your regimen because Dr. Oz was talking about it and you saw it for a good deal last shopping trip; or maybe even Vitamin B12 was recommended to you by a health care provider 3 years ago, and you’ve taken it diligently everyday since! All of these scenarios need a closer look, and likely, in all of these cases, you need to THROW AWAY YOUR SUPPLEMENTS!
Reasons to throw away your supplements:
- Inappropriate for you
- Inappropriate timing
- Inappropriate dosing
- Inappropriate form
- You’re getting enough from your food
- Your body isn’t absorbing it
- The research has proved otherwise
I see all of these on a daily basis in my clinic, so I’m going to take them apart, one at a time, so we can better understand what they mean, and why you might need to make a change to your intake of supplements, and maybe even throw your supplements away!
1. Inappropriate for you:
This can happen for two main reasons, one you DECIDE to start a supplement, either a multiple because you’re just trying to “be healthy” or because you heard something from a friend or on T.V. About a supplement that is supposed to help with XYZ, OR (and this happens far too often) your doctor has recommended something and it’s just not appropriate for you. For the former, we often see things (*cough* Dr. Oz *cough*) recommended for something that is a problem for many of us, weight loss for example. The problem is that there are a lot of different reasons for symptoms (yes, there are MANY reasons for weight gain, or difficulty with losing weight) so that one “miracle” supplement could be inappropriate for you. Let’s use one of my favorite examples of an inappropriate supplement. For leg cramps and restless leg syndrome, MDs have come a long way in acknowledging that it is a electrolyte problem in most cases, the problem is, that they often prescribe the wrong electrolyte.. They will most often reach for potassium (which has to be closely monitored, but usually isn’t, for heart problems), when more often than not, it’s actually magnesium that needs to be used. So if you choose the wrong electrolyte, not only are you not going to fix them problem, but you are likely going to create another problem (and heart problems from a mineral supplement is absolutely unacceptable!). I also see a lot of cases where people are trying to lose weight, and they hear from a friend or T.V. that XYZ supplement will help them to lose weight, so they it, and feel horrible! Often, these supplements have a stimulant effect, and if the person already has adrenal fatigue, and/or too high of cortisol levels, they are going to feel horrible! This can happen with inappropriate form of a nutrient too (see below) where something like vitamin B12 might be appropriate for you, but if given in the wrong from can case horrible side effects and make symptoms worse.
This problem is a tricky one to navigate because often you are taking a supplement because it was recommended by someone you trust, whether it is a friend or family member, or even worse, if it is from a health care provider, so when considering whether or not it is harming you can be difficult. To combat this thinking, try to remember that what is right for you can change over time (see #2 Inappropriate timing) and also something that might be appropriate for one set of your symptoms might be inappropriate for another set, so your doctor or friend might not be “wrong” but rather just not “right” for you and your situation. Bottom line is, if you’re experiencing symptoms, something is wrong, and re-evaluating your supplements might be something you need to consider.
2. Inappropriate Timing AND 3. Inappropriate Dosing:
Your need for a nutrient is always changing, so even if you were recommended a specific dose of a supplement by a doctor, it’s likely that that dosing became out-dated for you, sometimes this happens in days even. Think about how much you need of something, and put it in a Bell Curve, like the chart below.
To combat this, I have my patients take a supplement (and usually only adding one at a time) until they FEEL GOOD, and then they STOP. As symptoms slowly return, you start taking the supplement again… until you… FEEL GOOD. Then STOP. And you keep fine tuning this until you find that sweet spot in the “adequate” zone. Often, with a supplement like B12, people will find that once they are feeling good, they don’t need it, but will add it in times of stress to prevent their symptoms from coming back. I don’t think that anyone should be taking something every day for the rest of their life, but rather we want to find the right amount for them to function optimally!
4. Inappropriate Form:
There are two subcategories for this one, inappropriate form “in general” and inappropriate form “for you”. First, the former: Most of the “nutrients” that are put in supplements are garbage. They are synthesized in a lab in a form that our body either can’t use, or has to process it to get it into a usable form (which takes energy, other nutrients, and releases sometimes “toxic” metabolites that can be difficult to eliminate and cause burden to our liver and kidneys). It’s really important to know what form of the nutrient is in, and unfortunately, many supplement companies don’t even list it! An example of this is Vitamin B12. Most of the “cheaper” or bargain brand supplements that contain B12 have it in the form of cyanocobalamin. That’s right folks, cyano – IE cyanide… yep, same one. Is it toxic like cyanide? No, but it’s good to remember it that way because it’s NOT a bio-active form of the vitamin, and while research has yet to confirm if it’s bad for you, it definitely isn’t GOOD for you… essentially you’re paying for some expensive bright yellow urine… For bio-active B12 look for methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, or hydroxocobalamin. Check out my article on the different forms of B12 here, and consider talking to a natural health care provider to get a recommendation of which one to take.
And then we get to inappropriate form, for you specifically, which if you clicked onto my article about the different forms of B12, then you already have an idea of how the form of a nutrient can make big difference in how it affects your body. Another example of this can be shown with Magnesium. Most magnesium that you’ll find at the drugstore, or even that a medical doctor will prescribe you, is magnesium oxide… Well, you might really need magnesium (as estimated 80% or more Americans are deficient in it), but you’re not going to absorb any of it from magnesium oxide… however, if you’re constipated, magnesium oxide will likely do the trick! Magnesium oxide isn’t very well absorbed in the body, so it stays in the GI tract, and when it gets to the Large Intestine, it pulls water from your body, into the large intestine, which can loosen the stool and help you to have a bowel movement. This is usually why people who were recommended magnesium by their doctors STOP taking it, because it gives them diarrhea… Now… If you actually want to absorb your magnesium, then you want to look at some other forms. The next step up from oxide is Magnesium Citrate. Magnesium Citrate is much better absorbed by the body, so less of it makes it to the Large Intestine. This is a good middle of the road magnesium supplement that is good for most people. It might have a slight laxative effect, which some people need, while also getting some good absorption. It’s also inexpensive, so it usually the form that I recommend to patients. That being said… if you already struggle with loose stools, or if even a small dose of the magnesium citrate causes loose stools, then we need to look at another form of magnesium, which is magnesium glycinate. This form is much more easily absorbed, and is usually very well tolerated in the GI tract. So you can see, what form your nutrients are in can make a big difference, so you want to make sure you’re getting the right one!
This could be another sub-category of form problem actually, because usually it’s the wrong form that makes it toxic. Take Vitamin D for example… We all know we need it right? (Well… I think that’s actually debatable because I don’t like “supplementing hormones” but that’s another conversation..) And many of us (Hi Seattle!) don’t get enough of it naturally, so we (are told) we need to supplement. The problem is, that most of the Vitamin D supplements on the market are synthetic Vitamin D called Quintox. Quintox is a chemical that “resembles” a hormone in rats that causes calcification or “hypercalcemia.” This forces the heart to absorb too much calcium, and as a result, it becomes rigid and immobile. The animal dies. This happens in humans too… Quintox wasn’t very profitable, but like many drugs that don’t show a profit for its intended use, Big Pharma and Wall Street found a solution. Quintox has a resemblance to the “sunshine hormone” known as good ol’ Vitamin D, so they re-purposed Quintox as “food” for humans and it became the Vitamin D Supplement that is now streamlined into milk and cereals under aggressive “fortification
programs,” as well as nutritional supplements and even prenatal vitamins. Yes you read that correctly… RAT POISON is our vitamin D supplement. Folic Acid has a similar story as well, and you can read about that in my article about Folate VS. Folic Acid. Needless to say, these are not the only examples of toxic products (or by-products, hello fluoride) that are labeled and sold as “health supplements”, so we need to be careful about form and sourcing when choosing our supplements.
6. You’re getting enough from your food.
Some supplements we just plain don’t need. Enter Calcium. It is so shocking to me how many people are still being recommended calcium by their doctors… even patients with hyperparathyroidism and kidney stones… “Oh, you have too much calcium in your blood, here, take more!” It’s appalling… Research isn’t even supporting calcium supplementation as prevention of osteoporosis (see category 8) so why are we still pushing it? (because old habits die hard in medicine…). Food Fortification programs have added calcium to just about all of our food, so it’s pretty difficult to be deficient in it… and there’s plenty of it in our soil, so even unprocessed foods still have high levels of calcium in them (unlike the other poor mineral, magnesium, who barely exists in our soil now…). Are there people out there who need calcium supplementation? I’m sure there probably are, but I haven’t seen one yet! You likely don’t need that calcium chew, no matter how cool it makes you feel to take your calcium in a cute little individually wrapped chocolate. So stop it! Throw your calcium supplement away! (and you’ll likely want to replace it with magnesium…)
7. Your body isn’t absorbing it anyway..
I see this a lot. If you aren’t digesting your food because of GI problems, then you likely aren’t digesting pills (especially if low acid is your problem). So best case you’re just not getting the nutrients from the supplements (IE expensive urine) or worse, it’s actually causing further damage to your GI tract. With multiple and/or severe GI symptoms, I typically will take a patient off of all supplements and work with acupuncture and maybe some Chinese Herbs, with some diet counseling for awhile to help restore GI function, AND THEN reconsider supplements.
8. The research has proved otherwise
Bad habits die hard in medicine. If a doctor learned it in medical school, he’ll likely continue to use it his entire career, regardless of what new research comes out. Same thing goes with teachers in the medical field. And of course, the drug (and supplement!) companies don’t want you to know about new research that distracts from the efficacy of their product… so we have misinformation that just keeps going and going and going and going (yes, I do hope the little energizer bunny is in your head right now). The problem with this is, that some recommendations still happen that either don’t help, or worse, hurt our patients. A prime example of this is calcium. Studies have come out showing no correlation with calcium supplementation and stronger bones or prevention of osteoporosis (except, of course, for those populations where there actually is calcium deficiency present (and guess what America, calcium is in pretty much ALL of our food, so the chances of you being deficient are very slim!). Instead, what we should be teaching our patients, to prevent osteomalacia and osteoporosis, is weight bearing exercise. When you put stress on your bones, like with weight bearing exercise, you are signalling to them that they are required to stay strong, so it send chemical signals to your body to strengthen and harden your bones. So exercise, NOT calcium, is what is going to be beneficial. This is just one of many examples of supplements (and medications!) that have not survived the test of time, and should be eliminated from doctors’ recommendations!
So of course, these are all just snippets, and I could write a paper on each of these categories individually.. But it is my hope that it gives you enough information to wet your pallet, and have you take a closer look at what you are putting into your body. Supplements should be evaluated, and re-evaluated very regularly because our nutrient requirements change often; so I urge you to take a critical look, and consider discussing your supplements with your doctor, or another health care provider who is experienced with medication and supplement management. Also, if you’re taking a form that is toxic, find something else, and THROW AWAY YOUR SUPPLEMENTS! 🙂
Please share this information with friends and family, so we can open up dialogue about these problems. Our society thinks of supplements are harmless, and only healthful, but in fact they can be dangerous and require further examination in many cases. Thank You for Reading!