Supplements have been all over the news and social media feeds for the last couple of years. The main focus has been on the rising doubts to their effectiveness and also their authenticity. The Washington Post published an article in 2015 calling out Wal-Mart, Target, GNC and Walgreens for selling adulterated herbals. They conducted DNA studies on several products from their shelves and they showed to not only contain things that weren’t on the label (gluten), but they also failed to have the contents that they claimed were in the product! Amazon was also caught up in the bad press because some of their resellers were selling fake supplements. So what’s a consumer to do? We are often barraged with ads for supplement products that promise to make our lives better, increase our energy, rid our bodies of unwanted weight and improve all things that ail us. Should we boycott this industry and just run to our doctors for prescription meds? I think both of these options would be extreme, so let’s investigate what to look for when choosing supplements and how to source them safely.
Who Needs Supplements?
We should first start by evaluating what we really need from a supplement and why you’re supplementing in the first place.
If you are a healthy individual that eats a whole foods organically grown diet with:
· At least one pound of veggies (raw, uncooked weight) per day combined with…
· Some animal protein including liver, eggs and wild caught seafood (including clams and oysters) throughout the week
Then, chances are you are getting all the vitamins and minerals that are necessary for optimal functioning, sustained energy and wellbeing.
If you have compromised digestion and experience gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea during the week then you’re likely not extracting and/or absorbing the minerals and vitamins that you are consuming from your diet. In this situation a deeper look at your food intake and need to supplement key vitamins and minerals should be a top priority. In addition, I would be recommended that you work with a certified practitioner to help determine the root causes of your digestive issues.
Guidelines to Follow When Buying Supplements
The following ingredients are questionable regarding their risk/benefit ratios. When taking a supplement short term I wouldn’t be too concerned if these ingredients are in the product. However, if you’re seeking a supplement to take long term (3+ months) then consider sourcing high quality products or work with a practitioner that can source these products for you:
· Magnesium or Vegetable Sterate
· Silicon Oxide
· Titanium Dioxide
· Sodium Benzonate & BHT
Have Allergies? Common Ingredients to Investigate
Be mindful of ingredients when you have any allergies or food sensitivities. The following ingredients are commonly found and need further investigation as to their source because it can vary widely between which grains they are sourced from:
· Modified Food Starch
· Natural Flavor
When to Buy Supplements
Hopefully the previous information provided you with a little insight as to what you may or may not need in the category of supplementation. In general, the topic can be so consuming we could spend a lot more time diving into different reasons a person might supplement and what supplements are best in those situations. To make this more applicable for everyone reading I thought it would be better to focus on the concerns I have regarding supplements and their ingredients so that you can take this information and apply it to your own personal supplementation protocols if you fall into the category of wanting or needing to supplement. Keep in mind, if your nutrition is spot on and you have good digestion (formed bowels, easy to pass stool, with regular eliminations of 1 or more per day in the absence of gas and bloating) you are really getting most of what you need from that. On the other hand, if your digestion is compromised you have low energy/fatigue, sleep issues and weight loss struggles, then taking a deeper look at what’s going on should be a first priority. Supplementation won’t fix these issues alone so addressing the root cause of the issue needs to be the priority.
Supplement Companies I Like to Use
· Pure Encapsulations®
· Innate Response®
Immune Boosting Supplements
Another aspect of wellness worth investigating, as it seems to be a timely topic, is your immune health, especially during the colder winter months when germs and viruses seem to inundate every aspect of our lives. There are supplements galore for immune health, and many health claims being made. A simple Google search for Immune Boosting Supplements took me straight to a product on Amazon that makes big claims and guess what, you can get it in 2 days with a Prime Membership! Thank you, but I think I’ll pass. I would turn again to real food in this case.
Real Foods to Look to Instead
· Traditionally prepared Bone Broth (see Chris Kressers’ recent post on its many health building virtues)
· Fermented food
· Cutting out refined sugar
These 3 steps alone will have a huge impact on boosting your immune health.
One supplement that I would consider impactful here is a good quality probiotic. Since the gut plays such a huge part in our immune health it only makes sense to support its function through fermented foods and probiotics. Cycling thru different probiotics is a great idea to help build diversity and allow for proper colonization. Unfortunately, probiotics are in a class which tends to make many claims to the consumer and can often be overwhelming to decide which one you should take. Shelf stable, the need for refrigeration, which strands do I need, are 50 billion CFU’s really better than 20 billion CFU’s? That’s a lot to think about. There are a handful of probiotics out there that have conducted studies, which show efficacy and the ability to survive the gastric acid and colonize the intestines. These are the products you want, which are likely not the ones you are seeing on the shelves unfortunately.
Probiotics I Take
A few that I personally take and recommend depending on the scenario are Megaspore® and Prescript-Assist® along with some single strain products for Lactobacillus and Bifidobactrium.
Vitamin D3 has also been proven to help when it comes to keeping colds and viruses away. I prefer to get this great vitamin from the sun and food. I know many of us aren’t fortunate enough to actually see the sun in the winter months so this can make it challenging. In this event, it might make the most sense to supplement through the colder, darker months of the year. Pastured chicken egg yolks and raw milk and raw butter are also a few other good sources if you’re lucky enough to have access to these products where you live. Rosita Cod Liver Oil® is also a great supplement to use to get your VitD during the winter months. This brand has a great, well sourced product, that naturally combines Cod Liver Oil , Vit D and K2, which are found to be abundant in Atlantic Cod (the only source they use for their product). Combining vitamin D and K2 is hugely important when it comes to absorbing calcium and making sure it’s getting to your bones and not deposited in your arteries, kidneys or anywhere else it doesn’t belong! It just so happens to work nicely to support immune health as well.
Immune Health Supplements
So what happens when you are following the above guidelines and you come down with the sniffles? My go to supplements for Immune health during acute situations are Herb Pharm Super Echinacea® and Life Extension Zinc Acetate Lozenges®. These 2 products have really proven their effectiveness again and again. The key is to start them at the earliest sign of a cold settling in and follow the directions from there. It’s wise to buy these and keep them on hand for when the need arises.
One other go to tip that I learned from The Healthy Home Economist’s Sarah Pope, is to use a probiotic capsule when you notice a scratchy or sore throat. After you have brushed your teeth for the night open the capsule and sprinkle the contents in your mouth and move around with your tongue. The goal is to get the back of the throat coated with the probiotic without rinsing or drinking anything. This will help combat any bacteria that may be setting up shop.
Cod Liver Oil can also be hugely beneficial to take during the winter months to help with immune defense.
Fish Oil Supplements
Where should I even start with this one? This can quickly lead us down a rabbit hole so I’m going to keep it short. There are a lot of different opinions out there on using FO supplements for cardiovascular health, and fighting inflammation among other things. This decision, like picking a probiotic takes some serious research and consideration. Where are the fish sourced from, what’s the EPA/DHA ratio, what process is used to extract the oil and is it treated with chemicals to deodorize? I could go on and on, but I won’t. I just want to leave you with this, do not purchase FO without doing your homework or getting valuable input from a Certified Practitioner that has done the research for you and PLEASE. PLEASE, PLEASE don’t buy the big bottle of 250 capsules at a big name discount store for $15.
My recommendation on this is to just simply eat well-sourced fatty fish 1-2 times/week. Working with a doctor or practioner can help you determine if supplementation is necessary. One brand that I will recommend is Rosita Cod Liver Oil® which I discussed above under the immune health supplementation.
Final Thoughts on Supplementation
I wanted to provide a few recommendations that I feel would be helpful in general to most people. My goal was to get you to think about the need to supplement and also where you source your supplements. As a Functional Diagnostic Practioner, I use supplement protocols when I work with clients to regain their health. These protocols are time proven and I personally can attest to the products authenticity. The protocols I use are targeted based on what the client truly needs (this is determined through functional lab work and assessments) and they are often short protocols for 60-90 days in length. I have the privilege of using pharmaceutical grade supplement companies that routinely run quality control and standardize their products. This unfortunately can’t be said for the majority of the products that most consumers have access to.
Supplementation can be necessary so don’t let the bad press make you think it’s not. I have personally experienced the impact of appropriate targeted supplementation and have also seen many of my clients benefit substantially as well. Just make sure you get access to the best products and know what you need to take and for how long. Working with an FDN-P® can get you on the right path with recommendations and a targeted protocol unique to you.