GET SMART ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS
These are excerpts from the Guide to Creating Your Own Personalized Supplement Regimen.
If you'd like the entire ebook:
The word supplement is defined as something that is added for improvement. It includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes. They come in different forms including tablets, capsules, liquid, powder, soft gel, and chews.
If they discuss nutrition with you at all, most conventional doctors will tell you to get your nutrients only from food. That would be ideal in a perfect world, but we don’t live in that world.
We live in a world, particularly in the US, where the soil has been depleted of minerals, the food supply has been tainted with pesticides, and as we age we lose important enzymes for efficient digestion. Therefore, taking supplements, while controversial, is a necessary part of one’s quest for optimal health.
While the supplement industry is not completely without regulation, there is a great deal of room for improvement. The FDA designates supplements as food and not as drugs and is not responsible for regulating either their safety or efficacy. That responsibility lies with the manufacturer and distributor which is a little bit like the fox guarding the henhouse.
If there is a brand-new ingredient used, then the FDA will step in and “review” the ingredient for safety, though not for efficacy. Dangerous is the only designation that the FDA uses to ban a supplement. Merely unsafe or ineffective doesn’t rise to the level required for banning.
The reality is that there are many unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors of supplements that one needs to be wary of, but that is true for every consumer product. The responsibility falls upon each one of us to do careful due diligence when purchasing anything, particularly things we ingest.
The purpose of this guide is to give you a practical strategy for determining which micronutrients you should supplement, selecting the highest quality supplements available, and avoiding questionable products.
Determine Your Nutrient Deficiencies Before Supplementing
Before even taking the first step to purchase supplements, it is best to do some testing of one’s levels. That way, you can get as close to personalized treatment as possible.
There are several tests available to determine your individual level of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and antioxidants.
Some companies offer “custom” supplements to match your genetic profile, but the science is not quite advanced enough to accurately prescribe in this manner. One day, it will be, but until that day, current vitamin, mineral, and nutrient testing will have to suffice.
Keep in mind that blood tests are subject to interpretation and are based on functional and pathological ranges. They are not perfect, but they can reveal information about your metabolic pathways, vitamin levels, fluid and electrolyte balances, mineral levels, and hydration.
You should not aspire to the “normal” range but rather what is optimal for you. Learning this information will allow you to supplement for deficiencies and avoid supplementing for nutrients in which you are not deficient.
Nutrients act in a synergistic manner in the body, and one’s absorption and ability to utilize a supplement depends upon the availability of other existing nutrients.
Know the Difference Between Synthetic vs. Natural
Ninety percent of supplements are made in laboratories and are processed or synthesized from petroleum, coal, tar, formaldehyde, cyanide, or other chemicals that you don’t want to ingest.
There are synthetic and there are natural supplements. The body absorbs and reacts differently to different supplements.
Synthetic means that they are industrialized from isolated nutrients, and they are cheaper to manufacture and more shelf-stable. The word natural has lost its intended meaning because it has been manipulated by marketing efforts.
While it is supposed to mean that the supplement is not heated during production and contains no added synthetics, the reality is that the law pertaining to a label with the word natural only requires 10%of the supplement to contain plant-derived ingredients, and the remaining 90% can be synthetic.
While some people do respond well to synthetic supplements if they are high quality, natural food ingredients tend to have fewer adverse side effects than ingredients that are synthetic and unrecognized by our bodies.
While it has yet to be put into practice, there is a new standard for natural supplements called Naturally Occurring Standards (NOS). This certification will indicate that a product is naturally occurring, organic, and free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and synthetics.
A particularly bad issue with synthetic vitamins is illustrated with folic acid. Those with one or two variants of the MTHFR gene lack the enzyme required to convert synthetic folic acid into a usable form of B9. Without this conversion ability, the folic acid collects in the liver and can become toxic.
It is recommended if you test positive for the MTHFR genetic variation, you should supplement with methylated B vitamins to compensate for a compromised ability to methylate.
Be Mindful of Fillers
Fillers are used to “fill up” the supplement so they are a reasonable size. They are bulking agents to make the supplement proportional because some ingredients like iodine, selenium, and biotin are so small that on their own, the appropriate dose in a capsule would appear so minuscule that it would hardly be visible. These fillers include artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, starches, and sugars.
There are countless fillers in supplements. Here are the key ones to watch out for:
Magnesium Stearate and Carrageenan
Two fillers that should be avoided are magnesium stearate and carrageenan. While the science is inconclusive about whether the suppression of immune cells in rats by stearic acid applies also to humans, this substance is made from cottonseed and canola oils, which should be avoided. Carrageenan, which is also found in nut milks and other products along with supplements, is a thickening agent and has been found to trigger inflammation.
Another frequently used additive in food and supplements is gelatin. While it is not definitive, it has been suggested that gelatin, which is known to be made from the skin and bone of beef and pork, can also contain diseased organs.
Gelatin is frequently used to make the outer layer of a capsule. This form of a capsule, unlike vegetarian capsules made from methylcellulose, can be responsible for side effects because the gelatin used comes from an animal source and can be tainted with pesticides and antibiotics from the animals.
Artificial Colors and Flavors
Artificial colors and flavors have no place in anything that you ingest. If you see FD&C, or Blue No. 2, or Red No. 3 or 40, these are artificial colors added for no health benefit and have the potential to harm.
Artificial flavoring is a chemical soup that will not add to your goal of health optimization. If you have any allergies to gluten, dairy, or soy, it will be worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the ingredients which have names associated with these allergens. Two examples are “food glaze” and “hydrolyzed vegetable protein,” and both are gluten contaminants.
Other Unnecessary Ingredients
Other ingredients to be mindful of are flow agents, acidulates found in liquid supplements, and disintegrants, which are for rapid breakdown. If you see the words “time release,” don’t count on it. Ideally, you want the purest supplement possible, unadulterated with other unnecessary or potentially harmful ingredients.
Along with harmful chemical ingredients, synthetic supplements also contain excipients and binders. Excipients are supposed to be inert additives that are used to stabilize, bulk up, or enhance another ingredient.
The problem is that they are not always inert and can cause adverse reactions. They include artificial coloring, sweeteners, and preservatives.
One noteworthy example of an excipient that is widely used and has the potential to cause harm is titanium oxide. It is a whitening agent and is linked to inflammation, oxidative stress, and decreased nutrient absorption. It seems as though a supplement manufacturer would want to avoid a decrease in nutrient absorption but the use of this excipient does exactly that.
Titanium oxide is a nanoparticle and is so small that it slips past one’s immune system defense mechanisms. It has been associated with allergies, immune disorders, organ toxicity, and has been classified as a carcinogen.