Cutting Through the Hype
Dr. Trish Murray
In a perfect world, we would get everything we need from food by eating a nutrient-rich, healthy diet
with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.
If you believe everything you read on the internet, supplements are the miracle cure for nearly any ailment. Have you gained weight? Can’t sleep? Got back pain? Do you have memory issues? Are you getting older? Just take this pill, powder, energy drink, or capsule and you’ll have amazing energy, fantastic skin, drop 15 pounds, and feel 10 years younger instantly!
In my functional medicine practice, some of the most common questions I get from patients are about supplements. Bombarded by information, people want to know, “What should I be taking and why?” or “What should I avoid?” With so much hype and so many options available, it can be overwhelming. While nutritional needs vary from person to person, and supplements are not a miracle cure, there are good reasons to consider including them in your daily health regime.
Why Take Supplements?
In a perfect world, we would get everything we need from food by eating a nutrient-rich, healthy diet with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Studies have shown that most people are deficient in key vitamins and minerals, due to a “nutrient gap.”
Another reason to supplement your diet with vitamins, minerals, herbs, or adaptogens is to optimize the performance of a dysfunctional or deficient system. This is specific to your individual needs, which may be to heal the gut and optimize digestion, absorption, and/or the microbiome. Supplements may also be used to optimize the function of your immune system, your detoxification system, or your adrenal system.
In our modern world, there are several reasons to take supplements:
1. Nutrient depletion of soil and crops is rampant after generations of farming and pesticide use. Also, produce that is harvested and shipped long distances has fewer available nutrients than fresh fruits and vegetables picked locally, in season.
2. Your ability to properly absorb nutrients from food may decrease with age or may be disrupted if, like many Americans, you suffer from “leaky gut” or other gastrointestinal (GI) issues.
3. Exposure to environmental toxins, such as pollution, mold, heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals, and the use of antibiotics and medications may warrant supplementation to help detoxify your system or rebalance your gut microbiome.
4. Genetic variations or mutations in our DNA can affect our ability to absorb certain types of nutrients. These are called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs pronounced “snips”). Taking the correct supplement to correct a particular SNP biochemical pathway can be very effective.
Healthy Eating on the Go
The “Fab Five” Supplements for General Health
• Vitamin D
• Vitamin B-Complex
• Fish Oil
Read the label of your supplements and look out for the following ingredients:
• Major food allergens such as soy, wheat, dairy, or shellfish
• Artificial colors or dyes
• Synthetic fillers, binders, or preservatives
• Significant claims or promised results
Selecting Beneficial Supplements
With so many types of supplements to choose from, how do you know what’s right for you? Determining what’s best depends on your needs and your goals.
Are you trying to address a current problem or are you feeling great and looking to optimize your health?
When choosing supplements, be sure to consider any health conditions or allergies. Check with your healthcare provider before starting or changing a supplement regimen to ensure correct dosing and prevent interactions with your medications. This is not always easy in the medical system, as most traditionally trained physicians or mid-level providers are not well versed in supplements. Getting input from a functional medicine provider, naturopathic provider, or holistic nutritionist may be more helpful.
In functional medicine, supplements may be recommended as a course of treatment to address a chronic health condition. A “GI” protocol, for instance, will include supplements that help repair damage in the GI tract, restore optimal conditions in your gut microbiome, and replace micronutrients that have been missing. This is a short- to medium-term solution in which specific supplements are taken until gut health is restored.
Otherwise, if you’re in great health and you want to keep feeling your best and optimize your performance, you may want to consider the “fab five.”
These are daily supplements for general health that will benefit most people.
A high-quality multivitamin will bridge the “nutrient gap” with a variety of vitamins, including the typical alphabet of A, B, C, D, and E vitamins. They also include minerals like zinc, magnesium, selenium, calcium, chromium, and iron.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D acts like a hormone, improving blood sugar and decreasing the risk of certain types of cancer. Even with an active outdoor lifestyle, most of us living in the Northeast are not producing enough vitamin D from sunlight much of the year. Choose D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the easiest form to metabolize. Look for 2,000 – 4,000 international units (IU) to keep your levels of this vitamin in a healthy range.
Many people are significantly depleted in B vitamins, which support detoxification and the nervous system. B vitamins can also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, pain, and insomnia. A high-quality B-complex typically contains B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin). For B12 and folate, a methylated form is best, as it is the most usable form.
4. Fish Oil
Fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, typically in a 2:1 ratio of EPA to DHA. The health benefits of fish oil are plentiful. Studies have demonstrated that it boosts brain health, lowers triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood), and decreases inflammation related to conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, pain, anxiety, and depression.
Probiotics are live microbes that stimulate the growth of good bacteria throughout your body. They can help support your immune system, promote proper digestion, and replenish the balance of bacteria if you’ve taken an antibiotic. Probiotics are measured in millions, or billions, of colonies of microbes per capsule. A high-quality probiotic can benefit your gut microbiome by introducing families of bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium; 10-20 billion per dose is typical for health maintenance, but doses can go as high as 100 billion. Probiotics can also be found in fermented foods, such as kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt with live cultures.
Support Your Active Lifestyle
As the name suggests, “supplements” should be seen as a complementary component of your healthy lifestyle. They should be taken in addition to, not as a replacement for, eating a well-balanced diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.
The “fab five” is a general suggestion aimed at preventative maintenance for overall health. Once you get the basics down, or as your needs change, you may want to fine-tune and customize your supplement regimen. There are also functional nutrition tests available that can specifically pinpoint your individual needs.
Combined with a healthy diet, supplements can support your active lifestyle, giving you the energy and stamina to enjoy all the Mt. Washington Valley has to offer!
For more information, visit www.discoverhealthfmc.com. Discover Health Functional Medicine Center • (603) 447-3112
LETTERS TO DR. TRISH
Hello, Dr. Trish! Thank you for these fantastic articles and the opportunity to reach out to you with questions! Just another reason to love VIBE! After testing positive for COVID-19 two times in the past year, I feel like it’s time to begin paying closer attention to my immune system. Over the years I haven’t been a great eater, and I think that has led to more sick time. What are some tips to help boost my immune system naturally?
Lisa W., Freedom, NH
From Dr. Trish
Hi, Lisa. Thanks for this great question. First of all, you are what you eat and how you live. So, focusing on improving diet, exercise, stress, and toxicity is key to optimizing one’s immune system, and gut health is the foundation of all of this. Everyone’s needs vary based on their biology and current health concerns, so giving general advice here–while it will help overall–would not do your specific needs justice. I suggest for anyone interested in making healthy changes to read my book Make a D.E.N.T. in Chronic Disease, as it will give you specific steps you can start implementing to feel better and boost your immune system.
Hi, Dr. Trish. Since the beginning of the new year, I have been implementing some really great lifestyle changes—eating well and exercising with your online movement membership. I’ve tried to coax my wife to make some changes with me, but she is constantly sneaking sweets and junk food into the house and is not interested in physical activity. How can I positively influence her without seeming too pushy?
Ray C., Fryeburg, ME
From Dr. Trish
Hi, Ray. Pushing is not the answer! Stay focused on your own goals, and as your wife sees your benefits, she may start to be more interested and follow your lead. Lead by example and watch what happens.
Dear Dr. Trish, you recently wrote about food sensitivities and allergies in your winter 2021/22 article on superfoods. I’ve done a comprehensive elimination diet and discovered that I am sensitive to nightshade vegetables. When I took weeks off from eating them, I felt great! When I systematically reintroduced these foods (specifically tomatoes), I still felt okay. But after a while, my indigestion came back full force. Should I avoid them all together even if I can sometimes tolerate them?
Paula M., Sandwich, NH
From Dr. Trish
Dear Paula, something to note here is that food allergies and food sensitivities bring about a different reaction from your immune system. Allergies happen immediately and are easy to recognize with rash, hives, breathing problems, etc. Sensitivities can take up to 72 hours to present after eating something. I hear from new patients often that they are limiting intake of food sensitivity, but not fully avoiding it. What’s important to understand is that it only takes one molecule of an irritant to cause an iceberg of inflammation under the surface. So, you need to fully eliminate any food sensitivity to feel better. Once every couple months, you can rechallenge to see if the sensitivity remains; but if it’s been years and you feel ill or have adverse reactions whenever you eat a certain category of food, then it’s a permanent sensitivity.
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Catch this article in the Spring 2022 print edition of Mt Washington Valley Vibe!