Are you one of the millions of Americans that take a “supplement” every day? According to a recent 2016 survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, over 170 million Americans (52% of the population) use a supplement. Why? The three main reasons cited by survey participants were:
- Overall health/wellness
- Fill in nutritional gaps in our diets
The National Institute for Health (NIH) hasn’t published anything since 2012, but the last survey showed that $12 billion is spent on “non-vitamin, non-mineral dietary supplements”. That’s a lot of money!
This information is both good and bad.
- The good.
- People are seeking other ways of optimizing health, rather than relying on prescription drugs and procedures. When people are spending money on “alternative” ways of improving health, we are “voting” with our dollars. This will hopefully lead to more FDA regulation of these products as well (such as an update on the FDA’s Dietary Health Supplement and Education Act of 1994). Which leads me to the “bad” side of the aforementioned surveys…
- The bad.
- Most of the time, people are buying supplements based on marketing claims. I can’t tell you how many times a patients says to me “this supplement says it has scientific studies that show it helps” X, Y, Z. With freedom of speech comes freedom of marketing – just because a supplement says it is backed by science, or recommended by doctors/pharmacists, or that a celebrity endorses it, does not make it safe or effective. This is modern day “snake oil” sales tactics! The only thing a supplement company cannot say on a product is that it “treats” or “cures” any disease. Even the smartest people I know have fallen prey to supplement claims. Dr. Pieter Cohen published a 2016 editorial review in JAMA regarding supplement use in America, and noted that unfortunately the FDA warnings have “minimal effect on consumer understanding of the advertised claim”.
As a practitioner working in the model of functional medicine, nutraceuticals are one key to improving health. Rarely do I recommend a vitamin/mineral/herb to a patient without ordering a lab test to support the use of the supplement. Having been trained according to the American Medical Association code of ethics, I know to always “first do no harm”, and weigh the risks/benefits of a product based on an individual’s medical history. And 95% of the time, I’m using professional grade supplements (which have purer ingredients and show efficacy on health via the patient experience and on lab results).
There are very few over-the-counter companies that I have found that truly meet the quality standards and efficacy that professional grade supplements provide. Yes, professional grade products cost more money, but wouldn’t you rather be paying for a supplement that actually provides the material they claim to have? That’s exactly what a 2015 study found out when they independently tested over-the-counter products at the 4 most common stores where people purchase such products (GNC, Walgreen, Target, and Walmart). Only 21% had what they claimed to have in them!
But don’t lose hope in your supplements! Consider these take-away tips:
- If a supplement sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
- Make sure your supplement doesn’t have one of the “dirty dozen” ingredients.
- Look on Consumer Labs website to evaluate your supplements for safety and recalls. General reports are free, full access to detailed reports costs around $3 a month for a subscription.
- Only use high quality supplements like those you can get through a professional. My favorite brands are Pure Encapsulations, NuMedica, and OrthoMolecular. Don’t even think about getting these off Amazon – you will pay a lot more for these, and may not even get the real product!. If you insist on using products that are over-the-counter, with a few exceptions, I only recommend MegaFoods, New Chapter, and Nordic Naturals. These are food based, not chemical-isolates.
- See if you really need a supplement. Genova’s ION panel or NutrEval tests are what we use to evaluate nutritional deficiencies as well potential infections and heavy metal exposures. You may be able to order these via DirectLabs.com, but I recommend ordering through a health care practitioner so you can (possibly) use insurance (difference of $600 if your insurance will cover a part of it!). A knowledgeable practitioner will also be able to review the results based on your history and the patterns of the results (not just the individual results).
Hope this helps!
Wishing you optimal health,