As Integrative health care providers, we are well versed in both standard and natural medicine and recognize the value (and dangers) of self-treatment with supplements.
Frequently, our patients ask us to share insight on how to navigate the confusing world of supplements. In answer to these requests, here are our top 5 things for consumers to consider when using supplements.
Not all supplements are created equally. With the financial incentives of selling supplements online and in many grocery, specialty and health food stores, lesser quality products are in wide distribution and there are few safety regulations ensuring that what is advertised is actually in the bottle at the dosages listed. Add to that the frequent presence of fillers (those ingredients listed as “other”) that too often contain hidden items like coloring agents, flow agents, and run the risk of heavy metal contaminants. Knowing which are high-quality brands is essential, but finding out which brands fit this description can be challenging. Reputable producers of supplements have had 3rd party assay’s to verify their contents, but often even this information is challenging to find. Remember, if you are getting your supplements from anyone but your health care provider, be a smart consumer and “Buyer Beware”.
The perception that “natural” equals “safe” fails to recognize that there are many natural things that are quite safe for some, while dangerous for others. Some supplements interact with pharmaceutical medications, some interact with other supplements and some interact with both! When you are looking for a supplement, review all the ingredients and ensure your familiarity with & safety of what you are taking. If you don’t know, don’t recognize or are unsure about an ingredient in your supplement or nutraceutical don’t continue taking it until you’ve discussed it with a knowledgeable health care professional.
Often supplements contain a ‘laundry list’ of the most popular or most talked about items of the day. This can quickly result in a long list of ingredients, too often at less than effective dosages. When taking a supplement, the point is to be getting an effective dose. This means the amount in the supplement and the body’s ability to absorb enough of it, need to be at a dosage recognized as effective to create the desired outcome. If you don’t know what the ideal dosages for you are, or you are unsure what the absorbed dosage of your supplement is, you should discuss it with a knowledgeable health care professional.
In our culture, often the perception is that if a small amount is good a large amount is better. This is absolutely not the case in medicine. Taking more than the recommended dosage of a supplement is not better, and in fact, could be quite dangerous. Like other forms of medication, (yes, we view supplements as medications!) some supplements are toxic at higher dosages. For example, Vitamin B6 (which helps form hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood) at elevated dosages can cause weakness, numbness and pain to your hands and feet.
Taking too many supplements, vitamins, minerals and/or nutraceuticals can cause a variety of problems. Frequently, people begin taking a supplement (or several) that they’ve heard or read about being beneficial for a specific concern. Over time, they add to those supplements ones that they have heard worked for other people. A few days or weeks/months pass and someone may suggest adding in yet something else. Before you even realize it, you are taking a handful (or more) of supplements a day. The risks associated with doing so are varied, but they are real. Taking too many supplements can ‘muddy the water’ of your health. Side effects can be caused by interactions between supplements. They can mask underlying health issues, create real health issues, including causing lab abnormalities and strange symptoms. How many supplements are “too many”? The answer varies by patient, provider, and the types of supplementation. But generally speaking, if you are taking more than 6-8 supplements (including vitamins, minerals, nutraceuticals) daily, you are likely taking too many. Consult with a knowledgeable health care provider about your unique concerns.
For more information about supplements, vitamins, minerals and nutraceuticals, consult with one of our integrated medical providers: 503-287-4970.
Most major insurance accepted.