It’s no surprise that taking a supplement such as a multivitamin or fish oil can benefit your health. In fact, you’ll see many store shelves packed full of them. Then you have your cousin or aunt who swears by a specific supplement and tells you that you should be taking it too! But there’s a burning question in your mind: “do these really work or am I just flushing my money down the toilet?“
Do I need supplements or can I just get it from food?
You should be getting the majority of your nutrients from FOOD. But there are a few factors that prevent us from doing so:
- Our diets “suck” (technical term for ‘we make poor choices for food consumption). Much of the foods we eat are highly processed and stripped of the nutrients.
- Our digestive systems can only extract about 40-50% of the nutrients in the food. The rest is excreted.
- The “real” foods (things that grew from the earth) that we’re consuming are devoid of the nutrients due to poor soil quality.
Okay, so it’s pretty obvious that the foods we’re eating fails to give us the basic nutrients we need.
The nutrients our bodies need
Let’s step back for a minute and take a look at what these nutrients do in our body. So here’s a crash course in basic biochemistry & nutrition. Our bodies contain organic & inorganic compounds split into two categories: macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) & micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes).
These are then used for every biochemical process and supporting all the tissues and organs. Our bodies are constantly being broken down and built back up. If we have a deficiency in any macro or micronutrient, it becomes impossible to rebuild. This is when dysfunction sets in.
Problems with supplementation
Studies have shown that nutritional supplementation can help, especially when diet is not adequate.
The problem we see within the dietary supplement industry is the lack of regulation. It’s difficult to know if what’s on the label is in the bottle. I’ve seen many people have adverse reactions to supplements.
The next issue I commonly see is when someone hears about the next fad supplement featured on a daytime TV show, does some research on Amazon, and starts using it without knowing if they really need it or not! You can’t trust your health to someone’s review of a product on Amazon, nor can you trust a nutritional product being sold there.
So what should I do doc?
- What are your daily caloric needs? This calculator will show you your “Basal Metabolic Rate” which is the amount of calories your body will burn at rest: http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/ Remember, your caloric needs will change due to activity.
- Track your daily nutrient intake using an app like myfitnesspal (you can listen to an interview I did with them on the podcast).
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How do I choose a supplement?
- Look for brands that are at least “certified GMP“. From the FDA website: “Adherence to the CGMP regulations assures the identity, strength, quality, and purity of drug products by requiring that manufacturers of medications adequately control manufacturing operations.”
- When you find a brand that is certified GMP then you need to look specifically at the “other ingredients“. I recommend starting here because if it’s filled with binders/fillers/flow agents, then the main ingredients don’t really matter all that much. The main culprits are magnesium stearate, titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, carrageenan, any artificial colorings, any hydrogenated oils, magnesium silicate. Go look at your supplements right now…if it has these, I would highly suggest discontinuing taking them.
- Now let’s look at the main ingredient list. Check to see if it contains the active form of the vitamin. For example: Vitamin B12 active form is methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin, whereas the inactive form is cyanocobalamin. The inactive form basically means that the body must “convert it” to the active form in order to utilize it. The conversion uses nutritional resources. Also check to see if your minerals are chelated (must be organically bound to an amino acid…like glycinates or gluconates).
- See if the company will supply you with monographs of each product. These will show you the lab analysis which ultimately tells you if what they state on the label is actually in the product.
- If the company doesn’t have monographs (as most won’t), ask to see if they have any 3rd party labs who have tested the products. These 3rd party labs will usually buy the product at random (just like any consumer) and then put it through their fancy lab equipment to test for purity levels and to see if what’s on the label is in the product. Consumer Labs will often do this.
- Next, you’ll want to see if there has been any clinical data on the particular product you’ll be using. The clinical data will reveal a few things: if the product actually dissolves, if it absorbs and if it causes some type of favorable cellular change.
- See what others are saying. You should be able to find reviews about the product. Look carefully at the “negative reviews” and see if there’s a common pattern. Ignore individual complaints, but if you see a lot of people saying the same negative comment, that’s a warning sign.
- Is the product organic, gmo-free, gluten free, etc…(you know, the common things people look for on the label).
- If you are serious about your health, I highly recommend working directly with someone who can help determine your nutritional needs. This is typically done through a list of questionnaires, taking a full history, performing specific lab tests and then putting together an action plan. I have a health coaching program that goes specifically through this entire process. We will sit down (over the internet) and create a specific plan for you.
- If working with a health specialist is not feasible for you, then subscribing to a site like www.consumerlabs.com will give you some valuable information on the quality of the supplements you’re interested in. Or keep subscribing to our free podcast as we provide tips and tricks to help you attain optimal health!
I hope this helps a little. It’s a subject that can go very deep. But just remember this, what may have worked for someone else, may not work for you. It’s all about biochemical individuality.
Latest posts by Dr. Mike Okouchi (see all)
- Episode 61: How to Choose a Nutritional Supplement - August 8, 2018
- Episode 60: The 5 Overlooked Causes of Low Back Pain - August 1, 2018
- The primary systems of body control - November 26, 2017