My patients at my integrative medicine clinic in San Jose, CA see me because they believe in natural options for disease prevention and treatment. However, not everyone believes in supplements and with the confusing study reports out these days about how some supplements are harmful, not everyone is comfortable taking them.
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify some issues with these studies. When you are reading summarized reports about various studies, you should know that in order to truly understand what these studies show, you have to go look at the primary study article and not a summary article. Frequently, the poor results apply only to a specific population of people or that they did the study in a way that does not apply to clinical practice. Allow me to explain…
For example, the studies that look at vitamin D at high dosages leading to more fractures were done with dosages that are not used in clinical practice so would not apply to the general public. Even in prior studies with dosages closer to that used in clinical practice, those studies showed benefit, not harm, in regards to fractures.
Another example is a study done on calcium and vitamin D causing more heart attacks in women. This study looked at a subgroup of a larger study and drew that conclusion but various other subgroup studies done on that larger study did not show the same result. The hypothesis is that the calcium and vitamin D, when taking abruptly higher dosages in a woman who has never taken calcium or D supplementation, might be concerning but is still not definitive. The recommendation is to take calcium and D if osteoporosis is a concern and to adjust dosing slowly upwards toward the health goal dosage.
As you can see, studies about vitamins and supplements are complex and the key is looking at the details in the studies. So, if you hear something you are concerned about, you should bring the study article to your doctor and have him or her review it with you so you know what you should be taking or not. Many of the reports of various studies can be misleading so going straight to the source of the article that was written by the authors of the studies can help.
In regards to those who are very much a believer of supplements, there are a few that you should make sure you have in your supplement cabinet.
- Turmeric or Curcumin with black pepper to improve systemic absorption
- Fish oil/Omega-3
- Vitamin D3
Turmeric is seen to have some anti-cancer properties as well as being anti-inflammatory. There are numerous other health benefits but for the purposes of this article, I will stick to these two and you can read more about it and ask your physician about it.
Fish oil or omega-3 and resveratrol also have many health benefits but it can be helpful as an adjunctive therapy for anti-inflammation, sugar metabolism, and high cholesterol or triglycerides, just to name a few benefits. You should of course clear all supplements by your physician before taking them and make sure that there are not any contraindications for you to use them.
Finally, vitamin D3 is helpful for many body functions. Vitamin D is a hormone in the body and is important for bone health, mood, and even has effects on cancer if that is a concern in your family history.
Probiotics are essential for your overall health and we are learning more and more that probiotics can affect your gut health, your mood, your heart health and your inflammatory level, just to name a few things. How healthy your gastrointestinal tract is has a huge impact on your overall health, so probiotics are a must have for my patients and myself. When purchasing probiotics, just remember that many of them have milk/dairy products in it so if you are dairy sensitive, make sure to buy the kind that does not have dairy/milk in it.
While there are many other supplements that should also belong in your supplement cabinet, the most important thing to keep in mind is to clear your supplements by your doctor first before using them and to always update all your physicians of your supplement list so that they can help you avoid complications and drug-supplement interactions.