"Because of those lax policies, supplements that make their way into retail stores, doctors' offices, and hospitals can pose a number of potential problems. They can be ineffective, contaminated with microbes or heavy metals, dangerously mislabeled, or intentionally spiked with illegal or prescription drugs. They can also cause harmful side effects by themselves and interact with prescription medication in ways that make those drugs less effective.”
-Consumer Reports, July 2016
These words from a recent article published on consumerreports.org, and in the September 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine, criticize nutritional supplements for being a deadly health hazard. Yet, the article slammed the door on research that supports the opposite conclusion and failed to mention the countless ways that food, herbs and minerals have been restoring our health for thousands of years.
Now, here's the thing- I agree we need to educate ourselves about anything we introduce into our diets, including supplements. This article makes valid points about researching negative side effects, getting all of the facts about potential drug-supplement interactions, and paying attention to processing methods and additives that shouldn't be on an ingredients label.
But other than that, this article is wrong.
If anything, this article only vaguely pointed out the differences in regulation between supplements and pharmaceuticals along with mistakes that health professionals have made with recommending nutritional supplements. And when a poor quality supplement is taken or the wrong supplement is recommended, it's true: Supplements don't do much good.
However, that doesn't mean all nutritional supplements might be harmful.
In fact, what isn't discussed is the number of deaths caused each year by pharmaceuticals compared to nutritional supplements. The article fails to point out that the FDA has significant authority over the safety and manufacturing of nutritional supplements and that their safety profile is significantly better than over-the-counter drugs. It also simply ignores the significant safety concerns over the myriad prescription drugs being marketed today. One only needs to listen to commercials related to prescription drugs to see how potentially dangerous these products are. Of even greater concern, not all OTC drugs disclose the potentially harmful consequences beyond drug side effects in their commercials. For instance, it is downright dangerous to mix common OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen with alcohol because of liver toxicity issues.
In contrast, as many of the patients I've seen over the years have discovered, when you choose the right high quality supplement for the appropriate health concern, you will see the benefits.
The key to understanding how to choose supplements is to make knowledgeable choices.
Now, I'd love to draw from every point I've learned in the past three decades about recommending supplements to my patients. But a blog post is simply too limited to cover that much information. Instead, I can offer some basic guidelines to help you make informed choices when you do decide to use nutritional supplements.
Here's what you need to know about how to choose supplements that work best for you.
Know What to Look For in a Nutritional Supplement
The article mentions that according to a 2015 Consumer Reports survey,
Sure, this might be true.
But that doesn't mean supplement makers don't test their products for effectiveness or safety. However, neither do manufacturers of OTC drugs. Rather, both manufacturers are allowed to rely on
Now, I understand that knowing which questions to ask in order to determine the purity of a supplement can be overwhelming - especially because each supplement has different requirements when it comes to quality.
For example, chlorella grows in freshwater pools in Japan, which may come in contact with toxic heavy metals. For this reason, it's important to ask questions about whether or not your chlorella supplement undergoes routine heavy metal testing. In fact, multi-vitamin and herbal manufacturers likewise do a significant amount of heavy metal testing because these materials absorb lead,
Regardless of which kind of supplement you're taking, here are the main points to consider:
- Are there any toxic chemical additives, binders or fillers in the supplement? If so, the supplement should be avoided.
- Is your supplement properly packaged to prevent damage from heat, light or oxygen?
- Is your supplement GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certified? A GMP certification indicates that a supplement has been tested for potency and purity.
- Is your supplement at risk for being contaminated with environmental pollutants?And lastly, is your supplement from a natural or synthetic source?
Which brings me to my next
Go Natural When It Comes to Supplements
As the Consumer Reports article has suggested, some supplements can, in fact, be harmful if the materials are not properly sourced...
I am not a believer in supplementing with vitamin K as it can be easy to overdose on it if the manufacturer is not careful about dosing.
However, if you get vitamin K from natural food sources, supplementing vitamin K is not as much as a concern. Since toxic level for vitamin K isn't found in whole foods, your body absorbs what you need and may store small amounts. But it's unlikely you'd be able to eat enough parsley or leafy greens in one sitting to ever encounter vitamin K toxicity.
But it's also important to remember that even if you go natural, you must also make sure your supplement is a whole food supplement.
The Best Supplements Are Whole Food Supplements
The best supplements are whole food supplements, period.
While we've discovered uses for isolated vitamins and plant compounds, and while I'll sometimes recommend my patients use certain extracts or isolated vitamins, nothing beats the chemistry of whole foods for providing your body with superior nutrition.
The functional nutrients found in food work synergistically to nourish you in extraordinarily complex ways. And when we try to isolate them, we miss out on powerful health benefits. It's like removing a guitarist or drummer from a band. Music can still be made, but it's a
Let's take the supplement eleuthero, for example. Scientists have found that some of the isolated compounds of eleuthero, called
Use Supplements According to Your Individual Needs
The article also discussed another perceived downfall of supplements, which is that they're easier to get than pharmaceuticals. But it goes without saying that even if a supplement is easy to get, it shouldn't be taken unless it suits your current individual needs.
For example, just because vitamin A supplements worked for your friend, doesn't mean they'll work for you. If you eat plenty of foods that are rich in this vitamin, such as pumpkin, squash,
The type of supplementation each person requires depends on several factors, such as their current state of health, their symptoms, stress levels, genetic makeup,
As you can guess, supplementation will work best for you when it's tailored to your individual health concerns. When adding supplements to your diet, start with you and what you're struggling with that you wish to improve.
In fact, a supplement isn't very beneficial unless you learn how to choose the right supplement.
Choose The Appropriate Nutritional Supplement
The article mentioned an important talking point when it comes to nutritional supplements, which is to take the suggested serving size - and to immediately stop taking if you experience even the slightest of symptoms.
While there are general recommendations on labels, it's always best to start slow when it comes to taking new supplements.
For example, when it comes to Sun Chlorella tablets, the recommended serving size for health benefits is up to 45 tablets per day. However, since chlorella is a naturally detoxifying superfood, we strongly suggest starting with 5 tablets daily and gradually increasing the number of tablets you take based on how your body responds.
As a doctor who's witnessed hundreds of people achieve greater levels of health with the use of nutritional supplements, I know this article from Consumer Reports has the potential to cause quite a stir about nutritional supplements - and create fear and concern for readers like you, who care about their health.
But personally, I believe it's a good thing this article came out. Because whether the information is correct, it gives health professionals the chance to further educate their patients on how to choose supplements more effectively.
And with that said, here are my final suggestions for choosing nutritional supplements that work.
1. Do your research.
By doing research, I don't just mean asking a sales associate about their feedback on a product. Instead, go beyond the headlines, and ask questions. Get the information that addresses all of the questions I've brought to your attention in this post.Before taking any nutritional supplement, the best starting point is to learn more about the health concern you have, which will give you greater insight as to whether the nutrient you're considering will be helpful. If you take prescription drugs, it's imperative that you learn which nutrients they may negatively interact with.
2. When In Doubt, Ask a Professional
Consulting with a holistic doctor may also be helpful for clearing up any doubts. As part of our professional work, we keep up with the research. In addition, we have years of experience to draw from to determine how supplements work on a case by case basis.
A holistic doctor can also help you determine the quality of a supplement, and may have greater insight to factors that aren't so obvious, such as processing methods, additives and whether a supplement is natural or synthetic.
3. Use Supplements That Have Gone Through Rigorous Testing
Lastly, consider choosing supplements that have been proven to have gone through rigorous testing. For example, Sun Chlorella® has been accepted for distribution through Emerson Ecologics, which is a supplement store that only sells practitioner-grade supplements.
Companies like Emerson Ecologics set extremely high standards for the products they carry in order to help practitioners like me feel reassured and confident in recommending their nutritional supplements. While you need an official practitioner recommendation for purchasing them, you know that the supplements they carry are quality oriented and well-vetted.
4. Pay Attention to Yourself
And lastly, pay attention to your body. As I briefly mentioned above, it's important to listen to your body's signs and signals to determine whether a nutritional supplement is working for you. Sure, studies are important. But it's simply impossible for a study to capture everyone's unique biochemistry.
Keeping a "food/supplement and symptom journal” may also be helpful for tuning into your body when you introduce a new supplement to your diet. In your journal, always be sure to take note of your mood, energy levels, digestive function, sleep patterns and any other symptoms you may notice.
Above all else, know yourself and take responsibility for your health. No one else can do this job as good as you.
About Mark Drucker, M.D.
Dr. Mark Drucker earned his Medical degree and Bachelor of Sciences degree form the University of Tennessee. Dr. Drucker began his medical career 30 years ago specializing in nutritional and natural medicine. Dr. Drucker is co-host of the popular radio talk show "Health Talk, A Second Opinion," is a distinguished speaker on natural health topics, and is the co-founder and Medical Director of the Center for Advanced Medicine. He is a certified member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging medicine, the American Academy of General Physicians, and a Diplomat Candidate of the American Board of Chelation Therapy, as well as a fellow member of the American College for the Advancement of Medicine.
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 Steinmann GG et al. Immunopharmacological in vitro effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus extracts. Arzneimittelforschung. 2001 Jan;51(1):76-83.