Supplements: The Good, Bad and Unbelievable
The supplement industry is gaining more and more popularity these days (raking in hundreds of billions of dollars a year, to be exact). On one hand, it’s encouraging that so many people are aware of how nutritional deficiencies can impact their health but on the other hand, it’s upsetting to see companies making money off of people’s good (yet uninformed) intentions. Before we get into it, do you know the purpose of specific vitamins and minerals? Do you know what specific foods you can be eating daily in order to get these nutrients? In case you need a (very brief) refresher:
Nutrients are the chemical substances found in food that are necessary to sustain life. They play many key roles in the body, including:
contributing to the body’s structure
regulating and assisting in body processes
Essential nutrients are necessary to support life and cannot be produced by the body. This means they must be supplied by the diet. Water, fat, protein and carbohydrates (macronutrients) are included in this but today, we’re only focusing on vitamins and minerals (micronutrients).
act as helpers in metabolic processes
support tissue growth, vitality and overall health
support digestion, elimination and immune function
prevent deficiency related disorders and health problems
act as cofactors for enzyme reactions
facilitate the transfer of nutrients across cell membranes
maintain proper nerve conduction
contract and relax muscles
regulate tissue growth
provide structural and functional support
This isn’t a popular reminder, but it is a necessary one. I understand that a one-size-fits-all quick fix sounds nice but the reality is, health just doesn’t work that way. You can’t out-supplement a bad diet. Always, always, always start with a nutrient-dense diet full of real, whole foods that are properly prepared to ensure your body can digest and utilize those beautiful nutrients! God knew what He was doing when he created the foods that grow from the earth, walk the land and swim the seas. If you truly learn about the nutritional components of real, whole foods, you’ll soon begin to realize that there was never a need to mess with it in the first place. Purchasing “fortified” foods like milk, cereal or bread is counter-productive — you’re eating something stripped of any original nutrients with synthetic, incomplete forms of vitamins and minerals added back in (along with flavors, sugars and additives). If you allow your eyes to be opened, you start to see how misinformed, disingenuous and profit-driven big food companies are and that our health is the last thing on their priority list. It’s also important to note that processed, denatured “foods” as well as some medications actually deplete the body of nutrients. So, if you’re simply using supplements as a way to continue eating the Standard American Diet, it will not get you far.
What foods can you eat to get these essential nutrients?
Best sources for vitamins: organic fruits and vegetables (especially the yellow, red, orange and dark green variety), raw & full-fat cultured foods, pasture-raised meat, poultry, eggs and butter, wild-caught seafood and properly prepared grains/nuts/seeds/legumes. These foods will give you the bio-available form (the complete form needed for your body to utilize it) of vitamin A, the B-Complex, C, D, E and K.
Best sources for minerals: raw & full-fat dairy products, mineral-rich bone broths, eggs, unrefined sea salt, organic vegetables, mineral-rich water (not reverse osmosis water, for example), leafy green vegetables and properly prepared grains/nuts/legumes. These foods will give you the bio-available form of Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chloride, Magnesium, Silicon, Iron, Boron, Zinc, Vanadium, Selenium, Manganese, Iodine, Molybdenum and Chromium.
While our ancestors could solely depend on these foods for their vitamin and mineral needs, we have to face the facts of modern-day soil. Thanks to modern agriculture, the soil isn’t what it was years ago which means the food that comes from it is depleted in those very nutrients I listed. You could be eating the most beautiful array of whole foods but still be deficient in certain nutrients. This is where supplementation can be helpful.
From here, individualized recommendations can be made for you based on personal needs. With the help of a functionally-minded practitioner, lab work can help guide you with supplementation. These can identify deficiencies and imbalances that YOU have and be a starting place to find specific nutrients that will balance those out.
As amazing as it would be to go to the nearest store or to take advantage of 2-day shipping online to get your supplement needs, the truth is, they are not created equal. Just like most food companies take short cuts to make money off of the consumer, supplement companies are no different. The following excerpt is actually nothing new but perhaps an important piece of information for you.
The New York Times stated in an article that “The New York State attorney general’s office accused four major retailers of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements and demanded that they remove the products from their shelves. The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. Among the attorney general’s findings was a popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens, promoted for “physical endurance and vitality,” that contained only powdered garlic and rice. At Walmart, the authorities found that a Chinese plant promoted as a memory enhancer contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat — despite a claim on the label that the product was gluten-free. Three out of six herbal products at Target tested negative for the herbs on their labels. The investigation came as a welcome surprise to health experts who have long complained about the quality and safety of dietary supplements, which are exempt from strict regulatory oversight.”
Unfortunately, the same goes for places like Costco and Amazon. Amazon, specifically, is a go-to for consumers to find a bargain. However, unless sold directly by the company that made the supplement, it is a haven for fraudulent supplements. This can mean they are counterfeit and dangerous, expired products that are re-packaged as new, or stolen products without any quality control.
If you want to hear about this in more depth, a special agent who used to work for the the FDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shares his findings here.
And finally, I want to address the trendy, beautifully-packaged supplements that you may see celebrities and bloggers advertising over social media. To state the obvious, they’re getting paid to share about these companies. I’m not saying this means they are terrible, but you should be aware that there is a motive. Second, they are not doctors nor nutritionists so it can be dangerous and unhelpful to tell their hundreds of thousands of followers to take a certain product without truly knowing anything about quality, sourcing or how nutrients work together. Lastly, they do not know what YOUR body needs, what medications you may be on or what is out out of balance or deficient. Blanket statements are a red flag and means your bio-individuality is not being considered or respected. It is possible to have too much of a nutrient!
Where should you buy supplements?
Directly from the manufacturer’s website (and yes, this probably means waiting longer than 2 days to receive it! Sometimes you have to choose between being patient for a quality, real product or quickly receiving a counterfeit product)
Directly from your doctor/practitioner
In their office, they might keep an inventory of their go-to supplements
FullScript, an online dispensary which gives practitioners the option to set a discount and the ability for clients/patients to purchase it themselves (Many of the supplements I mention below can be found on FullScript and I am happy to share the 15% discount with you after you learn what your body needs)
A trusted online source that sells the actual product in the first place, like Pure Formulas for example
If you are going to look for supplements on Amazon, you need to make sure they are coming from the actual manufacturer. Look for “Sold By: insert manufacturer. This is different than “By: insert manufacturer. Another tip: if it is heavily discounted from everything else you’re seeing, you can absolutely assume that there is a reason for that.
While this is obviously not a complete list, these are several brands and products I trust (when it’s coming right from the manufacturer) for common deficiencies. Once you know what supplements your body needs with the help of a practitioner, feel free to use this list as a guide:
Vitamin B Complex: Vital Nutrients B-Complex, Designs for Health B-Supreme or Thorne Basic B Complex. These options offer B1, B2, B3, B5, B7, B6, B9 and B12, which is “the B Complex”. Keep in mind your body may be deficient in just one of these so don’t assume you need all of them!
Vitamin C: Pure Synergy Pure Radiance C or Vitamin Code RAW Vitamin C. Both of these options are Vitamin C in it’s complete, whole food form unlike “ascorbic acid” which is essentially just an incomplete shell of Vitamin C that your body can’t do anything with.
Vitamin D3 + K2: Thorne Vitamin D/K2 Drops or Designs for Health Vitamin D Supreme. If you are taking Vitamin D (or receiving it from the sun which is even better!) and not getting enough Vitamin K, you’re missing out. It is a delicate dance between the two and you need both in adequate amounts for optimal health. These two options provide just that.
Magnesium: The best (and most economical) way to get magnesium is with a bath or foot soak using magnesium chloride. This type is easily absorbed by the skin, unlike epsom salt (magnesium sulfate). Supplementation of magnesium can be helpful for some depending on the form (for example, magnesium oxide can relieve constipation) but to actually raise magnesium levels in the body, receiving magnesium chloride transdermally is the most effective.
Trace Minerals: Adding a pinch of Celtic Sea Salt to your water is a great source of trace minerals. If you’re needing more, I suggest trying Trace Minerals Research ConcenTrace Mineral Drops to add to your water.
Probiotics: Microbiome Labs MegaSporeBiotic or Just Thrive Spore-Based Probiotic. You’ll see TONS of probiotic options nowadays, many in the refrigerator section of a health foods store. If they need to be refrigerated, how do you think they’ll survive through your stomach acid and digestive tract? Hint: They won’t!
Prenatal: Thorne Basic Prenatal or Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal or Pure Synergy PureNatal. You have most likely heard to take a prenatal with folic acid but this couldn’t be any more misguided (in other words, please inform yourself!). First, prenatal nutrition (at least several months before conception) is essential to a healthy baby. If you need more nutrients than what your diet is giving you (labs will help here as well), then I would suggest one of these prenatals. If anything, make sure your prenatal has FOLATE, not folic acid. (The BEST source for folate is liver from pasture-raised animals, by the way!)
Bitters: Urban Moonshine Bitters, Herb Pharm Better Bitters or Quicksilver Scientific Liver Sauce. Making sure your body is producing enough stomach acid to signal the necessary cascade of events further down your digestive tract is KEY to absorbing these nutrients in the first place. For some people, supplementing with actual HCL (hydrochloric acid) might be necessary but please work with a practitioner before doing so. This piece is so incredibly important that I should list this before anything else! The majority of people do not even know this is a missing piece in their health puzzle.