There has been a recent flood of media attention lately that natural supplements are bad for you. In fact, apparently, some writers of major news publications have even gone as far to tout supplements as "magic pills" saying that they may even do us harm in the long run. I mean wow, they may be right! I mean imagine the look of disappointment on my face after spending money on supplements when no magic sprinkles or pixie dust unleashed from my capsules! But ladies and gentlemen, doctors and writers, I can, with much relief report, that I came out unscathed.
Whew... that was a close one.
If you're new to this whole debate, the Western medical community has released a set of studies that claim that supplements did not reduce heart disease, the risk of cancer or slow down the risk of cognitive ability. In fact some even speculate that there may even be a long-term risk when consuming these magic pills.
So what's a trained practitioner like myself to do? Look into it of course.
Supplements: Nutritional deficiencies & the root cause
I mean lets face it, we're always told the complete truth and nothing but the truth from the media, right? So when the study on the efficacy of supplements on cardiovascular-related disease was released, they of course would have conducted this study on the known nutritional deficiencies of its subjects, right? Well, not exactly. I suppose this was the part where they didn't read our magic sorcery book. I mean really, what does the current nutritional deficiencies of any subject have anything to do with their health right? Pffft, forget that, let's just smack them with a truckload of supplements to treat the symptom, in this case cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer rather than the underlying problem.
You see this line of thinking isn't new. Got a problem? Here's a pill for that. Problem is, what most people fail to understand is that two people who have the same issue (take CVD and cancer for instance) don't necessarily have it for the same reason. Factors such as genetic composition, hereditary factors, organ function, stress levels, past drug use and of course diet play a major role. So despite administering supplements like vitamin A, E, and selenium, it may actually prove to have little to no effect. After all, these supplements are given via a Band-Aid approach rather than addressing the root cause.
Multivitamins the jack of all trade & masters of none
Of these studies, a multivitamin was administered over the course of 12 years to prevent cognitive ability and still, poof! No magical reveal. Well consider this, a multivitamin contains a certain level of each vitamin and minerals as set by the RDA (recommended daily allowance). And this amount can be quite low for someone who may be a smoker and have high stress levels (holla to the majority of the North American populace!). It's why as a Nutritionist and Acupuncturist I never recommend them to my patients. Rather I uncover the root and treat the primary imbalance and catalyst of it all with a therapeutic dose of specific supplements.
Supplements: Are they really dangerous?
With a flurry of media attention touting studies to show that supplements are dangerous, it's no wonder why it may set off alarm bells in some. In fact the main study that keeps getting attention is the one from the early 90's conducted in Finland. They administered beta-carotene prophylactically to a group of subjects at high risk for lung cancer. The test was suspended when the beta-carotene group started developing cancer at higher rates than the control group. You see, it's true, at a high dose, these beta-carotene metabolites might work to block vitamin A, but it's not exactly a big surprise that an overdose could cause problems. I mean Vitamin A is toxic at high doses but so is water.
You see the average individual will go into a health food store and pick up a certain handful of supplements. They would never overdose unless advised to while under the care of a qualified practitioner. The rates of death by these "nefarious natural supplements" is actually not cited but rather speculated. Moreover, you may be surprised to learn that there is an estimated 100,000 deaths from improperly prescribed medications annually. Because while there is a place for Western medical drugs, it is important to know that they do affect various elimination organs. Take Accutane for example (a popularly prescribed acne medication) has been known to cause birth defects, can raise the risk for potential heart and promote liver problems. Or Fosamax (a readily prescribed weekly pill to prevent osteoporosis) has had hundred of lawsuits filed where plaintiffs allegedly developed osteonecrosis of the jaw. You see, yes, Fosamax does prevent the breakdown of bone, but we actually need to continue the cycle of breakdown (osteoclasts) in order to rebuild bone (osteoblasts).
In fact, there actually has been multiple studies to show the efficacy of supplementation rather then ineffectiveness of them.
So where does this leave us?
If you're concerned about the supplements you're taking, then seek the expertise of a qualified practitioner (nutritionist, naturopath, etc.) rather than listen to the media that doesn't always give you the whole story. Remember that supplements are only there to supplement or rather compliment a proper nutrient-rich, whole food diet. Because understand this: no supplement is the magic bullet.
And before you go thinking I'm anti-Western med, know that I believe there are some pretty incredible Western medical doctors around doing great things. I simply believe that what we need to do is analyze the entire spectrum of an individual's case rather than group a subset of individuals with similar symptoms (cancer for example) containing multiple root causes.
You see, I believe that there's room for both of us and that a Naturopath or a Nutritionist & Acupuncture like myself for example, can definitely compliment a Western Medical approach. There's room for both of us but sometimes insecurities do yield greater in volume than confidence.
In the meantime, I will continue to effectively and properly recommend nutritional supplementation to my patients and continue to see them thrive - because they do!
Hmm...I suppose I really do believe in magic after all.
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