Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dietary Supplements, or Not?


I know you continue to tell people that supplementation is not necessary except for use as part of a treatment plan, and that we should always pay attention to scientific research when making our decisions about health and nutrition.   I am confused because some of the people selling supplements give me studies that seem to indicate that their products are effective.

This is a great question!  First, I firmly believe in the appropriate use of supplements, and for purposes of this response, we’ll talk about those supplements containing isolated nutrients.  Supplements are valuable as part of a treatment plan developed and overseen by a competent professional, while addressing the underlying cause of degenerative conditions, which means positive changes in diet and lifestyle.  However, that is generally not how supplements are sold.

Supplements are recommended, in many instances, to make up for what is lacking in the diet.  There are thousands of nutrients in food, and although you don’t need a lot of any of them every day, you need a little of all of them daily.  Taking a few isolated nutrients is not going to “make up for” nutrients missing in the daily diet.

Supplements are also sold as a preventive tool.  However, research continues to show that isolated nutrients alone do not prevent degenerative conditions.  What does work for prevention is dietary excellence and optimal habits.  

There is credible research to indicate the efficacy of supplements in recovering from degenerative disease, but my research has shown that this works when they are part of a comprehensive approach to treatment.  

Now, to address the most important part of your question, which is studies that show a positive effect of supplements on certain biomarkers.  I have seen numerous studies like this.  The studies almost always show a positive effect on one or two biomarkers for a short period of time.  The problem is that this short-term effect has been shown to have little to do with long-term outcomes.  A recent example is the study that showed that lowering homocysteine levels through the use of Vitamin supplements did not reduce the risk of heart disease.  Traditional medicine also often uses short-term effects on biomarkers to justify treatment with similar dismal results.  For example, oncologists often talk about 50% response rates for tumors when certain chemotherapy drugs are used.  This sounds impressive, but in many cases, the tumors only respond for 28 days, and many of the patients are dead a year later.  So, the bottom line is that short term measurement of biomarkers is not a determination of the long-term efficacy of any approach, pharmaceutical or otherwise.

Another important point that should be made here is that when looking at scientific research, it is important not to take into consideration just one or two studies, but to look at the preponderance of the scientific evidence.  Citing only one or two studies allows almost anyone to make a point about almost anything.   It is only when research is placed in context that it can be evaluated properly, and this is the basis for how responsible medical professionals make recommendations.

In my experience, what most people want is longevity and, even more important, high quality of life.  This is only achieved by working at improving the totality of the way you live your life.  This means dietary excellence (not just doing better than the neighbors), an appropriate amount of exercise, enough rest and sleep, paying attention to relationships with others, and dealing with stress in constructive ways.  

Supplements have their place, but will never take the place of living optimally.


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Medically trained in the UK. Writes on the subjects of injuries, healthcare and medicine. Contact me [email protected]

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