Supplements are intended to provide micronutrients that we do not consume in our normal diet. The typical American diet is being too low in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy oils, and too high in red meat, high-fat dairy products, processed and fast foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, salt, and calories. With this diet, overtime our bodies will start to become depleted in certain nutrients, which then can contribute to chronic diseases. Supplements are a great way to bridge the gap between a poor diet and depleted nutrients. Obviously, the best way to get micronutrients is through a proper diet but with our busy lifestyles making healthy choices is often put on the backburner.
This is where supplements come in but not all supplements are created equally. Supplements are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration which gives supplement manufactures free range of what they put into them. Having over a decade of experience in conservative healthcare, I’ve seen and heard about all of the “best” and “great” supplements that are supposed to “cure” this or “burn fat.” When a patient says that they take supplements I always want to know the brand, the ingredients, and why they are taking them. Here’s why. Most supplement companies that you see at your local Walmart or grocery store use cheaply made versions of vitamins, minerals, and herbs. This is a great way for the companies to save on costs but are they really helping you? For example, lets talk about calcium. Calcium has multiple important roles in our body, from helping us form strong bones and teeth, to helping maintain a regular heartbeat. Most calcium supplements will be calcium oxide or calcium carbonate. These are forms of calcium but what most people don’t know is that our bodies can have trouble absorbing these forms because they require stomach acid to help absorb calcium. Calcium chelate is the most absorbable form of calcium and does not require stomach acid to be absorbed, but is also more expensive.
Fish oils are another common supplement that many of my patients take. Again, certain companies will take whatever fish, often multiple fish at a time, and harvest their oil and just put them in a capsule and label it “Omega-3 fish oils.” Well, it is true that there are Omega-3’s in fish oil but depending on what fish they harvested it from there could be higher levels of mercury!
Lastly, herbs are another area where shady supplement companies get away with lying to their consumers. Several supplement companies will put fillers in their herbal supplements and sell them as “Gingko Balboa, St. John’s Wart, or Echinacea.” Don’t believe me? Do a quick Google search of “GNC herbal supplement law suit.” By the time they sell millions of dollars’ worth of herbal supplements a quick settlement for a few hundred thousand is a win to them. We’ve heard about echinacea and its immune boosting properties but did you know the only part of the plant that contains those therapeutic benefits is in the root? So, if you’re taking echinacea and it doesn’t have any root in it, you’re unfortunately wasting your money!
With all of this said it’s important to do some research before starting a supplementation routine. I always encourage my patients to bring in their supplement bottles to take pictures of them because I want to make sure they are spending their money wisely and not just flushing it down the drain. If you’re not sure if the supplements your taking are beneficial, talk to your local functional medicine provider, chiropractor who has experience in quality supplement companies, or nutritionist!
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