I’ve been receiving some questions from readers, and in this newsletter I’m highlighting supplements. Not all supplements are created equal, and not every supplement is right for every “body.”
A reader wrote to me:
“Why are plant based supplements better than drug store or carefully groomed sources of supplements?”
Supplements are a super useful tool in my work. Typically I use them therapeutically for a defined length of time to support healing in conjunction with food choices and lifestyle practices. Once my client has met their health goals, we remove them and maintain only the few that I determine will support the client long term. I always encourage my clients to return for a ‘tune up’! Supplements are not magic bullets - not another way of creating a ‘pill for an ill.’ It’s important to understand them so you’re taking the right ones for you.
The short answer about “plant based” supplements is that they aren’t necessarily better. It’s rare - maybe impossible - to find a vitamin supplement that is truly 100% food (or plant) based. Many or most of them have added commercially produced synthetic vitamins (minerals can’t be synthetic). If a supplement makes health claims based on being manufactured from whole foods to justify their higher price, read the label. In fact, always read the label to know what you’re actually consuming. Synthetic vitamins are standard. The only one I know for sure can be deeply problematic is synthetic folic acid (and it’s everywhere) - read my July ‘23 newsletter. Also, the “whole food” claim may be due to additional ingredients rather than the main focus of the product.
Beware of any supplemental “whole food” product that makes broad health claims - consider the price, the seller (is it an MLM?), and (again) read the label. Are there added synthetic nutrients? Does it seem too good to be true? Is a full list of product ingredients hard to find? What about their supposedly great research? I have tracked down touted research for MLM products only to find smoke and mirrors.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You!
I’m sure you’ve noticed that many supplements (including greens/reds powders, all-in-one protein powders, and multivitamin-mineral products) have additional elements, such as herbs or spices (e.g. turmeric/curcumin, cinnamon). The reverse is true, too - an herb- or protein-based supplement might have additional vitamins and minerals.
There can be problems with this approach, such as:
Where Can I Get Good Advice on What’s Right for Me?
Many times the consumer and medical professionals wing it based on a shallow understanding. For example, very few people understand that calcium supplements intended for bone health can actually worsen heart disease by causing calcium to be deposited in soft tissue. Bone building requires several synergistic nutrients as well as particular physical stressors to make bones stronger, not just calcium. Another one is iron sulfate for anemia - constipation central and low absorption! There’s a better option. Mistakes with supplements happen all the time.
A few days ago my own mom’s eye doctor recommended an AREDS multivitamin-mineral to help prevent the progression of macular degeneration. He didn’t ask and so didn’t know that she was already taking a potent multivitamin. The double dosing could have been dangerous for her. He also didn’t compare it to her medication, and the high dose of vitamin E and other antioxidants may be contraindicated with some of her medication. I was so glad that she checked it with me first!
Avoiding this type of confusion is where a Certified Nutrition Specialist can make all the difference. A CNS knows:
Here’s Your Most Important Take Away
The most important thing to remember is that supplements that are right for one person may be useless or even flat wrong for another.
Supplemental nutrients or herbs can have powerful effects on health status. They can make all the difference to improving one person’s health and create terrible unintended health consequences for someone else.
And I love a good doctor, but most of them simply don’t have appropriate nutrition training to make worthwhile supplement and food recommendations. It’s just not their area of expertise.
In spite of the ready availability of supplements in stores and online, I 100% recommend that everyone seek the guidance of a clinical nutritionist.
Do You Have Questions About Your Supplements?
As I said, supplements can be really confusing, and not every healthcare practitioner knows how to recommend them. I offer a free 15-20 minute consultation where you can ask me any questions about the supplements you are taking!
I am Mary Virginia Coffman (I go by “Mary Virginia”), a clinical nutritionist who focuses on mental health, digestive health, metabolic health, and nervous system regulation. My unique combination of clinical interventions, education, and coaching will help you feel well in body, mind, and spirit.