Routine Supplements: Help, Hype, Hazard or Hope?

Topics: Aging and Costs of Aging, Drug Food Safety, Vitamins and Supplements, Wellness and Health

Half the U.S. takes at least one supplement daily. My personal favorite is a guy who came into my office with a Trader Joe’s double-handled bag and deposited 33 bottles on my desk. 45 minutes later…*

Three reports this week again show that dietary supplements can act like medicine–they can help, or they can make things worse.

The first large report showed that multivitamins and iron supplements, separately, increased mortality and cancer risk in older women (mean age 61),  The second showed that 400 IU of vitamin E daily increased prostate cancer in healthy men.  And the third, from Institute of Medicine authors, cautioned about overdoing Vitamin D…not more than 600IU daily, vs the Endocrine Society recommendations (1000-2000 IU of vitamin D3 daily).

Lots of info is missing: supplement quality is hard to monitor, and many contain binders, fillers, additives, artificial preservatives, coloring and flavors; dosages matter; so do other interactions.

But supplements are disease-specific. Just not as gently as food (usually), or as sharply as medication (often). Dr. Weil will give you a free vitamin recommendation + 25% off your order for specific conditions.

Omega 3 Fish oilSome specific supplements improve wound healing, especially important to the post-operative patient and clinician. Others are FDA-approved for lowering triglycerides (omega-3s, making a prescription medication) and macular degeneration (ditto). Folic acid supplements taken by pregnant women reduce risk of severe language delay in 3 year olds; in men, however, they may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

The bottom line: there’s hope. If you take a supplement, you should do a Therapeutic Trial.

Start and stop the supplement (well-researched, high quality) on the basis of which symptoms you expect it to improve. Write them down, on a scale of 1 to 10: 4 or  or 8 or 12 weeks later, gauge them again. Then pull out the paper and see if you made progress.

*… his simplified supplements meant a clearer head, clearer urine and a clearer approach to his own health.