Supplements: do you use them and are they recommended?
May 5, 2018
This is such a popular topic in the ‘Conversations with an Audience’ events that I am humbled by being invited to hold around the country. I thought you would enjoy me sharing my opinion on supplements briefly here.
Please note, as always, the preface to everything I say is:
- I am not a qualified health expert. I am not qualified to give advice
- I speak using the lessons learnt from experimentation with my body. Everyone is bio-individual so I urge you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
In addition to the question ‘what do I think of using supplements’ I am also asked related questions, such as
- What supplements you I use?
- In what doses?
- What supplier do I recommend?
- What do I think about Supplier X,Y,Z?
Whilst the following may not answer all your questions I hope that the beliefs and underlying principles provide the hidden answers to your questions.
My guiding principles
In my ‘Conversations with an Audience’ I talk about my philosophies and beliefs. I fall back on these beliefs when other logic fails to produce answers for me .
With the subject of supplements, ‘whole food plant-based nutrition’ is the one core philosophy that I revert to. I apply this to anything I put in my mouth (and on my skin & body).
Supplements are not a whole food. Stuff is taken out, stuff is put in (the filler, the casing) and stuff is ‘fiddled’ with. But I don’t know what. Sources and characteristics of ingredients (GMO, animal proteins, etc) are not transparent either. And I don’t know the ethics of one supplement supplier from another.
I see supplements foremost as a commercial tool for someone to make some money. Not for making someone better. If taking supplements did make someone better, then it would remove the need for the supplement. This is not sustainable business, not on large scale anyway. Smaller companies may have more benevolent motivations but this gets lost as companies grow. You may call me a cynical old goat but I believe that by the time we have all heard of a mass market supplement company, the necessary expense of marketing and scaled up production means that product quality has flown out the window. Remember this is just Big Food or Big Pharma, by a different name.
So, generally speaking I don’t believe in the taking of supplements.
Come on Nick, get off the fence – do you take supplements?
Everything I have said thus far is slightly over simplistic.
I think supplements do have a role:
- As a temporary therapeutic aid. For example I supercharged my nutrition with pancreatic enzymes to mend my gut biome after being nuked by chemotherapy;
- Perhaps for specific long-term conditions where more natural options have been exhausted. However, I would still keep experimenting to try to address the root cause naturally;
- If your body’s ability to absorb, or make, a nutrient thorough the natural route is compromised, either due to sometinhg that has happened in life or something that you were born with.
At the end of the day we have to decide what are the differences, and uses, of everything that we consume along a ‘medicine continuum’ that might look like:
Food (plants, herbs & spices) – herbal medicines – supplements – pharmaceuticals
And sometimes of course, the right choice of one of the lesser of two evils.
Really? Are there no exceptions to your rule?
Another life philosophy of mine is the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. This says that, in any process of change, it is easier to make one hundred, one percent improvements (100 x 1%) than it is to make a single, one hundred percent improvement (1 x 100%).
And so, where I am now on my supplement journey is not where I started. Nor is it where I will stay. The same might be for you too.
I was taking 36 pills a day at one point, after the full ravages of chemotherapy. These were mostly supplements suggested by my nutritionist. I never felt comfortable with this, but I think it probably was the right thing to do therapeutically .
Now, eighteen months later, I consider myself in a more maintenance & prevention status. I eat upwards of 2 kilos of 75 identifiable plant ingredients on a daily basis. Science has yet to catch up, but there is thought to be between 300 and 1,000 active compounds in a plant and so I am likely to be putting a minimum of 20,000 active and complex ‘medicines’ into my body, on a daily basis.
This, over the long term, has got to be better than any supplement programme.
Most people living in northern climates are likely to be deficient in Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. In the past I could find reason to Vitamin D supplement. However, ever on the lookout for 1% improvement opportunities, I heard a very plausible alternative story the other day.
It goes like this:
- The body is designed to make Vitamin D (which is actually a pre-hormone, not a vitamin) by the skin. If you put Vitamin D in your mouth, it stands to reason that:
- You are not using your skin properly;
- Who knows what happens when you put a Vitamin D pill though the acids and other processes of the digestion system?
- Therefore the fix is:
- Find a way to get into the sun;
- If you can’t, use a safe indoor lamp (sometimes referred to as light therapy). Why not get a twenty minute daily dose as you sit at your desk? (There are lots of lamps on the internet, though be sure to seek good advice and get the right wavelength light – which I understand to be UVB 311 nanometres).
Vegetarians and vegans are warned that their B12 levels are likely to be low. This is because B12 is a vitamin that is only found through eating specific micro-organisms, or the products of these.
In the old days, we used to ingest sufficient micro-organisms in the dirty vegetables we ate. Nowadays, because:
- soil is so deplete of these organisms;
- many commercially bought vegetables never see soil in their lives;
- we are encouraged to wash vegetables (to remove more harmful pesticides);
then the only ways to ingest B12 are to:
- eat animal products (since the animals ingest these micro-organisms AND are themselves supplemented with B12 – how crazy is this??);
- eat other foods fortified with B12 (eg breakfast cereals, plant milks);
However, I am experimenting in the hope that I can get my B12 from my organic vegetable patch!
I am currently experimenting with no supplements.
It’s broccoli (homegrown) all the way, for me!
Thank you to dear friend Jennie Lindfiled for being the inspiration behind writing this blog.
A note of caution: know your food and testing
Know the make up of your food. This way you can plan, ensuring that you get all the nutrients your body needs. I use the awesome site cronometer.com
It is very important to measure your vitamin and mineral levels. What you eat is not what your body absorbs. Test, whether supplementing or not. I use Genova Diagnostics for my testing.