Updated: May 8
Americans spend over $30 billions dollars each year on supplements.
However, according to a study published on the NIH website, nearly half of Americans (45%) have at least one chronic illness, and the number is growing.
When I see a patient for a first time for their initial consultation, I am very thorough, and this includes going through what supplements they are taking. You might wonder, shouldn't I be taking supplements? Well, let's see...
Three things to consider
What is the quality of the supplement? Is it a synthetic form? Will your body even be able to use it? Just because the bottle may state it has a certain percentage or RDV of a particular vitamin or mineral, doesn't mean it's bioavailable.
Are there harmful additives, preservatives, or chemicals in the bottle that don't need to be there? These include: titanium dioxide, dyes, sugars, polyethylene glycol, gelatin, corn starch, silicon dioxide, oils, lecithin.
Does my body even want a reduced form of this element?
Here is an example for the last point. When you drive a car, you drive the whole car, right? You don't add extra carburetor, for good measure, or a double dose of brake fluid. You wouldn't drive the car with only some of the parts.
Vitamins and minerals are the same. They can't function without all of the parts (contained only by eating the whole plant food), and it can be dangerous to try and supplement them without all the parts, just as it would be dangerous to drive a car missing parts.
Here are some examples:
Beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A - one study found that beta-carotene consumption from food lowered lung cancer risk, but supplementation with beta-carotene increased lung cancer risk, so dramatically, the study with supplementation had to end early to prevent further deaths.
Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with decreased inflammation and protection of the heart, however, in a large study that lasted over fifteen years, looking at nearly 200,000 individuals, it was shown that omega-3 fatty acids from fish consumption and supplements showed that higher intake through fish and supplements was directly related to increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
These are just two examples, taken from the book Whole by T. Colin Campbell & Howard Jacobson.
By eating plenty of plant foods and decreasing or eliminating animal consumption, you will achieve proper balance of your omegas.
No supplement, no matter what it contains or how much you pay for it, will ever replace a robust diet of whole, plant foods.
What are you really getting?
Dr. Gregor's book How Not to Diet points out there is no guarantee that what's on the label is what's in the bottle.
“FDA inspectors have found that 70 percent of supplement manufacturers violated so-called Good Manufacturing Practices, which are considered the minimum quality standards, such as basic sanitation and ingredient identification.”
“ The New York State Attorney General commissioned DNA testing of seventy-eight bottles of commercial herbal supplements sold by Walgreens, Walmart, Target, and GNC. Four out of five bottles didn’t contain any of the herbs listed on their labels. Instead, capsules were often stuffed with little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice “and houseplants.”
Excerpts From: Michael Greger, M.D., FACLM. “How Not to Diet.”
General problems with synthetic supplements
Here is just a partial list of issues arising from the use of synthetic supplements:
Strain on liver and kidneys to rid the body of these bio-unavailable synthetic counterparts
Increased oxidation (cellular damage and aging)
Loss of internal body nutrients
Killing beneficial gut bacteria
I won't attempt to go through every vitamin and mineral here, but below you can get an idea of how to make sure you're getting what you need - not from a bottle, but whole, plant foods.
Rather than consuming flaxseed oil (a refined product) eat ground flaxseeds - they are best absorbed this way.
Most people that take "vitamin C" are actually taking ascorbic acid, a synthetic compound usually made from GMO corn and acetone (nail polish remover). One can obtain plentiful amounts of vitamin C quite easily eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. Citrus, bell peppers, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, broccoli, white potatoes...
B-careful of the "B complex" lab-produced synthetic forms of B vitamins. Instead, enjoy the following foods:
B1: peas, rice, nuts, beans, lentils - Cook on low heat for shorter periods
B2: almonds, spinach - Limit light exposure
B3: brown rice, nuts, seeds, legumes - Ideal in food; supplementation can harm
B5: sunflower seeds, avocado - Deficiency rare
B6: chickpeas, potatoes, dark, leafy greens - It's always a good idea to eat dark, leafy greens!
B7: mushrooms, banana, avocado - B7 is best in raw form
A special note on folate (often called B9, but there are only 8 B vitamins)
Folic acid is not folate! It is the synthetic form. Unmetabolized folic acid can cause health issues, including raising cancer risk. If you are pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, talk to your natural healthcare provider about folate.
There are two things that we DO need to supplement, and that is D3 and B12.
D3 is actually not a vitamin, but a hormone. The skin, liver, kidneys, and sunlight are all involved in the synthesis of D3. Time of day, age, and surface area of skin exposed to the sun all affect how much D3 is made. As a large percentage of people are deficient, it is important to supplement. B12 is another vitamin advised for supplementation, especially on a plant-centered diet. What are the best brands? As the answer to this can change over time, it is best to work with a qualified practitioner. In my practice, I do in depth research to make sure my patients are always receiving the highest quality D3 and B12.
So, what is the best supplement money can buy?
Whole plant foods! Save money, prevent unwanted symptoms, and attain a level of health that most will never achieve, unless they, too, use whole plant food as medicine.
Pills or Plants?
I think the answer is clear.
What to learn more? Contact Ryan, the head of the Plantsitioning program here at The Pampered Porcupine. He makes eating whole plant foods simple, approachable, and best of all super tasty, with programs that fit any lifestyle.
Text or call: 860-617-0005 and say: I'm interested in Plants over Pills!