By Dr. Dana Myatt
Lots of people take vitamins and supplements with the very best of intentions. Yet they often find themselves disappointed with the results (or more to the point lack of results) and give up or even believe that vitamins and supplements are a “waste of money.” Here is a list of some of the common mistakes I see people making when taking supplements:
1.) Taking "Pixie dust" doses (doses too low).
Here’s a little pop quiz for you. If you have a heavy cart that will need four horses to pull, and you hitch up two horses and find the cart doesn’t move, does this mean you have weak or lazy horses? I’ll give you a minute to think about this…
The correct answer is "No." Your horses are probably fine, but you have two instead of the needed four, hence, they can’t get the job done.
When a study shows that it takes a 200mg of selenium per day to offer optimal immune support, and you take 50mg per day, don’t be surprised if the supplement doesn’t work as expected. The dose is too low.
Also keep in mind that there is no "optimal potency One-Per-Day" multivitamin. The pixie dust doses in a one or two per day multiple are the lowest amounts needed to prevent severe deficiency disease. For example, you’ll get just enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy.
If you want to maximize benefit, then you’ll want what I call "optimal doses." These are the doses shown in studies not only to protect from severe deficiency diseases but also to protect against "higher level" problems like heart disease and diabetes.
For multiple vitamins, expect to take 6-9 caps total per day to get optimal doses of nutrients.
Note that using an optimal dose multiple like this will save you from taking a lot of separate formulas.
2.) Not taking supplements consistently.
Studies that show benefit from supplements, especially multiple vitamin/mineral supplements, also show that these benefits are seen in people who take the supplement consistently over a long period of time.
"Consistency is key." One day on, three days off, one-half day on, a week off. You get the idea. This kind of "hit-and-miss" approach has not been proven to have nearly as much benefit as consistency.
If you think about it, this makes sense. Your body needs what it needs every day. It doesn’t take a day off from needing certain nutrients. By taking supplements consistently, you’ll also achieve the "optimal doses" as discussed above.
How about "I break for illness" (and vacations, or company visiting, or stress… blah, blah, blah). Your body actually uses nutrients at a higher rate during many illnesses. Unless nausea or inability to take them is an issue, continuing during illness is the best course of action.
As for vacations (and stress)? This is when your immune system is under greater threat. Many of the nutrients in your multiple help keep your immunity in top form. Travel, company and stressful times are actually when supplemental nutrients are more valuable yet amazingly, this is when many people take a "vacation" from their vitamins.
3.) Taking inferior quality products.
I’ve said this so many times that I feel like a broken record, but still a lot of folks just don’t get it. So I’ll keep saying it.
The nutritional supplement industry is the Wild West for quality. Although things are improving, it is still a jungle out there. More expensive isn’t always better but also be careful of products that are "bargain basement." Our saying at The Wellness Club is "the most expensive supplement is the one that doesn’t work." If you paid $1.99 for two months worth of pixie dust, and it doesn’t do anything for you, then you haven’t saved a bunch of money. You’ve wasted $1.99.
Here’s some back-story on The Wellness Club. Years ago when I was in private practice in an office, I noticed than a lot of patients who should be getting better with my recommendations were NOT getting better. Was it me? Did I prescribe the correct thing?
I started researching various companies and their quality control measures and decided to carry some of the "best of the best" supplements in my office. They cost more, but I knew they were the right formulas in the right potencies and purity. Patients who took these "doctor’s only" formulas had a much higher success rate than those who bought things willy-nilly or based on price at the health food store.
That’s when I realized that quality makes a big difference and just because a label makes a claim doesn’t mean that is what is really in the bottle (or that it’s pure).
So I started The Wellness Club, not as a way to get rich (good thing!) but as a way to make these "doctor’s only" brands available to my patients around the country who couldn’t pop into my office to buy them.
"But the lady at the health food store said this was a good brand." Really? How does she know? Try this experiment:
Ask just ONE question from my 15-page vendor quality audit. Try something like, "does this manufacturer do independent testing of raw materials or do they rely on certificates of analysis from the suppliers"? The health food store lady will look at you like you just debarked the Mothership from Mars. Why? Because she probably doesn’t even understand the question much less have an answer for you. So the "this is a good brand" from someone who doesn’t know is worth…. what?
[Nurse Mark's Note: Dr. Myatt is known in the nutritional supplement industry as "The Dragon Lady," a title she accepts proudly. She is called that because her quality standards are high and uncompromising. She has turned down many supplements, raw materials and manufacturers because they don't meet her standards.]
4.) Taking supplements not well-supported by research.
This falls under the category of "you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time."
Glossy ads with slick copywriting sell products. Unfortunately, many of the promises made about supplements fall far short of the actual research. "Two lab rats lost weight on a bathtub full of raspberry ketones" does not constitute a breakthrough.
Don’t fall for slick and glossy. Do your due diligence. Is the supplement really supported by good research?
We at Wellness Club spend a lot of hours per day researching the medical literature in order to bring you the "inside story" about what works and what is over-hyped. I invite you to use our website with its many "look-’em-up" features and references as a good place to begin your fact-finding. www.DrMyattsWellnessClub.com
5.) Supplements before diet.
There is a reason we call non-food sources of nutrients "supplements." That is because they are designed to augment — supplement — an otherwise healthy diet.
Some people mistakenly believe that they can eat an inferior diet and make up the difference with supplements. While taking supplements might help mitigate some of the effects of poor diet, the biggest benefits from supplements are seen in people who eat well AND take their vitamins.
6.) Timing, Part I (with or without meals).
For the most part, supplements should be taken with meals. This is especially true of multiple vitamin/mineral formulas. The reason is two-fold.
First, some of the nutrients in a multiple, such as vitamin A, E, and D are "fat soluble." This means they dissolve and are absorbed in the presence of fat. So taking them with a meal that contains some fat will aid assimilation.
Second, the act of eating elicits hydrochloric acid and pancreatic digestive enzymes. These digestive factors help with assimilation of nutrients. Calcium, for example, requires stomach acid in order to be assimilated. When you take nutrients on an empty stomach, these are no digestive enzymes or stomach acids present to help assimilation. Not only will the formula be less absorbable, but it will be more likely to cause stomach upset.
Timing, Part II (how many times per day).
If you can only see your way clear to take supplements once per day, then once is certainly better than not taking them at all.
If, however, you can take them twice per day (breakfast and dinner, for example) or better yet, three times per day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), you will get additional benefit.
Some nutrients such as B complex vitamins and vitamin C are water soluble. This means that after a dose, they are processed, blood levels elevate and then they are excreted in the urine. By taking these nutrients two or three times per day, blood levels remain at optimal levels throughout the day.
Again, multiple doses are better but taking your multiple all at once is better than not taking it at all.
7.) Taking "add-ons" before basics (not taking a multiple but taking a bunch of misc. stuff).
Your body needs an array of vitamins and minerals. These are called "essential" not only because they are essential to life but also because they must be obtained from outside the body (food or supplements). If your body manufactures a needed substance, even if it is essential to life, it is not called "essential": that is, if it can be manufactured internally.
Vitamins, minerals and trace minerals are "essential." We must have them and if we go without for too long, physical disease or dysfunction result. This means that vitamins, minerals and trace minerals are the "basics" of what we must have. For this reason, they are also the most important nutrients to supplement.
I often see people taking a variety of "add-ons," meaning nutrients that are not essential, but still not taking a good multiple vitamin/mineral formula. This is like putting a spoiler on your hot-rod but neglecting to put fuel in the tank!
First things first. Before you go spending a fortune on a lot of different, non-essential supplements, make sure you are taking an optimal potency multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. In fact, if you are only going to take one thing, make it your multiple. If you can take two things, take a multiple plus fish oil (essential fatty acids).
And One More – as a bonus…
8.) Treating symptoms instead of the cause.
We do this a lot in conventional medicine; putting a band-aid on a disease instead of trying to fix it at the level of cause. I’m not against band-aids. I’ll take aspirin or ibuprophen on occasion for a headache or extreme pain if my natural measures have failed.
But if that headache or pain were a regular occurrence, bet the farm that I wouldn’t continue taking aspirin without trying to discover the cause of my pain or problem. That is a foundational principle of naturopathic medicine and one of the places where naturopathy differs from conventional medicine.
Now back to supplements. Some people take supplements but are using them in "allopathic" ways. For example, taking white willow bark instead of aspirin for pain might be more natural but the underlying philosophy is the same as conventional medicine: treat the symptom.
Remember that any pain or abnormality that persists has a cause and a symptom treatment is unlikely to be addressing that cause. I caution against using natural remedies long-term in a "treat the symptom," in band-aid fashion. Remember the roots and look for the cause.
Learn More about:
1. Fortmann SP, Burda BU, Senger CA, Lin JS, Whitlock EP. Vitamin and mineral supplements in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: an updated systematic evidence review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Dec 17;159(12):824-34.
2. El-Kadiki A, Sutton AJ. Role of multivitamins and mineral supplements in preventing infections in elderly people: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.BMJ. 2005 Apr 16;330(7496):871
3. Bailey RL, Fakhouri TH, Park Y, et al. Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. J Nutr. 2015 Mar;145(3):572-8.
4.) Dong JY, Iso H, Kitamura A, Tamakoshi A; Japan Collaborative Cohort Study Group.
Multivitamin use and risk of stroke mortality: the Japan collaborative cohort study. Stroke. 2015 May;46(5):1167-72.
5.)Li K, Kaaks R, Linseisen J, Rohrmann S. Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German prospective cohort (EPIC-Heidelberg). Eur J Nutr. 2012 Jun;51(4):407-13.
6.) Watkins ML, Erickson JD, Thun MJ, Mulinare J, Heath CW Jr. Multivitamin use and mortality in a large prospective study. Am J Epidemiol. 2000 Jul 15;152(2):149-62.
7.) Erin S. LeBlanc, MD, MPH; Nancy Perrin, PhD; Jeffery D. Johnson, PhD; Annie Ballatore, MS; Teresa Hillier, MD, MS. Over-the-Counter and Compounded Vitamin D: Is Potency What We Expect? JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(7):585-586.
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