Supplements for Diet and Good Health

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Dr. Kathy Maupin and Brett Newcomb discuss the use of dietary supplements and their effects. They also discuss how these supplements interact with prescription medication.

Herbal medicines and dietary supplements are becoming a more and more common piece of the medical market in the United States. In response to this trend, doctors are having to educate themselves about how these substances can interact with medicine that they prescribe for their patients. This week’s healthcast was inspired by an article in the Journal of Endocrinology that offered research-driven advice to doctors on the supplements that actually assist diabetic patients to stabilize blood sugar and avoid complications of diabetes.

Supplements include vitamins, minerals, and herbal remedies. Herbs were the original medications discovered by trial and error, hundreds and thousands of years ago ago. Plants, their roots, leaves, and/or seeds, were prepared with a specific recipe. They were then used to treat various ailments. Herbal substances contain active ingredients that can be used to treat illness, and therefore can interact with some medications that we take. Doctors should know the supplements that you take so they can advise you about interactions with your medications. This “herbal training” is not included in medical school curricula, and many physicians have a basic, insubstantial understanding of herbal-medication interactions.

Because the medical community has lagged behind the supplement industry, it is important to educate yourself on the supplements that you are taking. Advertising is not a reliable source because there are no regulations that require advertising of supplements be truthful.

In my office, we have done our research regarding the supplements that we offer. In fact, my staff has weighed in on which brand for which vitamin or mineral is the best for them personally, for their family members, and for their patients. It is my way of insuring that my patients get the best quality and most effective brand of supplement on the market.

At least a third of American consumers are now taking supplements of some kind. Because of this, it is even more important to me as a physician that I ask you about your diet. What you eat, and the supplements you take give me a good idea about how complete your nutrition is.

Supplements, as the name implies, supplement your diet with the nutrients you need daily. For 99% of us, our diet is not perfect. The average American diet is plentiful in calories (some of which are unneeded) and deficient in nutrients. It is likely that you still need vitamins in addition to the nutrients in your food. Most vitamins act as cofactors that are necessary to the activity of specific enzymes which are integral to cellular activity. Without these necessary nutrients, our bodies act like a car without the right kind of gas and we cannot perform physically or mentally without them. Other vitamins, like vitamin D, are really hormones. Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of calcium as well as bone growth. Without Vitamin D, your bones dissolve slowly and your cells don’t function well. This can lead to many diseases, including cancer and heart disease.  In the northern hemisphere, the darker your skin and farther north you live, the less likely you are to have adequate Vitamin D.

Supplements include the category of minerals, which include calcium, chromium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, iodine, fluoride, iron, and a few more “trace” minerals. These substances are integral to the building blocks of our muscles, nerves, thyroid hormones, and red blood cells. Without these nutrients in our foods, our bodies break down and will not be healthy. The availability of these critical minerals depends on the soil where you live, the variety in your diet, and the quality of your food.

If you eat primarily fast food or processed food you will not get these necessary minerals. In the midwest where I live, we have no iodine in our soil or water. Magnesium is difficult to get in your food especially if you don’t eat wheat, and none of my patients have enough vitamin K (deep green leafy vegetables) in their diet. For 99% of my patients, simply eating food does not supply the minerals that they need.

We began our discussion with herbal supplements. We use them for specific purposes, like we use medicines. Not everyone needs herbs like they need the vitamins and minerals. Herbs are used medicinally for a specific purpose. You may have an herb garden and find this hard to believe, but herbs do have medicinal properties when prepared appropriately. When used instead of medicines, there is a difference in resolution of symptoms and effectiveness. Herbs are slower than medicines. So the problem with using herbs as medicine is that you have to be an expert. They do not produce immediate results and their purity is a variable because it is dependent on the soil where it is grown, the genetic variant of the herb, and the pollutants in the water and soil where it grows. Herbs are also not as “clean” as medications from a pharmacy. However, herbs have fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs. For example, for patients who convert their testosterone into estrogen and estrone, I prescribe a medication called Arimidex to decrease the risk of breast cancer, shrink fibroids, or improve testosterone levels. There are some side effects to this drug. For fewer side effects I suggest the supplement, DIM, made from cauliflower and broccoli. It does essentially the same thing, but less dramatically and with fewer side effects.

I have learned over the last 37 years of practicing medicine that it is very important to treat every element of a patients life: nutrition (vitamins, minerals, and supplements), exercise, and hormonal replacement, to achieve a healthy patient. As a physician, it is very satisfying to see my patients become healthier before my eyes. For them it may mean a more quality life verses a life of doctor visits and hospitalizations. If I am successful, I will ultimately put myself out of business!

Watch this week’s podcast to learn about specific supplements that medical research shows are effective. Learn why that is so and what you can do. Learn more about what you need to expect your doctor to know and how to talk to them about it. It will help you in the long run.

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