“I hate taking pills, why do I have to take something that I don’t need?” “Why fix something that ain’t broken?” “My doctor said supplements make for expensive urine.”

I get these comments regarding supplements at least once a day, which is why I decided to address the topic in the written form and publish it on my website. And I hope the discussion will be satisfactory for you, dear patient. 

First let’s get a better understanding of supplements. 

What are supplements?

Supplements are a large category that includes vitamins, minerals, botanicals and nutraceuticals. They are meant to supplement the diet and provide nutrients that otherwise may not be consumed in sufficient quantities. And in the hands of a qualified physician they can act as medicine, but with far fewer side effects. They come in a variety of forms, such as capsules, tablets, powders, drops or creams. Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way as prescription medications, which means they fall in the food category. Although many doctors and news outlets would state that supplements not being regulated is a reason to be wary, this is actually a good thing, because pharmaceutical companies would love to hijack them and market them as drugs. If this happens, the cost of supplements would easily increase 10 fold or more, and your access to them would be restricted to a doctor’s prescription. Fortunately, we’re not there yet and hopefully never will be. 

In contrast, prescription medications are drugs that are prescribed by a healthcare provider to treat a specific medical condition or to manage a particular health concern. They are usually taken orally or by injection, and they may have specific dosage instructions and potential side effects. 

It’s important to note that when you hear that supplements can be dangerous or worse, it has to be put in perspective. For instance from Jan 2004 to Apr 2015, there were about 400 serious health issues related to supplement use which resulted in 166 hospitalizations and 22 deaths. Contrast that to 125,000 deaths attributed to prescription drugs each year. So, in the same period of 11 years there were 22 deaths from supplements and 1,375,000 deaths from prescription drugs. But even still, 22 people dying is unacceptable. However, you can see the disparity between the potential negative outcomes of prescription drugs versus supplements. 

In my personal experience of prescribing thousands of supplements, side effects are rare to be generous – the most common being loose stool from a higher dose of magnesium. 

Not all supplements are created equal. This means that the safety, effectiveness, and purity of supplements varies tremendously. Some supplements may not have strong scientific evidence to support their effectiveness, and in some cases, they may not work at all. I personally don’t like to recommend patients buy their supplements from Amazon or other retailers, unless approved by me or they know who they’re purchasing from and what exactly is in the bottle. 

Another problem can arise from potential interactions with other medications or medical conditions. For example, many supplements can interact with warfarin, a blood thinning drug, or patients on certain types of blood pressure medication can have higher potassium levels and shouldn’t take extra potassium. 

It’s always a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen, especially if you are taking prescription medications or have any underlying health conditions. But unfortunately, most doctors aren’t trained in dietary supplementation, nor do they understand this area of medicine, as it falls under nutrition. 

The best person to discuss what is a right supplement regime is usually a functional medicine doctor. This is because the functional medicine approach is very different to a legacy medicine approach. FuncMed’s approach is to assess, prevent, and treat complex chronic disease. Our legacy medicine, or acute illness model, looks for specific problems and treats those problems. FuncMed looks at the complex, interrelated network of causes that eventually manifest as problems. It understands the connection between diet, lifestyle, personal relationships, environment, and genetic factors. This is why just because you don’t have a diagnosable condition, it doesn’t mean you’re healthy. We as FuncMed doctors don’t wait until you have a problem; we identify them before they happen. Whereas Traditional Western Medicine is better at problems at hand, like an infection, trauma or surgery. 

A quick anecdote to illustrate this point. A person walking by the river sees someone drowning and jumps in to rescue them. The moment he’s back on the shore he sees someone else needs his help and it just keeps happening. He’s so preoccupied that he can’t go upstream and see why they’re falling into the water. 

Incidentally, this is why the FDA doesn’t allow supplements to be labeled as a treatment for a disease. You have to have a diagnosable disease in order for it to be treated. Our legacy medicine and its surrounding public and private industries have to have a clear diagnosis. Treatment cannot be preventative or based on a dysfunction that would lead into a full blown disease down the road. For example, I cannot bill an insurance company for helping someone with their digestion, metabolism, hormones, etc, without a clear diagnosis. But the need to have a specific diagnosis makes it impossible to focus on prevention and health. Instead, the focus becomes disease management. This touches on a bigger subject of (mis)managed healthcare in this country, but would have to be a topic for the future – that is if I get enough people interested. But suffice to say, we should diminish the influence of insurance companies in the health system, as well as shift away from treating and managing disease to prevention and early identification and diagnosis. 

It’s important to note that both supplements and medications can be important tools for maintaining and improving health, and the right approach for an individual will depend on their specific needs and circumstances. It’s always a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen or taking any medications.

Supplements play a vital role in overall health, and there is strong evidence to suggest that they can have both correlative and causative effects on various aspects of health.

In terms of correlative effects, supplementents are often correlated with a number of health benefits, such as a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. However, it is important to note that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, and it is possible that other factors may be contributing to the observed relationship between supplementents and health.

In terms of causative effects, there is strong evidence to suggest that regular intake of supplements can directly cause improvements in various aspects of health. For example, magnesium has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, diabetes, muscle cramping and bone density, as well as to reduce anxiety and symptoms of asthma. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, reduced inflammation like in certain inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, have a positive effect on brain function and may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Overall, the evidence suggests that taking supplements has both correlative and causative effects on health, and that it is an important factor in maintaining overall well-being. Supplements can have numerous benefits for both physical and mental health, and it is an important component of a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re currently taking supplements and wonder if they are the most ideal regiment for what you need, let me help you figure out what that is. For those who take a lot of supplements, bring a Trader Joe’s bag full of bottles to your next appointment and we’ll make sure everything is covered. For those who don’t know what you should take, let me take a look at your blood work, your symptoms and goals, and we can start there.