Updated: Dec 15, 2017
There are so many different brands of vitamins, minerals, and herbs that it can be confusing as to what to buy when you need a supplement.
Many of my clients will read information on the internet about what certain vitamins, minerals, or herbs can improve in the body, or what possible deficiencies are contributing to their current symptoms, however, many of them will just go to the local store and pick up the nutrient they think they need and start taking it. I want to take the time to explain a few important things to consider when purchasing supplements, and what my services can provide when deciding on what is best for you.
First, let’s discuss the differences between synthetic and natural supplements. Whole food or natural source supplements contain nutrients that have been derived from fruits, vegetables, probiotic bacteria, or animal glands. Synthetic nutrients are made in a lab by combining chemicals to mimic the structure of certain vitamins. In my opinion, there is quite a difference between synthetic and natural supplements. Synthetic supplements are the most commonly found. When you look at the label of your supplement, synthetically derived nutrients list the vitamin and then list the chemical name immediately afterward. For example, vitamin C will say (ascorbic acid) or vitamin E will say d-alpha tocopherol acid succinate on the label. This is true for most vitamins and minerals that have been developed in a laboratory, the synthetic nutrient will be having its chemically derived name listed after the vitamin or minerals’ common name. A naturally derived supplement will not have the chemical name listed immediately after the vitamin or mineral name. It, on the other hand, will list the foods the nutrient was derived from under the ingredients listing. For example, vitamin C may list rose hips, acerola cherries, or dried buckwheat leaf juice in the ingredients listing.
Synthetically made nutrients are made by combining non-food ingredients in order to mimic the structure of a nutrient that is naturally occurring in nature. For example, vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, is produced by combining GMO corn syrup with other enzymes and chemicals. Here is one explanation of how ascorbic acid is derived from corn starch, “Corn starch is broken down by heat and enzymes into refined corn sugar or corn syrup. Then the D-glucose is hydrogenated into D-sorbitol, fermented into L-Sorbose, then added to acetone, oxidized, washed, and dried to form L-Gluconic acid. It is then treated with hydrochloric acid, filtered, purified and milled into a fine crystalline powder, called ascorbic acid,”(1). I try to avoid GMO corn in my diet, why would I want to supplement with it? This is just one example; synthetic vitamin E is also derived from GMO corn. Synthetic vitamin B1 is derived from coal tar, not a food, but still naturally occurring so it is labeled as all natural, (2).
The ability for our bodies to absorb natural as opposed to synthetic nutrients is also significant. Natural nutrients are in the isomer or chemical configuration that is most easily recognized and absorbed by the body. They also contain phyto-nutrients or additional nutrients that are naturally occurring in combination to that vitamin complex that help the cells recognize and absorb these nutrients. A synthetic nutrient does not contain these additional phyto-nutrients and thus the body has to find them to pair with the synthetic nutrient in order to configure the synthetic nutrient into a more absorbable form. For example, “the natural form of vitamin E consists of one isomer. In contrast, synthetic alpha-tocopherol contains eight different isomers, of which only one (about 12 percent of the synthetic molecule) is identical to natural vitamin E. Specific binding and transport proteins produced in the liver select the natural d-alpha form of vitamin E and largely ignore all other forms,”(3). As a practioner, I hope to correct nutrient deficiencies not create more deficiencies by robbing the body of essential phyto-nutrient storages in order to absorb synthetic nutrients. This is where some nutritionists can differ in their practice. Some will offer nutraceuticals, which are extremely high doses of synthetic nutrients, and some, like me, will use only whole food supplements. In my opinion, these high doses of synthetic nutrients can create toxic levels between the cells when the body has completely depleted its sources of phytonutrients to reconfigure these synthetic nutrients into their absorbable form. Whole food nutrients are minimally processed and are rich in phytonutrients, making these nutrients extremely absorbable and less is needed to correct the deficiency or create a change in symptoms related to that deficiency. In my opinion, nutriceuticals and their laboratory manufacturing are only a step up from pharmaceuticals, and lack the innate intelligence of real food and its ability to nourish the body.
Second, why supplement if whole food supplements are just food, why not just eat better? As a clinical nutritionist, my hope is to educate my clients on how to eat better so they can feel better. However, old habits die hard, and it can take time to get your diet balanced and full of nutrient dense foods. You need time to try new foods, new recipes, new products, and new eating habits. On the other hand, because you have eaten a certain way for an extended amount of time, certain deficiencies have occurred because of nutrients you have not incorporated into your diet. Whole food supplements are food concentrates, therefore you would have to eat and digest a lot of food to correct those deficiencies, and foods just don’t contain the same amount of vitamins and minerals as they once did. “In 1950, the content was 4.3 mg iron per apple. By 1998 (a 48-year period), that had declined to just 0.18 mg iron. This is due to demineralization in the soil from modern farming techniques, “(5). As a practioner, I recommend whole food nutrients to correct these deficiencies, while encouraging you step by step on how to maintain balance with a healthier diet. Correcting these deficiencies can also help to curb cravings, relieve symptoms, and give you energy to make the changes needed in you healthier lifestyle.
Finally, why go with a professional supplement line over products you can buy at your local store? In recent news, many supplements have been found to not even contain the actual substances they have been labeled with, (6). The companies that I use can only be sold by a licensed professional, they are predominantly whole food supplements, they are not made with any fillers or pesticides, they are gelatin capsules or not made with magnesium sterate capsules, and they have standardized testing, quality control, and are earth conscious about the sourcing of their herbs and foods, as well as earth friendly with their packaging materials.
Why do these things matter? Well, let’s break it down so you can understand what you may or may not be getting in the supplements you purchase. Many companies will add preservatives, artificial colors, and other fillers to make their product more visually appealing, easier to swallow, or cut cost in production. Some of these fillers include: hydrogenated oils, corn, gluten, titanium oxide, and magnesium sterate, (7).
I spend a lot of time and effort trying to educate my clients on why to stay away from preservatives, artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, corn, and gluten among others, why would I want them to be supplementing with them? If they are going to avoid them in their diet, they will not be getting the beneficial affects if they are still getting these things in their diet via supplementation. Next, magnesium sterate is a big concern when it comes to supplements. You will almost always find companies use it to encapsulate their products, or “it is used as a lubricant so that the vitamins don’t stick to one another or the equipment being used. One study links this compound to creating a suppressed immune system. Other studies show that this ‘chalk’ will create a biofilm in the body. This biofilm blocks the body from absorbing any of the needed nutrients,” (7). The intention of supplementation is to correct deficiencies to reach optimal health, not to cause your body to have health issues.
Lastly, I want to discuss a very important point about standardization and quality control in vitamin and herbal products.
The companies that I recommend use a standardization technique in order to insure that their products are made with effective levels of the herbs and are made with the same level in every product. The professional lines that I use have really set the bar for quality control in the methods that they use to standardize their ingredients. Since, the environment in which plants and herbs can change, the effectiveness and nutrient content can also vary. Therefore, the companies that I recommend use different methods of chromatography to determine the potency, effectiveness, and concentration of each plant, (8). These herbs and foods are grown organically by the companies or if out sourced, the sources have to confirm their quality via these chromatography methods before they are purchased. These companies also take a great deal of care in how they process their herbs so that they don’t lose their effectiveness. These professional grade products can be extremely effective on inhibiting or stimulating the body’s physiology, therefore a professional that knows what effect they can have, needs to recommend their use before you begin supplementing or mixing with other medications.
The method that I use as a practioner, is a system that assesses what your major deficiencies are and gives you the most effective and absorbable form of those nutrients in order to restore you to optimal health. I evaluate what the major deficiency is in each of 4 major systems: endocrine/hormonal, immune, cardiovascular/circulatory, and general function (sleep, pH, and gastrointestinal). The most I recommend at one time is 4 supplement or herbal products, (1 for each of these systems), and I give you the exact dosages for each, the most effective, and the most absorbable for your body’s unique needs. Call today for your assessment, and see what you need to get your body on a path to optimal health!