The uniqueness of the world I’ve chosen to live in is not lost on me. On one foot, I’ve got my mud encrusted muck boot as I wade thru one of the wettest fall/winter cow pastures in North Texas history. On the other foot…. my trusty Dansko’s: the only footwear I’ve found that are comfortable for a 10-11 hour shift at the pharmacy. I spend most of my days using my pharmacy knowledge to teach people how to avoid a long term relationship with a pharmacy. Other days, I put my white coat on and fill prescriptions…. some for those who have no choice, and others….because they continue to make life choices that come with a prescription price tag….. and still others, who simply don’t know any better. #knowbetterdobetter …… that’s why I feel so called to be here.
With the New Year comes a slew of questions regarding supplements at the pharmacy. Resolution toting customers looking for an easy way to lose weight, minimize fresh workout pain, or simply just trying to get healthy in baby steps.
The supplement industry is a tricky business, and deciphering the options can be overwhelming to anyone that hasn’t done a great deal of research…. doctors included. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a patient tell me incorrect information given to them by their doctor regarding supplements. The rare doctor has done his/her research it seems (Not much is taught in medical, nursing, or even pharmacy school regarding supplements. It’s up to the practitioner to crack the code and educate themselves), and the patient is pretty much left to their own devices to find the best product for themselves. My team is spending the next few months educating our ‘family’ on types of supplements, and this topic is so very important that I thought I’d include some of that education here.
Why do we need supplements anyway? There are several reasons:
- Farming practices since the 1970’s have stripped our soils of valuable nutrients. The only way we can receive minerals in our diet is thru nutrient dense soil. Plants soak up that nutrition and then pass it along to the herbivore (or omnivore) that eats it. Somewhere up the line, a carnivore may get involved and the nutrients are passed (or not passed) along to them.
- Genetic modification of our veggies, fruits, and grains have continued the depletion process. Nutrition has been sold out to prettier “eye candy” produce that ships well, stores well, and looks like something out of a glossy magazine. Fresh produce today is an estimated 50-70% less nutritious than its counterparts 50 years ago.
- Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fluoride, and chlorine contamination all have played their part in binding nutrients and making them unavailable for our body’s use.
- Existing health challenges, a regular diet of fast/processed foods, use of acid blockers/reducers regularly, and/or reoccurring GI issues? If you answered “yes” to any of these, odds are high that you have a crippled system preventing efficient production or use of nutrients. (This means you likely need more supplementation than the average bear.)
- And finally…. medications. Who’d have thought this was even a problem? Next to nutrient deplete food itself, it’s one of the biggest problems of all. More than half of Americans take medication regularly, and those that do (on average) take four or more on a daily basis. FACT: Hundreds of medications suppress or rob your body’s ability to produce or utilize vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and co-factors necessary for a healthy life.
While the FDA does quite a bit of governing in the supplement world when it comes to wording (no diagnosing,treating,curing etc… or you might have some ‘splaining to do to the FDA), the reality is that the supplement industry lacks rigid standards that ensure product integrity and quality. If you sift thru articles, you’ll find dismal stories of adulterated products (especially in the weight loss, antioxidant, sexual performance and workout booster categories). The problem doesn’t just lie in possible contaminants tho… it also encompasses cheap and/or ineffective ingredients.
What this means is that company integrity should mean absolutely everything to you. Do you really know the company you’ve chosen to buy product from? In most cases, you can tell a lot about a company’s product line based on company standards, policy, history, and mission statement:
- Are the employees well treated and paid fairly?
- What was the motivation of the company to build a particular supplement? Usually, the best companies are the ones founded by people who had health problems themselves, and found a solution thru proper nutrition. (A great example of this is Kate Farms for their quality nutrition drink for those with strict dietary and medical needs.)
- Does the company put the purpose of the product above the profit? ie: This doesn’t mean the product will be inexpensive. On the contrary…. a well made product will usually come with a higher price tag (more on that later).
- Do you know their value system? Are the ingredients fairly and sustainably sourced?Are the ingredients without compromise?
- Does the company leave a positive impact on the communities they work with?
- Does the company have transparency? Are you able to visit them? Do they have 2nd and 3rd party testing?
If you cannot easily find answers to these questions, odds are high that you may be duped by your current company. Back away from your supplements, and listen up…….
The Care and Feeding of your Body: Supplements 101
Vitamins, minerals, and other micro-nutrients are absolutely essential for all body processes to function in a healthy manner. Energy must be produced, the immune system supported…..vision, brain function, attention span, digestion, skin, repair and recovery processes, structural integrity and thousands of other little nuanced jobs must happen for optimal health.
Our body is no dummy. It does it’s best to prep for us… stashing extra vitamins and minerals as it is able, in anticipation of a sabotage event. There’s a little bit of ‘prepper’ in all of us! If we’ve not allowed our body the resources to stash those excess nutrients, when the moments of stress, lack, or ‘robbery’ happens….. suddenly, there is no backup plan, and one or more systems begin to give warning signs of impending failure. Long term lack allows for dis-ease and dysfunction to set up housekeeping. This is one of the reasons our country is overflowing with auto-immune disease.
If it’s THIS important to keep adequate supplies of these nutritional building blocks on hand, it makes no sense to rely on less than ideal sources. Supplement companies can be tricky little suckers and it pays to be savvy and knowledgeable so you don’t get duped into thinking you got ‘something’ for next to nothing.
Price: There is no such thing as a high quality inexpensive supplement. Common sense should tell you that between bottling, labeling, shipping, marketing, distribution, and profit, a $10-$15 bottle of vitamins leaves precious little $$ left over to invest in quality ingredients. How much is your life worth after all? If you are willing to spend $5 per day on a cup of designer coffee (which is likely loaded with some of the very things depleting your body), you should have no qualms with spending the same amount (per day) on quality supplements your body desperately needs.
Throw out the ‘all in one pill’ mindset: It just can’t happen. There’s no way to cram everything into one pill and end up with a reasonably sized product that only an elephant could swallow. Size does matter, but it’s even more complicated than that. Not every nutrient is compatible with each other, and some nutrients need to be be brought in to the body multiple times a day because storage is just not possible (ex: digestive enzymes). If you’re really serious about protecting, fortifying, and prepping your body for health, expect to take 3-6+ capsules/supplements per day depending on the health challenges you may have been toting around for awhile.
The Junk: Quality and sourcing….. if you are trying to get healthy, the last think you want is unclean ingredients, and yet that happens all too frequently. If your body is having to filter unclean ingredients from your supplement regimen, you’ve lost sight of one of the main reasons you want to take supplements in the first place!
- Fish oil coming in from waters contaminated with PCB’s, heavy metals, toxins, and radioactive waste. Rancid fish oil that actually causes what it should be preventing. Other ingredients that are sourced from questionable, impure, or unclean environments……A recent study found over 800 supplements containing prescription medications (unlabeled).
- Fillers that are also allergens: byproducts of wheat, yeast, soy dairy, gluten, corn, or that are low grade and possibly irritating to GI tissue. Additives that are used to stretch the bottom dollar, but at best, do nothing for your health. SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)… a chemical sometimes used as a disintegrator in tablets. This is a topical no-no in skincare but imagine the implications when consumed. Studies show it has a “degenerative effect on cell membranes…”. Ummm, no thank you. I’ll keep my cell membranes intact for as long as possible thank you very much.
- Cheaper forms of ingredients that are less biologically active (ex: using cyanocobalamin instead of the more bioavailable [and pricier] methylcobalamin.)
- Artificial colors, flavors , and sweeteners (Ahem, God provides awesome natural flavors and sweeteners! Why not use them?)
- Coatings- how well does your vitamin or supplement dissolve? Ideally, most need to be in capsule form for ease of dissolution. If you’ve ever seen your vitamins in your poop (a common thing), this should be your aha moment.
Ultimately, the question comes down to this: Do you trust the brand you buy, or are you relying on blind faith? If you are relying on the latter, it might be time for a do over. Just because the product(s) may be found in well known stores doesn’t mean it’s a reputable brand. The bottom line matters to a store, and buyers aren’t generally schooled in supplements (frequently it’s a 19 year old kid who is doing the ordering!)…. they are schooled to find the largest profit margin for their employer. Just as they are looking out for their employer’s best interest, YOU are the CEO of you, and you need to look out for the best interests of your ‘corporation’ too.
Be kind to yourself. Research before you buy…. and for goodness sake, find a company worthy of your trust. Your health depends on it!
Hugs and Love, Liz