Doc’s Guide to Supplements, Part I

Earlier this month, I caused a bit of a riot amongst my readers with just one word…

Supplements.

A few weeks ago, I told you to ditch your supplements. And not everyone was happy.

I wasn’t surprised. Around 70% of all Americans take supplements for their supposed “health benefits.”

If a company claims that a $40 bottle of pills will extend my life, I want to see the evidence. Sadly, most of this evidence doesn’t exist.

While there is some regulation of supplements, the companies creating these pills are largely allowed to self-regulate.

In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). The act says, “The manufacturer of a dietary supplement or dietary ingredient is responsible for ensuring that the product is safe before it is marketed.” This means the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) doesn’t verify claims made on labels or check the safety of products.

The FDA monitors complaints concerning supplements… But that’s too little too late for folks who experience adverse side effects.

That means we’re trusting supplement companies to ensure our safety. But longtime readers know I advocate for educating and empowering yourself.

We already know some supplements are dangerous…

One popular supplement, colloidal silver, will not only turn your skin blue, it can lead to kidney damage and seizures. And it’s regularly ranked on Consumer Reports‘ list of dangerous supplements and ingredients.

Calcium supplements are also risky… A 2015 study from Cleveland Clinic found that taking calcium supplements increased the risk of developing kidney stones in patients who already had a predisposition for stones. Basically, if you’re at risk of kidney stones already, calcium supplements make it much more likely you’ll get stones.

Another major concern? Drug interactions.

Taking supplements without awareness of harmful interactions at the same time as other drugs is simply foolish. For example, the now better-known effects of grapefruit and its juice on some statins (like simvastatin and Lipitor), some blood pressure medications (like Procardia), some anti-anxiety drugs (like BuSpar), and some antihistamines (like Allegra).

A little chemical in grapefruit allows more of a drug to enter the body than the manufacturer intends. If you have any doubt, ask your doctor or nurse for help. There are also websites that allow entry of whatever you’re taking and the possible side effects like the Drug Interaction Checker.

But not all supplements are bad. There are three supplements that I have stood behind for a while: Vitamin C, omega-3s from fish oil, and magnesium. (I’ve recently begun exploring biotin, but mostly because I have a genetic mutation that might mean I need a little extra, but you’ll learn more on that next year.)

These “Big 3” are part of my daily dose of greatness and I’m going to tell you why they should be part of yours too…

Supplement No. 1: Vitamin C

Vitamin C – also known as ascorbic acid – is an antioxidant that naturally occurs in:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Berries
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach

Your body needs vitamin C to support your blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and the collagen in your bones. It also helps protect you from things like cancer, the common cold, and eye diseases.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps protect your cells from harmful free radicals which can cause heart disease, cancer, and other major issues for your health.

Vitamin C is what’s called a co-factor in our body’s production of collagen – a protein that provides structure to your skin and helps your blood clot. It’s also a regulator of the immune system.

The specific active part of vitamin C is called ascorbate. It is used well by the body, and it dissolves easily in water to pack a powerful punch of antioxidant support.

Your body doesn’t produce vitamin C, so you need to get it through your diet. Vitamin C is abundant in foods like:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Potatoes
  • Black currants

But you can also take a vitamin C supplement with your breakfast in the morning. Adults need about 65 milligrams (mg) to 90 milligrams of vitamin C every day.

Unlike some minerals, vitamin C does not stay stored in your body because it is water soluble. It is evacuated in your urine, so you need to make sure you’re getting some of it daily. It gets absorbed during digestion and after it’s metabolized, the waste products are evacuated through your urine.

I like to take about 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg per day and in various forms. Powder, capsules, buffered, non-buffered to change it up and mix up what possible benefits and harms I might achieve…

Supplement No. 2: Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids encourage muscle activity and cell growth in the body. They are an integral part of our cell membranes, and they affect the function of the cell receptors inside the membrane.

They help to regulate blood clotting, the contraction and relaxation of our arterial walls, and fight inflammation. Cancer, arthritis, and heart disease also are warded off with regular consumption of omega-3s.

Like vitamin C, omega-3s come from the foods we eat. They are an essential aspect of our diets, because our body doesn’t make them. They are found in:

  • Cold water fish
  • Caviar
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans

Omega-3s also help to prepare you for exercise, improve exercise efficiency, and help prevent injury during intense training.

The Mayo Clinic is currently running two medical trials with omega-3 being used to support people with insulin sensitivity and sarcopenia – an age-related disease that causes muscle loss.

You don’t need to get a lot of your omega-3s from supplements… and you shouldn’t. There are some possible concerns with omega-3 supplements, as they often come in the form of fish oil pills, which contain toxins like mercury. That’s why moderation is key. So I recommend eating two servings of fish per week – like salmon and tuna – taking no more than about 2,000 mg of these supplements per week.

On Thursday, we’ll go over our last supplement – magnesium. There’s so much to say about this often-ignored nutrient, we’re dedicating a whole issue to it.

Until then, remember to keep aiming to eat healthy foods that are packed with nutrients. Those are your best source for all of the minerals you need to sustain you and keep you healthy.

What We’re Reading

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 21, 2021