They're Called 'Supplements' for a Reason
By: Lee Sondeno | August 10, 2017
Ask me about 'bio-hacking' or Functional Medicine, and I will tell you I am a fan. That we can utilize technology (sometimes to even combat technology) to make various improvements to our health is one of the benefits of being alive in this day and age. My own healing journey took me down a path of many different types of supplements to support various functions in my body that were broken - mostly from poor nutrition, which beget leaky guy, which beget lethargy, heartburn, dysbiosis, and contributes to almost every other disease we all face today.
What I am not a fan of--and this is where I do wholeheartedly stand behind an Ancestral (Primal) approach to health and wellness--blindly taking supplements on a regular basis without a specific goal in mind, or even worse - solely out of convenience.
I am a firm believe in “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food;” but sometimes we need a little help, and that's where modern technology comes in. There are a lot of reasons why someone should take a close look at their bio-markers throughout the year. Whether that's for maintenance and the evaluation of progress, an actual symptom you are trying to eradicate through root-cause analysis (Functional Medicine), or to see which of your body's processes may start to be slowing down due to aging, consistent testing is a must. From these tests, we can arrive to conclusions about the usefulness of certain strains of probiotics to help with SIBO/dysbiosis, or deficiencies in various vitamins and minerals (due to absorption issues, food quality) in which supplementation would be useful and healing for patients.
The question then becomes, when do you stop? If my blood levels of vitamin D happen to be borderline, low, or extremely low, does that mean I have to take large doses of vitamin D supplementation every day for the rest of my life. Not only is that an emphatic "no," but doing so could be downright dangerous. Let's take a look at some other examples of the dangers of not specifying goals:
- Selenium/Iodine - Often suggested for thyroid support, Selenium, Iodine (or taking one without the other!) pose quite a few risks if you have too little or too much (think supplemental bell curve).
- DHEA, Pregnenolone, other steroid hormones - This one is quite the balancing act. DHEA, Progesterone, Testosterone, Thyroid hormones - hormone balance is not something you should be solving on your own, without the right testing. If one is dominant over the other, serious problems can occur. One example is pregnenolone steal. During times of stress, pregnenolone is literally stolen away from its normal DHEA pathway to help supply even higher levels of Cortisol - of which pregnenolone was probably suggested in the first place. The more pregnenolone you take, the more cortisol you can make. Don't do it without close supervision and clear goals in mind of when to stop taking any of these steroidal hormones (yes, that are available as 'supplements' as most are derived from food).
- Vitamin D - As already referenced above. Don't overdo it, and make sure K2 is either supplemented with or taken in abundance in your diet if regularly supplementing with Vitamin D. Or better yet, just spend more time outdoors.
The bottom line is: get to a lab, and don't take blindly. If your markers are moving in the right direction after a purposeful supplementation regimen, start to back things off, or better yet - start supplementing with the real stuff (food) instead. Just remember, supplementation can get you to where you are wanting to go much more quickly than the amounts you are getting in food, but we are talking therapeutic amounts here, not maintenance amounts. Which brings us to:
The Convenience of Excuse
Food is medicine, and supplements are the new food. Yes, we all have days where our food intake may not be optimally surrounded by nutrient dense foods. In that case, supplements are living up to what it was born to do: supplement a diet lacking in specific nutrients that particular day, week, or vacation. Sounds good. But then that day or week turns in to a month of not eating optimally. But it's OK, because - supplements.
See the issue? Supplements, by no means, gives you a free pass to eat junk so you can make up the lacking nutritional content with pills. You can take more fish oil pills, but what you really should be doing is limiting your intake of Omega-6 foods (think vegetable oils, too many nuts), and eating more sardines and wild-caught salmon if your goal is really to mitigate inflammation markers in your blood serum. Nothing is wrong with taking fish oil pills to supplement your diet if you are not a heavy fish eater, but if used as an excuse to eat poor food choices, that I would take issue with. By all means, supplement with vitamin C during the winter cold/flu months. But make sure you eat your bell peppers, which have more than 100% your daily value in vitamin C in one serving. Sauteing some bell peppers for my omelet, vs another pill to swallow? No contest! Remember, they are supplements, not substitutes.
There is a lot more that can go in to this discussion, which I hope to dive into at a later time. Especially looking at the food equivalents to the supplements we take, whether our modern soil conditions or mass-farming efforts has deteriorated their nutritional value (in the case of magnesium), and how dysbiosis can play a role in nutritional absorption dysfunction. But for now, remember they're called 'supplements' for a reason. Treat food as your medicine. And if you do supplement, do so wisely. Not blindly taking the same pills you have for years, but having a purpose behind it.