I see this a lot in the news and social media: Are nutritional supplements safe? They are a cornerstone of my practice and something I use very often with my clients to improve their health. Recently there has been a lot of shots fired at the supplement market by mainstream medicine.
How do your supplements stack up?
The FDA found that many of the over-the-counter products available to people are not what they say they are. Large retailers like GNC, Walmart, Target, and even pharmacies like Walgreen’s were put to the test; many of their supplements were not what they said they were. Most were full of fillers like corn or wheat – two very common allergens for people. Some didn’t have what the main ingredient on the label! And here’s why the FDA is concerned about this stuff: None of it goes any real testing.
Now before you start asking which vitamins and supplements are going through clinical trials, they aren’t. We know how a lot this stuff works through basic chemistry and physiology for vitamins, and centuries-old tradition medicines – like from China and India.
What problems can occur from nutritional supplements?
Well, that depends on how you are taking them and what you are taking them with. Herbal supplements are made from plant alkaloids and alkaloids are what most pharmaceutical drugs are derived from. In fact, most of our medicines started off as a plant! And just like drug-drug interactions can cause bad side effects, so can drug-herb The British Journal of Pharmacology last month published that “…reports indicate that a number of herbal products may affect the properties of prescription drugs, leading to alterations in the drugs’ effectiveness as well as potentially dangerous side effects.” The largest problems stem from using certain herbs with blood thinners, chemotherapy, and certain kidney medications.
Often times it is due to providers misunderstanding safe nutritional supplementation guidelines. This takes training and often times years of it. And it is something most doctors do not get in school. Most of that time is spent on diagnosis and pharmacology training (or, like in my case, spinal adjusting). On average, U.S. medical schools offer only 19.6 hours of nutrition education across four years of medical school, according to a 2010 report in Academic Medicine. A 2016 study in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health assessed the basic nutritional knowledge of fourth-year medical/osteopathic school graduates entering a pediatric residency program and found that on average, the incoming interns answered only 52 percent of the 18 questions correctly. Chiropractors get one year of courses related to nutrition along with all the classes in chemistry and physiology to understand it all and it is a part of our national boards, but we don’t have all the testing on drugs MDs and DOs do. Registered Dietitians get 2 yrs of nutrition, but very little in the way of chemistry, physiology, or diagnosis.
I bet you are asking, “So what’s the happy medium here”?
So, are Nutritional Supplements Safe?
The answer is of course YES, nutritional supplements are safe! but with a caveat: Make sure you are doing what your doctor says and that they are competent in nutrition. Simply knowing vitamins are good for you is not enough to get people better. A post-doctorate in clinical nutrition requires 300 hours of training and then pretty rigorous testing to get board certified. A competent provider will check your blood and other labs to determine what’s appropriate and to monitor progress is highly recommended. Having a clinical understanding of disease processes and nutritional status along with drug-induced nutritional deficiencies is also important. And above all, knowing what supplements are safe to take with specific drugs is critical.
Personally, as a doc who has completed hundreds of hours in this area, I only use products that are the best. I’ll explain what that means: They are products that have the highest quality ingredients, ingredients that have been tested in a lab for purity and potency before they are accepted to be used in manufacturing; the products have the appropriate dose to be effective in treatment; they are made in a facilities that limit the chance of external and internal contamination.