Today I dare to go where angels fear to tread: into the largely unregulated world of nutritional supplements. With so many exotic products and so many sensational claims, it’s hard to know what to believe and what to do. Unfortunately, many people take supplements as replacements for healthy nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle routines. That’s a formula for disaster. It’s better to take no supplements at all than to do that. If you have the resources and if you understand their role, however, some supplements may be worth taking. Read on to learn which ones.
I hesitate to write this Provision for many reasons. The primary one being that following our Optimal Wellness Prototype should give people all the nutrition we need without any support from supplements. The Prototype includes, after all, the diet that fueled the evolution of human beings and that our bodies are still best suited to eat. If all our foods were fresh, colorful, whole, organic, and, in the case of meat, pasture-fed or wild with plenty of healthy-fats and minimal unhealthy fats, there would be nothing more to say than to “eat, drink, and be merry.”
Unfortunately, that does not describe most of our foods, even for those of us who have dedicated ourselves to the cause. At organic grocery stores, for example, most foods are at least five days old, if not longer. At regular grocery stores, the shelf life is even longer. Processed foods are even worse. You have to wonder what we are eating when the expiration date on the package is more than two years away. One thing is certain: no hunter-gatherer ever had that option. Because the nutrient value of our industrial food supply is compromised, many people choose to support their diets with nutritional supplements • spending almost $5 billion per year in the United States alone. That’s a lot of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, amino acids, hormones, and other exotic stuff. Since supplements are largely unregulated, and since they can therefore easily waste people’s money, injure them, or both, a few words of caution and buying tips may be in order. Because of the lack of regulation, it’s hard to recommend any particular brand of supplements. Consumer Reports recently evaluated 18 brands from discount and dollar stores. Nearly half of the tested brands failed to contain their labeled level of at least one nutrient, and two of the vitamins failed to dissolve properly. That means your body won’t absorb the nutrients. Big name and major store brands fared better in the Consumer Reports tests. For people on a budget who want to take a multivitamin, that’s the way to go. Some brands, including a number that are sold at major retail stores, have been verified by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), a public standards-setting authority for prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, and other healthcare products manufactured and sold in the United States. A “verified” supplement has all the listed ingredients in the declared amounts, does not contain harmful ingredients, will break down and release ingredients in the body, and has been made under good manufacturing processes. Visit the USP website for a list of verified supplements. For even more money, there are premium brands that exceed the requirements of the USP. One such brand, for example, is Pure Encapsulations. They self-regulate the quality of their suppliers to pharmaceutical grade, introduce no hidden fillers, coatings, binders, shellacs, artificial colors, fragrance, excipients, wheat, yeast, gluten, corn, sugar, starch, preservatives, or hydrogenated oils during the manufacturing process, and have independent laboratories test each and every batch of finished product. If you have the resources, a premium product is the way to go. So what supplements are worth taking? That’s another reason I hesitate to write this Provision. Although nutritional supplements, or nutraceuticals, represent an almost $5 billion per year industry in the United States alone, medical drugs, or pharmaceuticals, represent an almost $250 billion per year industry. That difference means there is far less pharmaceutical-grade testing done on nutritional supplements. In most cases, although increasing numbers of studies are coming on line, we simply do not have sufficient data to make conclusive recommendations. That’s why many people say, “Don’t waste your money.” And if money is an object, I would agree. Stay with the Optimal Wellness Prototype Click and leave the supplements alone. If you have the money to spend, however, and if you want to take supplements on the basis of anecdotal evidence and of what studies have been conducted, then I would start with a robust multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. The supplement should maximize your intake of the B vitamins, vitamin D, antioxidants, calcium, and magnesium while minimizing your intake of vitamin A acetate or palmitate (retinol), vitamin E, iron, and zinc. That can be a hard formula to find. The one I take, manufactured by Pure Encapsulations, is called Polyphenol Nutrients. Here is what you get in six capsules a day, taken with meals:
|mixed carotenoids (vitamin A precursors) providing:||7,500 IU|
|thiamine HCl (vitamin B1)||50 mg.|
|riboflavin (vitamin B2)||25 mg.|
|riboflavin 5• phosphate (activated vitamin B2)||12.5 mg.|
|niacin (vitamin B3)||25 mg.|
|niacinamide (vitamin B3)||50 mg.|
|pantothenic acid (calcium pantothenate) (vitamin B5)||50 mg.|
|pyridoxine HCl (vitamin B6)||12.5 mg.|
|pyridoxal 5• phosphate (activated vitamin B6)||12.5 mg.|
|biotin (vitamin B7)||800 mcg.|
|folic acid (vitamin B9)||800 mcg.|
|methylcobalamin (vitamin B12)||500 mcg.|
|ascorbic acid (vitamin C)||500 mg.|
|ascorbyl palmitate (vitamin C)||120 mg.|
|vitamin D3||400 IU|
|d-alpha tocopherol succinate (vitamin E)||100 IU|
|calcium (citrate)||300 mg.|
|magnesium (citrate)||150 mg.|
|zinc (picolinate)||15 mg.|
|selenium (selenomethionine)||200 mcg.|
|iodine (potassium iodide)||200 mcg.|
|copper (glycinate)||2 mg.|
|manganese (aspartate)||10 mg.|
|chromium (polynicotinate)||100 mcg.|
|molybdenum (aspartate)||100 mcg.|
|potassium (aspartate)||99 mg.|
|boron (glycinate)||2 mg.|
|vanadium (aspartate)||100 mcg.|
|n-acetyl-l-cysteine (free-form)||100 mg.|
|choline (bitartrate)||100 mg.|
|alpha lipoic acid (thioctic acid)||100 mg.|
|blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) extract (fruit) (standardized to contain 1.5% anthocyanins)||100 mg.|
|olive (Olea europaea l.) extract (fruit) providing:||50 mg.|
|total polyphenols (min.) 35%||17.5 mg.|
|hydroxytyrosol 1%||0.5 mg.|
|pomegranate (Punica granatum l.) extract (fruit) (standardized to contain 5% ellagic acid)||100 mg.|
|grape (Vitis vinifera) extract (seed) (standardized to contain 92% oligomeric proanthocyanidins)||50 mg.|
|green tea (Camellia sinensis) extract (leaf) providing:||100 mg.|
|total tea catechins 65%||65 mg.|
|epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) 23%||23 mg.|
|caffeine 7%||7 mg.|
Note that this formula includes no vitamin A as retinol or iron. That is good advice for everyone, apart from a doctor’s recommendation. Vitamin A is produced naturally by the body from the mixed carotenoids. Since too much vitamin A has been linked to bone loss, it’s best to avoid retinol altogether. Supplemental iron can cause even more problems, since it can accumulate in the body to toxic levels. Consult with your doctor to determine whether or not you need an iron supplement.
I also like the low levels of natural (d-alpha) vitamin E (100 International Units or IU) and zinc (15 mg.) in this formula. Whereas vitamin E was once thought of as health-protective, an analysis of 19 trials showed that the risk of dying rose steadily as supplemental vitamin E levels rose from 100 IU to 2,000 IU per day. Too much zinc can also cause problems, particularly with copper absorption, so it’s best to go low on this one (15 mg. or less).
The B vitamins in this formula are robust, corresponding to therapeutic levels for homocysteine, fetal development, and anemia. The folic acid occurs at the recommended level (800 mcg) for pregnant women. The antioxidants include both synthesized carotenoids and natural ingredients such as blueberry, olive, pomegranate, grape seed, and green tea extracts. That’s great. The selenium level, an antioxidant cofactor, is ideal. The calcium and magnesium both occur in the recommended 2:1 ratio and in the optimum citrate form.
Although this formula is robust and in many ways complete, there are a number of areas where you may want to consider additional supplementation. These include:
— Vitamin D3. The Harvard Health Letter calls this one of the “top 10 health stories of 2006.” “Finally, a vitamin that makes the grade.” Vitamin D3 is naturally synthesized by the human body from sunlight. That worked great when we all lived near the equator and wore minimal clothes. In such bright, sunny conditions, our bodies naturally produce up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. Unfortunately, most people are no longer able to make enough vitamin D from the sun, which can lead to a variety of cancers and bone loss. I take an extra 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, for a total of 1,400 IU per day.
— Calcium & Magnesium. Calcium and magnesium, especially in the preferred citrate form, is bulky and contributes to why this formula requires six capsules per day. Even though it provides 300 mg. and 150 mg. of calcium and magnesium respectively, many aging adults will seek additional supplementation to protect against bone loss and heart disease. Do not exceed a total of 1,200 mg. and 600 mg. for the two minerals. If the magnesium leads to loose stools, reduce the level. I take an extra 600 mg. of calcium citrate and 300 mg. of magnesium citrate per day, for a total of 900 mg. and 450 mg. respectively.
— Fish Oil. The Optimal Wellness Prototype meets the body’s need for heart-protective, long-chain, Omega-3 fatty acids by encouraging the consumption of wild fish and pasture-fed meat from lean animals such as buffalo and deer. Unfortunately, many of us do not eat enough of these foods to keep our ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in the ideal range of 2:1 or less. Indeed, North American diets typically have ratios of 20:1 or more. This contributes to many of our modern, chronic diseases.
One way to change that is to take ultra-pure, microfiltered, supplemental fish oil. I blend one to two teaspoons of liquid fish oil into my morning fruit smoothie and I take a fish oil capsule with my evening meal, for a total of 1,800 mg. of EPA and 1,000 mg. DHA (two types of Omega-3 fatty acids) per day. Note: fish oil is not the same thing as cod liver oil; the latter should be avoided since it provides too much vitamin A as retinol.
— Digestive Enzymes. Digestive enzymes are the key to all nutrition since they enable the body to break down and assimilate the components of food in the digestion process. Digestive enzymes are secreted by glands in the mouth, stomach, pancreas, and small intestines. To support the digestive process, it is also possible to take supplemental digestive enzymes. I prefer to stay with vegetarian formulas, including enzymes such as bromelain (from pineapple), papain (from papaya), amylase, protease and lipase (from fungi), and rutin (from the fava tree).
— Probiotics. On a related note, probiotics are friendly bacteria that occur naturally in the digestive tract. Among other important functions, probiotics help the body to control the growth of yeast and other toxins. The big debate is whether or not probiotic supplements survive the stomach acid in order to get where they need to be: the intestines. Many probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, require refrigeration to maintain culture viability. I like to add a couple scoops (1 gram) of probiotic powder to my morning fruit smoothie, providing 4.5 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU), especially since the fruit sugars in the smoothie can promote the growth of yeast in the intestines.
— Alpha Lipoic Acid & CoQ10. You may have noticed the inclusion of 100 mg. of alpha lipoic (or thioctic) acid in this formula. Alpha lipoic acid and CoEnzyme Q10 are both cofactors of aerobic metabolism. I like to think of them as energizers, “improving the function of heart muscles cells and boosting capacity for aerobic exercise” (to quote Dr. Andrew Weil in Healthy Aging). Although some studies dispute their effectiveness as energizers, the studies do not indicate any harmful effects. I take an additional 400 mg. of alpha lipoic acid and 100 mg. of hydrosoluble CoQ10 (as a gel capsule) on a daily basis.
— Glucosamine Sulfate. Runners know all about the pounding of high-impact exercise. In 1998, I developed knee problems that were eliminated within 30 days of taking glucosamine sulfate, an amino sugar that supports the production of glycosaminoglycans: a major component of joint cartilage. I have taken glucosamine sulfate on a daily basis ever since and my knee problems have not recurred. Many with osteoarthritis also experience a relief of symptoms soon after beginning the regular consumption of glucosamine sulfate. Be sure to take no less than 1,500 mg. and no more than 2,000 mg. per day.
— Phytosterols. Doctors know that it’s important to keep blood-cholesterol levels as low as possible. Cholesterol-lowering drugs have therefore become a major pharmaceutical product line, generating unhappy side effects in some people. Fortunately, there is an alternative. Phytosterols are compounds derived from vegetable oils that lower cholesterol naturally (about 15%) without side effects. That’s why these compounds are now being added to foods such as margarines (e.g. Benecol), spreads, salad dressings, and even orange juice. Supplements can provide phytosterols without the calories. I take two 500 mg. capsules per day, in divided doses with meals, providing beta-sitosterol, campesterol, stigmaterosl, brassicasterol, and sitostanol.
— Saw Palmetto. Years ago I attended a seminar on prostate health taught by board-certified urologist. He recommended the herb saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) for men with a benignly enlarged prostate and to support prostate health. Based on that recommendation, and on further research, I take 320 mg. of saw palmetto per day between meals. This is another supplement where current studies dispute the benefits but do not indicate any harm.
— Aspirin. Taking a low-dose of aspirin on a daily basis (81-162 mg.) reduces the risk of both cardiovascular disease and colon polyps. If you are at risk for either of these conditions, and if you are at low risk for gastrointestinal bleeding, you may want to talk with your doctor about low-dose aspirin therapy. I take 81 mg. per day with my evening meal.
Those are all the supplements that I take and why. I am constantly reading and researching in this area of interest, especially as new studies and findings are released, so my patterns tend to evolve and change over time. I do not, however, anticipate ever adding the regular consumption of hormones to my regimen of supporting supplements. Hormones are powerful chemicals with far-reaching effects and potentially dangerous side effects. Anabolic steroids, banned by the rules of the governing bodies of many sports, are listed as Schedule III in the USA’s Controlled Substances Act. Even popular hormones such as DHEA and melatonin should not be taken regularly without medical supervision.
Never take a supplement of unknown origin or content. Bottles that list ingredients without listing specific quantities of each ingredient should be discarded. Exotic supplements that you know nothing about should also be discarded, regardless and partly because of any sensational claims they may make on the label. Like a hot stock tip, the more sensational the claim the more suspect the recommendation. Supplements are not panaceas; they are just part of good nutrition.
Most vitamins and minerals are best taken with food, in order to improve digestion. When the body is digesting food, there are more digestive juices present and less chance of stomach upset. Fat soluble vitamins (primarily A, D, E, and K) require the presence of at least a little fat in the stomach to be assimilated. I prefer to take my vitamins immediately after eating, so the food has already begun to stimulate the digestion process. The labels on supplements will usually indicate whether a supplement is to be taken with meals or between meals.
I want to end this Provision where I began: following our Optimal Wellness Prototype should give people all the nutrition we need without any support from supplements. Indeed, supplements are no excuse for a poor diet, a lack of exercise, or unmanageable stress. Such things are real killers, both figuratively and literally, whether we take supportive supplements or not.
Supportive supplements are just that • they are supplementary to and not replacements for everything we know about human wellness and well-being. If money is tight, or if you just don’t want to take supplements, then don’t. Stay focused on healthy nutrition, fitness, and stress. When we do this we prosper; when we ignore this we suffer. That really is the bottom line for us all.
Coaching Inquiries: Do you take nutritional supplements? Do you know what you take in those supplements and why? How do your supplements compare to the ingredients and levels discussed in this Provision? Do you want to make any adjustments? Have you talked with your doctor about the supplements you take? Who else could become your partner in excellent nutrition and optimal wellness?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
I was so excited to read the introduction of Amy Haas to the readers of LifeTrek Provisions Click. Since I knew Amy when she worked at First Congregational Church, I could hardly believe that I was renewing a long lost friendship. It’s been so many years but I still remember her well. As I close in on 80 years of age, it seems I am still learning how to budget or balance my time. I will be eagerly reading her weekly Pathways. Good luck on your coaching.
I am interested in becoming a life coach. How would one go about becoming linked with your association and starting a life coaching business? I currently hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling psychology. (Ed. Note: Becoming a coach typically involves training, mentoring, and practicing. Visit the website of the International Coach Federation Click to find out about training programs. You can contact us or others, through the ICF, for mentoring and practicing. Good luck and welcome!)
According to Pat Sullivan, author of “Piece by Piece,” nuts are generally hard to digest so he sells “sprouted” nuts that he claims provide more enzymes. I’ve bought some online Click; they don’t look sprouted but maybe are more moist/soft from soaking in the salt water. I am wondering what your research says about sprouted nuts. (Ed. Note: When it comes to enzymes, the key factor is raw. Raw nuts and sprouted nuts are both healthy nutritional options.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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