Controversies continue to swirl around supplements, yet the promise
of health via a pill is a lure few can resist. Basically, supplements are not
meant to replace healthy whole foods, but they can complement a basically
good diet that has a deficiency. Dosage and efficacy are key. “Unfortunately
it’s an unregulated market, and some companies are getting away with
selling nonsense,” says Buck Institute researcher Dr. Gordon Lithgow.
“Some supplements for sale at health food stores don’t even contain any of
the items said to be in the bottle. And that’s a problem.”
Ingesting certain supplements may also contribute to the aging
process and chronic disease. For example, researchers have known for
decades that some metals, including high levels of iron, have been linked
to neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s and possibly to Alzheimer’s.
Lithgow’s recent work at the Buck Institute with the nematode C. elegans
(a type of worm) has shown how iron accumulation can accelerate the
aging process. He urges people considering iron supplementation, espe-
cially postmenopausal women, to talk to their physicians first.
Dr. Dale Bredesen, a Buck faculty member who has developed a com-
prehensive program to reverse memory loss, agrees. Consumers should
make sure to get supplements from a trusted source, he adds, since
there is “a lot of garbage out there. For herbs, good examples [for brands]
include Metagenics, Banyan or Gaia.”
The typical modern processed-food diet leaves many of us low in
omega-3s, Bredesen says, so fish or krill oil from a trusted source is a good
idea. And then there’s buzz-worthy vitamin D, which is vital in regulat-
ing the absorption of calcium for healthy bones and facilitating function
of the immune system. Mounting evidence suggests low D levels may be
linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancers,
while raising D levels may reduce heart disease and more. Most of us are
not getting enough Vitamin D from the sun or food sources like salmon,
sardines, egg yolks or fortified milks and cereals.
TIP: Food first, then supplements. Dr. Elson Haas of San Rafael
has recently published his 10th book on health and nutrition, Ultimate
Immunity, which includes a breakdown of the hot topic of cooling down
inflammation through diet, mind and body exercises and supplements.
He has been guiding his patients on supplement intake for more than
three decades from his Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael.
“I look at deficiencies to our cells and tissues as a primary underlying
issue for many health problems,” he says. “I counsel my patients to get
as much of their nutrients from quality foods as possible, and supplements can then add to [promote] optimal function.” Patients commonly
test low for vitamin D, he confirms: “I usually suggest 2,000– 5,000 IUs
daily.” Other nutrients insufficient in most diets include magnesium and
potassium, B12, other Bs and good oils. At the top of his list of sources
for anti-inflammatory nutrients are turmeric, boswellia herb and MSM
(methylsulfonylmethane), as well as fish oils and probiotics. To test the
ease of absorption (bioavailability) of your tableted vitamins, especially
calcium-containing supplements, he suggests placing a couple pills into
warm water; if they do not dissolve within 20 to 30 minutes, chances are
they are not being absorbed into your body.