There are five common mistakes people make when choosing and using supplements.
1. Failing to address diet first. There is no way to out-supplement a bad diet. Supplements are just that – supplemental. Starting with a whole food diet, high in vegetables and including quality fat and protein, and a small amount of fruit is always the recommended first step.
2. Failing to consider lifestyle change. Having a consistent daily routine, managing screen time, getting adequate exercise and managing stress in healthy ways will benefit sleep, digestion, energy and a sense of overall well being.
3. Taking too low a dose. The RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) was first established in the 1940s as the amount of a given nutrient recommended to maintain a healthy population. The necessary amount for someone with genetic expressions that influence the body’s ability to utilize specific nutrients, those with immune compromise, digestive issues or chronic health problems can often be much higher than the RDA.
4. Taking the wrong form. This can come back to genetics as well certain forms of vitamins may be well tolerated for some and for others simply make matters worse. Consider that folic acid, folinic acid, folate and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate are all considered B9 however, they are not equal in terms of how they can be used within the body.
5. Taking it at the wrong time or wrong combination. Certain supplements work better on an empty stomach, some better with food, some work best in combination with others, still others can block absorption of each other when combined.
Clients often come to be having been recommended a supplement by another practitioner, let’s say it's calcium, for bone health.
Step 1 has us discussing how much calcium they are already getting in their diet and in what form. Is it a glass of milk with meals? Yogurt? Leafy greens? Sea snacks or nori?
Step 2 means discussing weight bearing and resistance type exercise which can help improve bone health, and hormone balance as low estrogen or thyroid dysfunction can impact bone health. Are they post menopausal? Pregnant or breastfeeding? How is their digestion?
Step 3 has us taking into account how much calcium a person is already getting, how deficient they already are, for how long, and tailoring a dose to their specific situation and timeline.
Step 4 involves looking at the supplement they have often picked up at the pharmacy or grocery store. Is it calcium carbonate? This form is essentially chalk, which if you’ve ever dropped a stick of chalk on the ground you know how strong that is. While this form is the least expensive and has a high amount of elemental calcium, about 22% is absorbed in those with optimal stomach acid, in those with low stomach acid or those taking acid blockers on or with poor digestion will find even less benefit with approximately 4% absorption. Other forms, known as “chelates” can offer up to 40% absorption regardless of the state of their stomach acid.
Step 5 requires recognizing that bones are not made up of calcium alone; magnesium is required to hold calcium in solution keeping it from titrating out and forming calcifications where we don’t want them, such as kidney stones. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and Vitamin K plays a role in shuttling that calcium into the bones. Other micronutrients like Boron, copper, zinc and silica may be indicated as well.
I use all of this knowledge to help in choosing the right supplement, in the right dose and combination at the right time with each individual client. Biofeedback is also a great resource to help make that choice during an in office visit. Often there is more than one good choice available. Using Biofeedback to measure an individual’s response to each supplement provides me with added confidence that the choice is the right one.