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Yes, there is science behind taking supplements
Posted By Lee Hieb, M.D. On 09/03/2013 @ 1:54 pm In Diversions,Front Page,Health | No Comments
Physicians have been saying for years that “vitamins just make expensive urine.” That statement is cute, but simply not true.
Recently the news reported studies presumably showing a deleterious effect of fish oil. And almost like a Greek chorus the medical community was quoted saying there is no evidence that supplements are beneficial.
This is clear nonsense and contrary to what physicians do themselves. They know that Vitamin C supplements prevent or treat scurvy. They give Vitamin B12 shots to patients with pernicious anemia, and they advised the milk industry to add Vitamin D to prevent childhood rickets. This is “supplementation.” What they are really saying is: They don’t want you to make decisions to supplement your diet in the absence of their medical input.
But as I have pointed out previously, scientific advances are slow to percolate into the actual practice of medicine. So even if it were proven to be beneficial to significantly elevate blood levels of Vitamin D (as it has been), it would take decades for the medical establishment to be fully on board.
As a consequence of individual genetics, diminishing capacity to absorb nutrients as we age and eating a generally poor American diet, many people develop deficits of certain nutrients over a lifetime. These nutrients are involved as co-factors in chemical reactions that convert food to energy, detoxify, support cell growth and provide immunity. Our understanding of these processes over the last 30 years has expanded tremendously, and now we can test for very specific deficiencies of function. And then we can tailor supplements to the individual.
Let’s start with a quick review of biochemistry. We will use as an example, the process of methylation, which is important for many body processes. Vitamin B12 is a co-factor in methylation – meaning it works together with an enzyme to run the chemical reaction that adds a methyl group to a compound.
There are important genetic differences in people’s ability to methylate because of the activity of the enzyme. This activity is enhanced by elevating the level of the co-factor, Vitamin B12. A one-size-fits-all mentality is incorrect in medicine in general, but particularly when looking at levels of co-factors. I may be able to methylate with a little B12, and you may need five times as much. Therefore, measuring B12 levels is inadequate. We need to measure some aspect of the ongoing chemical reactions to check if they are proceeding as needed.
Fortunately for B12, there is a cheap test that does just that. A reaction that involves methylation is the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. By measuring the level of homocysteine (and there are others), we can determine whether methylation is occurring appropriately.
Today, there are a myriad of such processes we can measure. It is possible and not overly costly to test the effectiveness of the chemical processes that convert food to energy and then to correct for deficiencies. Organized medicine recognizes so-called “inborn errors of metabolism,” but only the most overt ones. They willfully ignore the possibility of less profound – but deleterious – individual genetic variation of everyday metabolism. And in spite of a plethora of studies showing benefits of various supplements, they continue to chant, “Supplements don’t work.”
Even without specific testing it is known that American’s generally are deficient in certain areas. Those supplements I recommend to everyone are chosen because they are needed to compensate for our unnatural dietary patterns. For example, fish oil is needed to compensate for the fact that the aboriginal human ate fish and grass-fed wild game, so naturally had a high intake of Omega 3 versus Omega 6 oils. Today’s grain-fed beef and farm-raised fish simply do not give us enough of this fat. We know this to be true by large population studies.
Similarly, everyone needs iodine supplementation because we do not eat like the Japanese, who ingest hundreds of times more because of their ingestion of seaweed. In my experience observing elderly people in the hospital and testing a number of people with these advanced tests, nearly everyone is deficient in zinc, and over a lifetime become deficient in magnesium. This is probably due again to our diet, which tends to be repetitive, and not as natural as it once was. Everyone is low on Vitamin D – even people who work and play outside. So, many supplements I just recommend, and do not waste patient’s time and money with testing everyone.
Without specific testing I recommend the following for everyone, understanding that if you have certain medical conditions such as renal failure you must consult a physician first:
In short, there is a scientific basis for taking supplements. Life Extension Foundation at www.LEF.org has a very extensive summary of literature supporting specific supplements, and their reviews of the science are easy to read and accessible to people without medical backgrounds. Other references are Dr. Blaylock’s newsletter, or the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine at www.worldhealth.net.
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