Tossing Out The Supplements

I don’t know whether it’s because I just have less time now to remember to take them or because half my fridge is being occupied by baby puree, but I just did a thorough cleanse of the supplement section of my refridgerator and only one’s left standing – the fish oil – old habits die hard (not to mention old recollections of how much the stuff cost). But to be honest, I don’t think I’m going to replenish the bottle once it’s done (which at the current rate of consumption will be next year).

I’ve been reading more and more, (see one article here,) about the questionable benefits of supplements and increasingly I’m starting to side with the skeptics. It seems that the body knows how to make good use of a slow drip of Omega 3 fatty acids when they’re embedded in the salmon, but doesn’t necessarily recognize the nutrient (or know how to process it) when it’s stripped of its host, shoved into a capsule and consumed in large quantities. Much of the supplement (studies are showing) passes right through, leaving you not with a healthier body, just healthier urine.

I even chose to go against the prevailing custom of taking mega doses of supplements when pregnant and opted to take only folic acid at the early stage and that was it.  I had an extremely balanced diet with all nutrients covered, and gave birth to a 9 pound baby at 42 weeks, healthy as an ox.

Not only have there been questions raised as to the effectiveness of supplements, but one study, here, conducted several years ago, showed that for those with irregular heart beats, taking a fish oil capsule actually contributed to greater irregularity.  Hardly the heart-health-helper you thought it was.

In addition to fish oil, another supplement that has gained popularity and is being tucked into everything from orange juice to chocolate, is probiotics. They are exceptionally expensive when you buy the “live” ones, and again there is no evidence that the supplement itself is effective.  I do however, consume a pretty healthy level of the foods that are known to contain probiotics in their natural state (see below), and anytime I find my digestive system a little “off” I load up even more.

So in the spirit of out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new, rather than swallowing the supplements here’s what I’ll be eating …

  • Instead of Fish oil: Salmon, sole, ground flax seeds
  • Instead of Probiotics: Yogurt, kombucha, pickled/fermented foods
  • Instead of Vitamin C: Red peppers, broccoli,oranges, papaya
  • Instead of Calcium: Sesame seeds, yogurt, kale
  • Instead of Vitamin D: Salmon, eggs, mushrooms

What about you?

(As an aside, I am in no way suggesting that if you’re taking supplements and they’re working for you, that you should stop. If they’re working for you keep taking them! )

Oh and the winner of the 5 pack of free-product coupons for the Erewhon cereal?

Emily A.  – Congrats!

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  • m

    Whatever fish oil you have if its in plastic- toss it. Even if refrigerated plastic oxygenates oil and makes it rancid quickly. Any oils are best in glass preferably dark. Great post thank you!

  • Michellea

    I too have gotten away from them. After they finally do the studies and find that they don’t do much good, it doesn’t seem worth the money. And it really does make sense that whole foods are better than a single nutrient.

  • Arthur

    I stopped taking lots of supplements a number of years ago for the same reasons you state, except for Vit D. I think that one, for older men like myself, is warranted. Regarding probiotics–the latest fad–I do take them in large doses (and always a vetted brand) when I must take antibiotics, and I do notice the difference. But as a daily routine, I gave that up too. Unfortunately,if we are not able to eat the foods that provide the nutrients we need for whatever reason (and let’s not assume that it’s simply a matter of choosing to eat right all the time), then some supplementation may be helpful. The real culprits are the supplement industry (including the natural product producers) and their enablers like Whole Foods, who sell tons of useless pills and elixers to gullible or uninformed consumers, and the various “health newsletters” that jump on the latest fad. It’s like what I say about echinacea, which used to be a staple in my household, after too too many controlled studies showed it to be ineffective: ech. Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Nutrition Action newsletter, a regular proponent of whole foods (lower case) and healthy diets and debunker of so many of the supplement crazes, is a great resource for info on these topics. On the other hand, Consumer Reports, that middlebrow savior of the status-quo, often goes overboard to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I can’t trust them when it comes to alternative medicine (or air conditioners, for that matter).

  • http://twitter.com/TheHealthWish RoseAnne

    I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately. I feel that most (all?) nutrients have been packaged in whole foods to work synergistically with other nutrients in the food. I have come to doubt that large amounts of single nutrients by themselves can be effective and, in fact, may be harmful. I do have a hard time giving up my vitamin D as my levels last spring were very low despite the fact that I do eat lots of salmon and eggs.

  • Lauren Reid

    I feel similarly, but will still take Vitamin D.

    Especially for individuals living north of DC, its impossible to get the required amount of vitamin D from the sun or from diet alone – and vitamin D supplements are fairly well absorbed, and the effect of the supplements have been documented to have very similar effects as natural vitamin D from sunlight or dietary sources.

  • Jen

    I switched two years ago from synthetically produced vitamins to ones derived from natural plant sources. I have a medical issue which is highly sensitive to what I eat, so I research any pills to avoid lycopene sourced from tomatoes, potato starch, ashwaghanda and gogi berry, which are all nightshades. This rules out all plant-based multivitamins, and to make life easier, I just cut way back on most supplements.

    I also react to certain pesticides and GMO foods, so try to eat organically as much as possible. I recently discovered the label “naturally sourced” in vitamins has the same problem as foods that are labeled “all natural”…it’s meaningless.

    I was supplementing with lysine. Just read Jeff Smith’s Seeds of Deception cover to cover and found out that lysine produced in the US is made from corn, and since 90% of the corn now grown in the US is GMO, my supplement probably was too. Now eat papaya daily for lysine, but not Hawaiian, as it’s GMO. Probiotics are made from bacteria, and that “natural” bacteria can also be GMO.

    Vitamin D comments below are accurate. I’ve read D3 is recommended as D2 can be harmful. I eat cupfuls of raw greens each day, but still take a calcium-magnesium-D3 combination (they need to be taken together to boost absorption) and B12.

    FWIW Dr. Joel Fuhrman believes there is a correlation between synthetic folic acid consumption and the rise of breast cancer rates in the US, and recommends that women take only plant-sourced folate as a supplement.

  • KikiLovesFood

    It is always preferable for the body to get what it needs from whole foods; however, not everyone has the time or access to a Wholefoods type grocery store to be able to prepare the right stuff. Also, as we age, we are less able to obtain nutrition from foods. I believe this is probably because we start producing less digestive enzymes at age 5 and it continues to decline, and so the reduced ability for nutritional uptake will contribute to nutritional deficiencies warranting the need for some supplements. Aging has to do with the body’s declining ability to produce or obtain carnitine, CoQ10 and obtain nutrition from other sources. I agree that fishoil is not the best way to obtain omega 3s, DHA from plant sources is better metabolized; however the only way to really correct the Omega 6:3 balance is by loading up on something like flax seed or oil and DHA for example. Just consuming fish really won’t correct the balance. A wholefood multivitamin can ensure you get the RDA of everything (even though the RDA isn’t necessarily what is optimal). Some vitamins and minerals are hard to obtain. Magnesium is one. 75% of Americans are deficient, to get enough, I’d need to eat 1/2 cup of cooked spinach and 1/2 cup of black beans, and a big chunk of halibut every day. What kid is going to go for that. So at a minimum, I say multivitamin, DHA, flax seed or oil and magnesium, if you’re older, add D. Thanks for the discussion, love your site.

  • Organic Goddess

    I take whole food supplements that are organic and I take them in large doses. Are you familiar with Standard Process supplements? You can only get them through health care professionals but I swear by them! I have talked to several practitioners and done a lot of research about supplemets and Standard Process, in specific and the bar with them is heald pretty high. i would encourage you to look into it for yourself and see why Standard Process is set apart. (and no, i do not work for them or get any benfit other than high quality thst i can trust : ) ).I also try to get as many nutrients from my food but I feel from the research I have done that we can not consume the levels of certain nutrients we need from food. It would require pounds of food a day. I do agree they synthetic and highly processed or even whole foid supplements that are produced with too much heat are worthless. I feel quality is a huge factor and incorporating a healthy diet are the best bet! The best of both worlds. Our body is organic and inorganic suppleness cannot be properly absorbed or utilized. Almost all of the synthetic suppleness out there are owned by Big Pharma, which to me is just scary.

  • Nicole @WholeHealthRD

    I really like Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil and butter oil for getting retinol and Vitamin D. EPA + DHA too. Skin is better, immunity is better, plus lots of other anecdotal benefits. It’s the only supplement I’ve ever noticed results from. But I look at it like a food, not a supplement…

  • http://www.facebook.com/sunagape Pam Guthrie

    I used to spend a fortune on supps, and took a ton of them. I forgot to bring them with me on a 3 week trip to Tibet, and pitched ‘em all when I got home. I am much healthier now than I was then. Who knows the real reason.

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