June 23, 2016

A Note on Supplements

A Note on Supplements

When I was in the sixth grade, my mom very passive aggressively put a book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” in my Christmas stocking. I think this was a subtle way of encouraging me to take a chill pill. At the time I was very resistant to the idea of needing anything to supplement my health, but now that I’m older I’ve been trying to digest the research on suPILLments.  If your diet is diverse and filled with nutrients, are daily and regular supplements even necessary?

Supplements Blog Post

From what I’ve been able to gather from the research, it depends. This vague answer may seem somewhat political, because there’s no one specific answer for every person, it’s nuanced and multilayered (a circuitous statement that encompasses all parties – very political indeed.) What I can do, however, is provide a plethora of expert’s opinions, because I myself don’t pretend to fall into the category of expert. Honestly, I’m just a 24 year old who is in the middle of a nutrition master’s and likes lettuce and colorful produce. Maybe one day!!!!!

Anyways, the best source of vitamins is a plant-based diet, consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and spices. If you’re most interested in cleaning up your diet, the rainbow is where to start.  If your diet is colorful, you’re most likely getting all the vitamins you need. But again, this is no guarantee. Some individuals don’t absorb every vitamin in the same way, and maintaining the right levels is essential for homeostasis. In regards to maintaining the right levels, this is also true for the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s also important not to go overboard.  In fact, one large observational study with 19-year follow up published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2011 found a 6% increased mortality in women who take multivitamins (The Wall Street Journal, 2013). I think this speaks to the idea of keeping your body in its homeostatic happy place – not giving it too much or too little of the amounts it likes. Also long terms studies like this don’t always accurately account other lifestyle factors, so the data could be flawed.

Sticking to my original statement, I’ll answer this question in terms of my own diet, as I know what I tend to lack.  For the most part, my diet contains a vast array of nutrients via fruits and vegetables. So I don’t rely on supplements to provide nutrients, but I do think they hold merit. One study reports, “clinical research on synergies between existing drugs and pleiotropic natural products and their integration with self-care and mHealth can expand precision/personalized medicine strategies for chronic diseases via molecular-behavioral combination therapies” (Bulaj, Kuhn, Judkins, Ahern, Bowen, & Chen, 2016). Lol what are you, who do you work for, and what do you mean. This essentially translates to, supplements can be used in nutritional medicine to tailor an individualized wellness plans. In terms of my individual plan, there are certain supplements I take because I know my diet is lacking in them. This includes: a probiotic, a multi-vitamin, omega-3, curcumin, and beef liver.

Probiotics: Probiotics activate signals that are crucial for body systems, like those that make us gain weight, impair digestion and absorption of nutrients, and increase reflux. One of the best ways to improve the health of your gut is through the use of probiotics, so here I present to you my favorite ways to include them in my daily routine. Probiotics have a wealth of benefits, both gastrointestinal and systemic.  Having a film of probiotic lining the gut results in a force field of anti-infective, anti-adherent, anti-tumor goodness. Probiotics produce cytochrome P450-like enzymes which are crucial for detoxification systems of the body. They also produce B vitamins, vitamin K, aid in digestion, enhance nutrient absorption, and interact with the immune system to improve resistance.

The idea that the gut is the “second brain” is often referred to as the gut-brain axis.  Its deal is that the same neurotransmitters influence gastrointestinal, endocrine, immune, behavioral, and emotional function. This suggests that psychological stress can induce intestinal inflammation and that a component of depression may be in the gut, and part of IBS may in your mind.  This bidirectionally blows my mind, and so I guess also blows my gut? Okay, getting a bit poo carried away here.

Studies have shown that supplementation with probiotics help attenuate symptoms from diarrhea and necrotizing enterocolitis, and also help with cancer prevention, health promotion, IBS, and have an anti-inflammatory effect on gastrointestinal lining. A healthy gut also helps prevent intestinal permeability – when foreign substances leak through the gut and make their way into the blood stream – leading the body to attack them as if they were foreign substances. It’s essentially like what your body does with an autoimmune disease. Intestinal permeability has been associated with system failure, systemic disease and immune dysfunction. No good. Supplementing with probiotics, however, reduces adverse effects of toxins in the liver and decreases gut permeability.

Mitochondrial Energy / Vitamin B: This is what I use as a multi-vitamin, as it includes: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, magnesium, manganese, creatine, L-carnitine, D-ribose, malic acid, succinic acid, coQ10, alpha lipoic acid, trans resveratrol, curcumin C3 complex, and pantethine. In a study of nearly 15,000 U.S. physicians followed for an average of 11 years, those doctors who were randomly selected to take a single multivitamin daily had significantly fewer cancers. Because this was a relatively healthy population, the benefits in a less highly selected population of patients who are at greater baseline risk might be even greater.

Furthermore, when toxins enter the body (pesticides, car fumes, paint, etc) and move throughout the tissues, they come into contact with the mitochondrion and damage them. When mitochondria are producing ATP (the substances that provides the body with energy), you have plenty of fuel to maintain good health, and energy levels remain high. When your mitochondria are in good condition, your body is at its optimal weight (Crinnion, 2010).

Omega-3: Flavonoids and fish oils have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating influences. Results of one study showed a rise in plasma quercetin, EPA, and DHA. DHA affects learning and behavior and EPA/DHA combined keep brain dopamine levels high, increase neuronal growth, and increase cerebral circulation. Omega-3s, therefore, are essential for optimal brain functioning.  Omega-3s also stimulate an antiviral and anti-inflammatory response in overweight women (Cialdella-Kam et al., 2016). Research shows other benefits include: reducing risk of heart attack and stroke, regulating cholesterol triglyceride levels, and lessening symptoms of crohn’s disease, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and even improving dry eye symptoms in glaucoma patients.

Curcumin: In addition to an anti-cancer agent, curcumin has a vast breadth of health benefits.  It reduces serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels (Pungcharoenkul & Thongnopua, 2011). It may also may have benefits for diabetics, as one study showed as a glucose-lowering agent and antioxidant in type 2 diabetic db/db mice, though it did not have an affect in non-diabetic db/+ mice (Seo, K-I et al., 2008). Curcumin not only positively affects those who are already ill, but also lowers plasma triglyceride values, salivary amylase levels, and raises salivary radical scavenging capacities, showing healthy effects in otherwise healthy middle-aged adults (DiSilvestro, Joseph, Zhao, & Bomser, 2012).  This means it decreases risks of atherosclerosis, enhances digestion, and help eliminate inflammatory free radicals.

Beef Liver: I don’t typically eat much meat, and I do think there are many nutrients in it that hold value. Beef liver is high in Vitamin A, B12, Folate, Riboflavin, Zinc, Copper, and Choline.  These nutrients assist with the integumentary system (hair, skin, and nails) as well as with immune system function energy levels, digestion, brain and heart health, as well as post-workout recovery.  This particular beef liver is sourced from grass-fed cows meaning it also has high omega-3 content. I understand that this product is not vegan or vegetarian. But since I’m neither of those things, it works for me.

This list is by no means static – it is constantly evolving or changing, and is simply a synopsis of research.


Bulaj, G., Kuhn, A., Judkins, Z.S., Ahern, M.M, Bowen, R.S., & Chen, Y. (2016). Incorporating natural products, pharmaceutical drugs, self-care and digital/mobile health technologies into molecular-behavioral combination therapies for chronic diseases. Current Clinical Pharmacology. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27262323

Cialdella-Kam, L., Nieman, D.C., Knab, A.M., Shanely, R.A., Meaney, M.P., Jin, F., Shaw, W., & Ghosh, S. (2016). A mixed flavonoid-fish oil supplement induces immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory transcriptomic changes in adult obese and overweight women – A randomized controlled trial. Nutrients, 8(5), pii-E277. doi: 10.3390/nu8050277

Crinnion, W. (2010). Clean, green, and lean: Get rid of the toxins that make you fat. John Wiley & Sons: New Jersey.

DiSilvestro, R.A., Joseph, E., Zhao, S., & Bomser, J. (2012). Diverse effects of a low dose supplement of lipidated curcumin in healthy middle aged people. Nutrition Journal, 11(79). doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-11-79

Pungcharoenkul, K. & Thongnopua, P. (2011). Effect of different curcuminoid supplement dosages on total in vivo antioxidant capacity and cholesterol levels of healthy human subjects. Phytotherapy Research, 25(11), 1721-1726. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3608

Seo, K-II, Choi, M-S., Jung, U.J., Kim, H-J., Y, J., Jeon, S-M., & Lee, M-K (2008). Effect of curcumin supplementation on blood glucose, plasma insulin, and glucose homeostasis related enzyme activities in diabetic db/db mice. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 52(9), 995-1004. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200700184

The Wall Street Journal (2013). Should healthy people take supplements? Retrieved from: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303653004579212241399057838



N.B. You can click on the word of each supplement which will lead to the brands I use. Not sponsored, just figured people would be curious.

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