Your Supplement Questions: Answered
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Do you take a dietary supplement? You probably do. A study found that over half of American adults report taking a supplemental vitamin, mineral, enzyme, or amino acid daily.
But how many people have taken the time to thoroughly educate themselves on their supplements? Probably very few.
In this blog, we have compiled answers to your questions about supplements.
What is a supplement?
A dietary supplement is a “product that contains one or more dietary ingredients, is taken orally, and is intended to supplement the diet” according to the U.S. federal regulations and the National Insitute of Health. Dietary ingredients in supplements constitute amino acids, vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, and many other ingredients. Dietary supplements come in many forms- capsules, tablets, liquids, energy bars, and soft gels.
Dietary supplements are used to correct nutrient deficiencies which are actually very common. In 2010, one study found that nearly 2 billion (30%) of the global population are nutrient deficient. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to disease and dysfunction. You will never reach optimal health if you suffer from a lack of vitamins and minerals.
Why do I need to take supplements?
As mentioned above, you are likely nutrient deficient in at least one vital vitamin or mineral. This is due to several factors that have occurred over time as technology progresses and farming techniques change. We’ll describe several of the factors below:
America is the land of junk food. As our days become busier with work, school, and family, it becomes harder to justify a costly, timely home-cooked meal, when you can feed the family for $20 at McDonald’s. And that’s understandable and totally okay as a special treat. But if you’re constantly eating heavily processed, cheap food, your health will suffer the consequences. Not only are such foods packed with salt, fat, sugar, and unhealthy additives, but they are also likely very low in nutrients. Even non-processed foods like poultry and red meat are loaded with GMO’s and growth hormones.
The world is an increasingly toxic place. When our bodies adapted to require certain levels of vitamins and minerals for bodily functions, there was little to no pollution. Unlike today, when we are constantly breathing, drinking, and eating thousands of chemicals a day. And nutrients are vital for the detoxification of toxins from your body. Without such nutrients, toxins will build up and cause detrimental health effects. To combat the pollution of today’s world, we need more nutrients than ever.
Our foods have less nutritional value. Fruit and vegetable producers have created hybrid forms of plants to enhance growth, change the color, alter the weight, or increase shelf life. And while this is great for food production, the consumer is suffering. This genetic manipulation inevitably decreases the nutritional value of the crop. For example, when scientists increased the beta carotene content of golden rice, the level of other nutrients dropped. Even the soil we grow our crops in results in a lower nutrient count. A 2004 report by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition demonstrated that nutrient levels in foods today are far lower than they were in 1970. This is largely due to commercial farming and the frequent use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that stay in the soil. Meats and eggs have also decreased in nutritional value as the diet of livestock have changed. The nutrients in eggs largely depend on the diet of the chicken. If a chicken is only eating corn-based feed, the nutrients will be lower than a chicken roaming the pasture eating bugs.
Our water has fewer minerals. The modern water production method has largely depleted the water supply of valuable, natural nutrients. In 2005, the World Health Organization stated that magnesium and other important nutrients like calcium have been removed from the water across North America. For centuries, our bodies relied on such nutrients that are now gone.
We don’t absorb nutrients as well as we used to. This is true for a number of reasons. Modern medicine and medications can negatively impact nutrient absorption. An unhealthy gut can prevent nutrient absorption, which is exceedingly common among Americans.
For the above reasons, and many, many more, taking supplements is more important than ever.
Where should I buy supplements?
You should only ever purchase supplements that have been prescribed to you by a reputable medical health professional. Unfortunately, supplements sold online or in drug stores are often filled with additives, adulterants, and even heavy metals. This is largely because the FDA does not hold dietary supplements to the same standards as pharmaceuticals. And while the FDA has the power to issue a mandatory recall of a supplement, it has only done so once. Instead, if the FDA finds a tainted supplement, it will issue a recall recommendation, which allows sellers to keep their product on the market.
Without proper governmental regulation, the consumer must take the necessary precautions to ensure they are only taking supplements of the highest quality. Rick Cohen, M.D., a former worker at the Food and Drug Administration and a Special Agent at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who is now a public health advocate warns to NEVER buy supplements on Amazon or eBay. Cohen advocates against cheaply priced “supplements” online for three main reasons:
Low-priced supplements are likely counterfeit and probably dangerous. There are counterfeit supplements for nearly every popular supplement on the market. These pills are made primarily in China and India. Through lab testing at the FDA, Cohen states that some cheap/counterfeit supplements contained additives and others had more than 10 times the amount of “medicinal” ingredient as indicated on the label.
Many times, cheap supplements are expired that have been repackaged as new. Legitimate supplement companies often have sales on products that are soon to expire, counterfeiters will purchase the very cheaply priced pills, change the date on the packaging label, and resell them. This is especially concerning for fish oil supplements that can oxidize and have potentially harmful effects, including potentially increasing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Supplements on Amazon and eBay have been found to be stolen products released on the black market with no quality control. There have been many instances of criminals breaking into supplement warehouses and stealing large amounts of products to then be disturbed to other criminal fencing enterprises for merchandising purposes.
While there are legitimate companies selling supplements on Amazon, it is important to recognize that Amazon warehouses do not provide the temperature regulation necessary. Most of the active ingredients in supplements lose their potency if stored for a lengthy amount of time in high temperatures. So although the product that you are purchasing from Amazon may be valid, how it was stored may prevent you from getting the benefits.
Drug stores like CVS and RiteAid are also not great places to purchase supplements. While CVS is now independently testing every nutritional supplement it carries in-store, such supplements are often misleading in marketing and do not contain the ingredients to yield the promised results.
What do all the words on the bottle of supplements mean?
This is another great reason why you should not purchase your supplements yourself, but rather have them prescribed to you by a medical professional. Often, supplements will not just have the nutrient listed, but will have the nutrient followed by a word like orotate or bitartrate. These words describe the supplement’s carrier, which affects how the supplement will react once ingested.
Take magnesium, for example. There are many, many different types of magnesium sold commercially and they are different enough to make a difference when you take them. Below, we’ve laid some of them out.
Magnesium citrate- This is a form of magnesium bound with citric acid. This is one of the most popular forms of magnesium supplements because it can easily be absorbed by the body. This form is often used to raise low levels of magnesium because of its easy absorption.
Magnesium oxide- In this supplement, magnesium has been combined with oxygen to form a salt. This type forms a white, powdery substance that can be sold as a powder or capsule. The body cannot absorb this well, so it is typically used to treat heartburn and constipation.
Magnesium chloride- This is a magnesium salt that includes chlorine. Like magnesium oxide, it forms a powdery substance and can be taken in capsule or powder form. Magnesium chloride is easily absorbed and used to increase magnesium levels in the body. It can also be applied topically to release muscle soreness.
Magnesium taurate- This is a form of magnesium that contains the amino acid taurine. Studies have suggested the two nutrients together may play a role in regulating blood sugar levels. Thus, medical professionals assume magnesium taurine has the potential to help manage high blood sugar and blood pressure.
Magnesium glycinate- This supplement is formed through the combination of elemental magnesium and glycine, an amino acid. Magnesium glycinate can be easily absorbed by the body. The combination of magnesium and glycinate can have calming effects that may be used to help reduce depression, stress, insomnia, and anxiety.
Magnesium L-threonate- This form of magnesium has been mixed with threonic acid to form an easily absorbable salt. Magnesium L-threonate is the only form of magnesium that can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase magnesium levels in brain cells. Because of this, magnesium L-threonate is utilized for its brain benefits and can help manage brain conditions like memory loss and depression.
What's so great about medical-grade supplements?
Medical-grade supplements are held to much stricter standards than over-the-counter (OTC) supplements. OTC supplements have been found to contain low-quality vitamins and minerals, misleading ingredient lists, and are sometimes so packed with multivitamins that they cannot even be absorbed by the body. In 2015, the New York Attorney General released a report on common OTC supplements, they found:
A ginseng supplement sold at Walgreens only contained powdered garlic and rice.
Six different supplemental herbs tested negative for the herbs listed on their labels. Rather, these supplements contained rice, beans, peas, and wild carrots.
GNC supplements had ingredients missing from their labels. Such ingredients included peanuts and soybeans.
How do I know what supplements I need to take?
The best and only true way of knowing what supplements you should take is through a blood test. Testing can show you what your deficiencies are and what supplementation is needed.
How does Dr. Johnson prescribe supplements at the Johnson Center?
Dr. Johnson never prescribes supplements without first thoroughly exploring your nutrient levels and potential factors behind them. Nutrient levels will be determined through adequate blood and potentially urine testing. Potential factors affecting your nutrient levels could be anything from lifestyle habits to your unique genome. There are many genes that determine how well you absorb nutrients and how well you use nutrients once in your body. Before prescribing anything, Dr. Johnson will get to the bottom of it all.
At the Johnson Center, we only advocate and recommend the highest quality supplements to our patients. Many of the supplements are used by Dr. Johnson herself. We would never recommend a supplement we don't trust! If you're interested in ordering supplements through the Johnson Center, contact us!
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!