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Supplements – To Take or NOT to Take?


The Hot Topic

Should you take supplements or should you avoid supplements? There is no “one good answer” or “one size fits all answer” here. Let’s break it down.

What are Supplements?

Supplements or Vitamins are capsules, gummies, liquids, sublinguals, or topicals that are utilized by humans to add nutrients to their diet. Vitamins are a type of supplement. Supplements as a whole add nutrients but should not be used to replace nutrients in our diet and through our food.

What is the Point?

So, what is the point of vitamins and supplements if we are eating whole foods and getting nutrition through our meal plan? Who should take vitamins and supplements? What kind of vitamins and supplements should we actually take? Do we need certain supplements?

As we mentioned just briefly above, supplements add nutrients to the dietary component of your health but should never replace dietary options. What this means: We should not be taking Fiber supplements and omitting vegetables throughout our diet and say that our fiber needs are met. We should not be taking Calcium and completely eliminating sources of Calcium in our diet and saying our needs are met. The reason for this - whole foods provide a multitude of nutrients to our body other than these specific vitamins. For instance, vegetables provide a great source of fiber, but they also provide Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folate, Potassium, and Protein. You can see that each food group provides a lot more than what it is “known” for.

Supplements and additional Vitamins should be used to improve our values and augment our meal plan. Some individuals do not absorb nutrients well through our gut, thus we become deficient in some areas. Some individuals have a leaky gut or gut permeability and may not absorb nutrients efficiently from their diet. Some individuals have had abdominal surgery, bypass, or diseases that reduce the ability to absorb nutrients. Some individuals do not have a balanced diet, thus they lack important nutrients. Some individuals have diagnoses such as Type II Diabetes which reduce their ability to absorb certain vitamins to the correct areas of the body.

As a functional medical provider, I always recommend that vitamin and nutrient levels are evaluated via blood prior to starting supplements and vitamins. The reason for this: Some Vitamin levels can actually get to toxic levels if we take too much or if we take them and don’t need them. In addition, some vitamins and supplements can actually interfere with certain medications that you may be taking.

Some common vitamin levels that can be checked via blood to see if you need additional help would be Vitamin B12, Magnesium, Vitamin D, Folate, and Iron or Ferritin. You may have other lab values checked like Cholesterol (Lipid) Panel, Cortisol (Stress Hormone), Blood Sugar evaluation, Inflammatory Markers like a Sed Rate or CRP, Histamine Level for Allergies, and more that can suggest supplement use.

Wait, What? 

Yes, Supplements can be used to improve your lab values, inflammation, pain, sleep, energy, and more.

If your Vitamin D level is low, your doctor may suggest that you increase your sunlight, increase your weight bearing activity, increase your calcium intake through your diet (i.e. Greek Yogurt, Low Fat Cottage Cheese), and they may recommend a Vitamin D supplement that you can take orally through a capsule or liquid.

If your Iron level is low, your doctor may suggest that you increase your meat consumption, your vegetable consumption, or start an Iron Supplement to boost up your Iron sources and level.

If your Vitamin B12 level is low, your doctor may suggest that you increase your lean proteins, eggs, fish, and low fat dairy items such as cheese. They may also recommend that you take a supplement either through injection, sublingual (under your tongue), or orally depending on how much of a boost you need.

What isn’t discussed enough, though - is that supplements (usually containing more herb-like substances and minerals in addition to the vitamins) can also be used to help improve values like your cholesterol, inflammation, thyroid function, blood sugar control, sleep, stress response, mood, and more. There are certain supplements that contain plant sterols which can help with metabolism, blood sugar, and cholesterol. There are amino acids that can help with brain function, stress responses in the brain, and sleep cycles. There are enzymes that can help with reducing inflammation and autoimmune disease.

There are many other supplements we haven’t discussed like Branch Chain Amino Acids, L-Glutamine, Creatine, Human Growth Hormone, and more. Those should be saved for another day… another blog.

So, why didn’t my doctor tell me that?!

Unfortunately, supplements and vitamins aren’t researched or talked about enough. Supplements are actually not FDA (Food-Drug Administration) approved. This doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t safe. Sure, there are many brands out there that are not optimal and would not be recommended. There are, however, many brands who actually have their ingredients studied, tested, and approved by second party research labs to ensure their safety. These are the brands that you want to stick with.

With all of that being said, however, supplements are going to be most effective when they are used in conjunction with the proper food intake.

For instance, the plant sterols that can help with blood sugar metabolism (breaking down sugar to lower your blood sugar level and weight) are going to be most effective when paired with a meal plan with adequate protein, low to moderate complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats in the meal plan. The plant sterols that help with lowering your cholesterol values are going to be most effective when paired with a meal plan that offers adequate lean proteins, low saturated fats, moderate healthy fats, and a lot of fiber. The amino acids, such as L-Theanine, that help with stress response, sleep, and mood stability are going to be most effective when paired with a meal plan that also offers blood sugar stability and low inflammatory foods. The enzymes that help with lowering inflammation in our body are going to be most effective when paired with a meal plan that avoids your specific food sensitivities.

Where do I even begin??

If you find through blood testing or through other recommendations from medical providers that vitamins and supplements are necessary, choosing the right one(s) is vital.

First -

  1. 1
    Do you have a quality brand of supplement and vitamin that you are going to consider? For instance, in our office we utilize a brand called Pure Encapsulations because we know they are second and third party tested ingredients, hypoallergenic (meaning no gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, or other additives), and are tested prior to leaving the warehouse. They are trustworthy, in my opinion.
  2. 2
    Have you had the proper blood testing to get a baseline of your levels?
  3. 3
    Do you truly know how much you should be taking as far as the dosages of individual supplements?
  4. 4
    Have you discussed with your provider or a functional medicine provider to make sure none of the supplements interfere with your current medications or medical history?
  5. 5
    Is your meal plan going to allow the supplements to work to their maximum effect?

Second -

  1. 1
    Always make sure you have the proper follow up to make sure your doses of supplements are working for you and are at a maintainable level for your body.
  2. 2
    Do you have someone that can help you to review your meal plan to make sure it is maximizing the effects of your supplements and vitamins for your goals? Our goals do change, our body changes, our needs change – this needs to be evaluated, re-evaluated, and re-evaluated again.
  3. 3
    If any medications are added or changed, your supplements and vitamins should be re-evaluated as well!!

My recommendation – talk with a Functional Medicine Provider like Berman Health and Wellness to help you find the right supplement and vitamin options for your body, paired with the most effective meal plan. 

I mentioned some other supplements a little bit earlier… We will discuss that in the future. Stay Tuned.

Jenni Berman

Jenni Berman

Jenni, owner of Berman Health and Wellness, works alongside Berman Physical Therapy to help individuals get back in shape, improve their gut health, and to stay feeling young so they can stay in the game! After graduating from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, she went on to obtain a Master’s of Physician Assistant Studies. She has a passion for helping individuals to feel better than they thought imaginable through natural approaches, nutrition, and whole body treatment. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist. When she is not working with patients or with clients, you can find Jenni on the boat, in the sun, enjoying time with her husband, Jake,her daughter Stella June, spending time in Jacksonville with her family, or playing with her [CUTE!] pups!!
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