Are Supplements Good for You?
By Dr. Gilbert S. Jaudy D.C., FACFN, FABVR, FABCDD, CCST
Before we answer these questions, let’s ask another question: How many people take supplements?
According to the Center for Disease Control, more than half of the U.S. adult population was taking some type of dietary supplement in the years 2004-2006. With this many people taking supplements, we have to wonder why so many people take supplements.
Why do people take supplements?
There are numerous reasons that people take supplements.
- To get vitamins, minerals, and nutrients
- To lose weight
- To gain weight
- For digestive disorders
- For energy
- For sexual performance or dysfunction
There are more reasons, but the bottom line is that most people take supplements because they believe it will either improve their health or minimize symptoms they experience due to illness. But do supplements really provide the health improving function that so many people believe they do?
Let’s explore some of the reasons people take supplements and ask pertinent questions regarding these reasons.
1. The first reason that we have listed is to get vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. The first question is: why are people taking supplements to get vitamins minerals, and nutrients when these items should be received from the ingestion of food and drink? If the food that you eat is not providing you with the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, shouldn’t you examine your dietary habits? Secondly, if you have a deficiency of any of these items, for example Vitamin C, and you eat plenty of food that has a high Vitamin C content, doesn’t that indicate a problem with your body’s ability to process and absorb Vitamin C? What good will supplements do if your body is not working the way it is designed to work?
2. The next item on our list is malabsorption. As in the previous example when we described the body not being able to process or absorb Vitamin C, the same is true in this case. If your body is malabsorbing any necessary nutritional element, what good will supplements do? How many supplements should you be expected to take? One for each nutrient, vitamin, or mineral that your body is unable to properly absorb? That can add up over time. Do you really want to take 50 supplements a day? 100 supplements a day? 150 supplements a day?
3. The next three items on our list (to gain or lose weight, for digestive disorders) have to do with disorders of digestion, processing, absorption, storage, and consumption. These, like the previous two examples, are often problems with the proper neurological signaling between the brain and gut. If there is improper communication between your neurology, physiology, and chemistry, supplements are unlikely to help unless otherwise clinically indicated by a battery of test results.
4. The next items mentioned (anemia, for energy, for sexual performance or dysfunction) are not so different than the previous examples. Anytime we have a dysfunction in the way our normal neurology, physiology, and chemistry operate, we should be wondering why we have the dysfunction. Taking supplements or even medications for that matter to mask or manage symptoms of an unknown problem does not bring us any closer to solving that problem. In fact, in many cases the problem can often worsen or develop into numerous problems.
If we take supplements to do the job that our body is supposed to be doing automatically, what are we solving? For example, let’s suppose that you eat a burger or a steak. Your body says, “What do I need to process meat?” Since meat is essentially protein and fat, your body needs protease and lipase. If you have a deficiency in those enzymes, then you cannot digest protein and fat, and this will cause you to be allergic to a burger.
Now, suppose that you eat a piece of bread and you have a reaction (a rash, irritable bowel symptoms, hives, bloating, diabetes symptoms, tingling in legs, feet, and hands, etc.). The question is: Is the problem in the piece of bread or is the problem in the inability of your gut receptors and enzymes to digest the bread? Where is the problem?
You might want to tell me:
- If I can’t digest bread (carbohydrates) then I will take digestive enzymes for carbohydrates.
- If I can’t digest protein, I take digestive enzymes for protein.
- If I can’t digest fat, I take digestive enzymes for fat.
- If I get Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), I take drugs or supplements for IBS.
- If I get bloating, I take drugs or supplements for bloating.
- If I get diarrhea, I take drugs or supplements for diarrhea.
- If I get hives or a rash, I take drugs or supplements for a rash.
- If I get sneezing or a runny nose, I take drugs or supplements for sneezing or a runny nose.
The question is: by taking these drugs and/or supplements, have you repaired the dysfunction in the gut? How did your brain and gut know what you were swallowing before you swallowed it? How did your brain and gut exchange the chemistry information from the food before the food got into your digestive tract?
The answer is: they didn’t. By swallowing pills, you have bypassed the first crucial line of digestion activation: taste.
Anytime you orally consume a food or a drink, the digestion process begins with the tongue. The food or drink hits your tongue, activating receptors that detect the chemical composition. At this point, your body is saying:
- What is it that you’re eating?
- Is it starch?
- Is it carbohydrates?
- Is it protein?
- Is it fat?
- Is it spices?
- Is it hot?
- Is it cold?
- Is it bitter?
- Is it sour?
- Is it toxic?
- Is it rancid?
- What is it?
We can detect all of these characteristics of what we ingest before it ever makes it to the gut. The receptors in the gut detect these characteristics BEFORE YOU SWALLOW. They then furnish the proper receptors to receive the chemistry and the proper enzymes to digest the chemistry. This is called gustatory activation.
If you can’t TASTE what you’re swallowing, then you have bypassed the FIRST and MAJOR line of digestion preparation. When you swallow pills, you have already bypassed all the brain-gut receptor activation. We humans have been designed to EAT; to taste, chew, and THEN swallow. The taste receptors are meant to detect chemistry or nutrients and prepare your gut for digestion.
Here’s how it works: anything you don’t TASTE before it goes into your gut is a chemical shock for these receptors and a burden of reinitiating, or preparing, or furnishing a digestive or a digestion terrain before food or supplements lodge on the receptors and these receptors are expected to initiate a counter-digestive abilities. This chemical shock phenomenon gradually leads to cellular function impairment, which leads to fluid accumulation: bloating, gas, belching, diarrhea, pain, constipation, fogginess, irritability, skin diseases, rashes, hives, food allergies, allergies in general (sneezing, runny nose, mucous build up, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, etc.).
The Brain-Gut Connection and the Autonomic Nervous System
If we do not taste what we ingest, we cannot expect our brain and gut to know what to do with it. Digestion is an automatic process performed by our autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is our autopilot. It performs functions automatically.
The brain stem is the major integrative point in our nervous system where our autopilot resides. When we take supplements, not only do we bypass one of the major systems involved in digestion, we are also attempting to perform functions that are supposed to be automated.
In aforementioned examples, we mentioned taking supplements such as digestive enzymes or drugs for allergic reactions due to improper processing of foods. When we take supplements to perform the functions of our body that should be automatic, we are taking on the role of our autonomic nervous system. Has anyone assigned you to be the manager of your digestive system? Of your liver? Of your pancreas? Of your kidneys and adrenals and your spleen and your gall bladder and your stomach? The answer is no. No one has assigned you to take over all of the function of all of your organs or of the functions of your brain, its divisions, your neurotransmitters, etc. No one has assigned you to take over all of these automated tasks.
When we try to take over our automated functions, it is a massive undertaking. Before you know it, you’re taking a supplement for each organ, for each function, for every nutrient you ingest, for every symptom you experience. Now you’re taking 20 supplements, 30 supplements, 50 supplements, 100 supplements, or even more. What do you think is going to happen if you continue taking all of these supplements? Not only have you not addressed any of the causes behind your ability to properly digest and process, but you are actually becoming overloaded with supplements and locked up by their unknown interactions.
Getting Overloaded with Supplements
Digestive enzymes, digestive secretions, and the chemistry of absorption, circulation, and elimination resides in the gut and is all controlled in a two-way direction by the brain and the gut. When one axis or one pathway becomes deficient the other pathway will become deficient as well. What we are trying to tell you is that if you have deficient digestive pathways and you load them up with more things just to make them work, then you are only making these receptors dependent on what you are giving them to do, rather than doing their job, as they were designed to do it.
This becomes an overload. Overconsumption of nutrients, supplements, powders, shakes, energy drinks, and whatever other supplemental product you can find leads to excessive and constant excitation of nerve cells, which over time pushes these cells beyond their normal physiological limitations gradually causing an eventual crash.
When you overload your systems, you cause a neurological and physiological state of dependency. Dependency makes your systems work less and when they function less, they lose the ability to perform the tasks that they are designed to perform, and this can happen globally (in every region, in every division, in every cell).
If you keep overloading, thinking that you can just take another nutrient to correct or repair what hasn’t been working, then it’s yet another overload. Because what happens is you say, “If I take x supplement for xsymptom, then I need to add y supplement for y symptom,” and on and on. We lead to symptom eruption due to overloading. The thing is: there is only so much that your system can process at once.
When you take supplements to do the work that your body is supposed to do naturally, you become dependent and your cellular functioning becomes lazy. When cells become lazy, organs become lazy; and then systems become lazy; and then nerve networks become lazy; and then the brain becomes lazy and the neural connections become lazy; chemical interactions become lazy…
Not to mention, when you take a supplement or pill for every symptom, for every system, for every function of your body, not only you are overloading with supplements, you’re also spending a ton of money. When you spend all of this money on nutrients, supplements, powders, medications, etc. ask yourself: Has what I’ve spent relieved my symptoms?
When Do You Need Supplements?
Please understand that we are not telling you that all supplements and nutrients and drugs are not necessary. That is not the case at all. If your body is deficient in an enzyme or a nutrient or it needs a drug for emergencies, then it’s logical to assist functions in your body as needed. However, this should be clinically indicated, not guessed at. Also, supplements should only be taken as long as necessary to restore normal function; not to become dependent upon supplements for the rest of your life.
The Science and Research Behind Supplements
Only through research and clinical testing can we truly know what supplements are doing for you, or to you. Although people may tell you: take this supplement, it’s good for you or combine these supplements, they’re great for you the truth is that only certain supplements have been scientifically tested. Single ingredients such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B, and folic acid have been tested for inter-reaction; but no research has been done on the many different combinations of supplements that are sold on the market today. If you take 10 pills and every pill is composed of 5 ingredients, then you’re taking 50 combined ingredients, the reaction of which is unknown when they hit your receptor sites, your gut, and your neurons.
We assume that they are good, but no control and random studies have been published regarding the various supplements, various ingredients, and various receptors regarding reaction with other endogenous chemical receptor sites. Supplement ingredient interactions have not been tested for reactivity when they are ingested. Are you going to take supplements on the assumption that every supplement you take is good for you? This is your life; wouldn’t you want to know the proven research of how something was going to act when you put it in your body?
So, let’s go back to the original question:
Are Supplements Good For You?
I hope that you have understood the commonsense of everything I just told you. Supplements are not definitively good or bad. It all comes down to the circumstances of the individual patient. To say that one supplement is good or that another is bad is not very logical. Every person is different with different genetics, different behavior, different environments, and different physiological, neurological, and chemical problems. Only through evidence-based empirical testing and clinical indication should any supplement be taken. Also, these supplements should only be taken as long as is necessary to restore function as indicated through thorough clinical testing.
Gajche, Jaime M.P.H. et al. Dietary Supplement Use Among U.S. Adults Has Increased Since NHANES III (1988-1994). NCHS Data Brief No. 61. April 2011.
Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed Nov. 11, 2013. Available at http://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/ODS_Frequently_Asked_Questions.aspx
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Drug-Supplement Interactions. Accessed Nov. 11, 2013. Available at http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/ce/ceCourse.aspx?pm=5&pc=07-34&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1