The questions surrounding supplements continue to grow and though knowledge and understanding have also grown, pharmaceutical companies continue to hamper this quest by spending more and more money on their own studies and funding lobbyists that try to hamper our pursuit of a more natural approach to health. There is no doubt that the drugs we have developed are saving lives but they could save many more lives if they were part of an integrative lifestyle combining a healthy balance of diet, exercise, necessary supplements, and when these fail, pharmaceutical medications.
In integrative medicine we speak about the “core” nutrients. These are the vitamins and minerals that we all require. I generally start people on a multivitamin and mineral complex first. There are many out there so selecting an appropriate combination is not that difficult. Some of the new age-targeted formulas combine most of a person’s needs into one formula for ease of use. So a women’s formula for women over forty will include more calcium, magnesium and trace minerals than a formula designed for younger women. This simplifies what a person needs and often taking fewer products increases compliance. The next core nutrient necessary is a good healthy source of essential fatty acids, also known as EFA’s. EFA’s are essential because we cannot make them. We need to ingest them so that our bodies can then use them as raw materials for other things we do make. These include cholesterol (much needed), hormones, prostaglandins (messengers that help us control all sorts of processes in the body, including inflammation). There are so many problems with the environment and this includes our water. Eating fish that is not contaminated has become a problem and there is nothing in the literature that leads me to believe that things will change any time soon. Keeping your “ toxic burden “ low is the only thing we can control in trying to prevent cancer and other autoimmune diseases that seem to be growing in numbers in spite of all the new “ scientific advances”. In order to get the omega 3’s that you can get from one or two capsules of oil a day, you would probably need to eat 4 to 6 servings of fish a week, and thereby risk exposure to elevated levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead. If you ate farm raised fish, than you increase your risk of exposure to dioxins ( carcinogens ) and PCB’s ( also carcinogens ). The amount of fish oil a person should take also varies according to need.
The next core nutrient is a probiotic. This is what many people commonly refer to as “acidophilus” but in reality is a whole family of beneficial bacteria that is comprised of many different “friendly” bacteria that thrive throughout the gastrointestinal tract, starting in the mouth and ending in the rectum. For women without any serious or chronic gut issues, eating a good organic yogurt containing live cultures of friendly bacteria, on a regular basis, is adequate.
For women, the big question today is about calcium. While we have all become conscious of our need for calcium many people are unaware of the need for magnesium, adequate amounts of vitamin D and the need for other trace minerals that aid in absorption. The amount of minerals that are needed varies from person to person. Women after the age of forty should begin to get bone density studies done to assess their need for minerals. The average woman needs 1000mg of calcium a day, 400 to 800mg of magnesium a day, and at least 2000 units of vitamin D3 but we are finding more cases of severe deficiency and under medical guidance we use as much as 10,000 units a day. If the bone density test, also called a Dexa scan, shows osteopenia or the beginnings of osteoporosis than I increase the calcium to 1200 to 1500mgs a day and increase the magnesium accordingly. I often request that patients have their vitamin D levels measured because many people supplementing with calcium and magnesium are still showing signs of progression of their bone density issues. In our search for answers why, the question of the right amount of D has come to be a new insight into possible failures of other therapies. In osteopenia and osteoarthritis, weight resistance exercise is essential for stopping progression.
There are a million supplements on the market and I encourage all women to try and get as much of their nutrition from food and then target the remaining imbalances with the supplements that are necessary. I encourage all my patients to eat as organically as possible. We need to reduce our exposure to chemicals. As long term studies are limited, I assume that all chemicals are bad and try to reduce them every where possible. Animal protein like chicken, fish, beef, and pork, as well as all dairy carry a heavy burden of toxins with them. First they contain the herbicides and pesticides from the foods they are grown on, and second they are usually given hormones and antibiotics to maximize the yield. All of these are passed to us when we eat these things. I implore all people to buy as much of their foods organically but animal derived products especially. With ovarian and breast cancer on the rise, you have to question the “estrogen dominant “ nature of society due mostly from the consumption of xeno estrogens and phyto estrogens from the food supply. With vegetables and fruits I take an aggressive approach to washing them before I consume them.