By Christine Fillat
We have interviewed doctors, therapists, and members of the general population to get their take on supplements. The results are, as one may imagine, varied. One thing is clear: supplements backed by scientific evidence, research and prescribed by doctors and licensed professionals are gaining in favor.
First of all, what are supplements? According to the Johns Hopkins Hospital website, any addition to your regular diet that you take to improve your health is considered a supplement. It could take the form of pills, powders, vitamins, minerals, herbs, shakes and bars. Some supplements are recommended by health care professionals and some are just taken because you know someone who has success with them. The Johns Hopkins website goes on to say that supplements are unnecessary for a healthy person who eats a balanced diet. But what about a person who may have any number of ailments? Some people contend that environmental factors affect what goes on inside our bodies. They say the soil is depleted of helpful nutrients for produce to grow in. Others say we ingest heavy metals in everyday life that can be stored in our bodies and get in the way of healthful living. There are all kinds of elixirs and pills and shakes that can be ingested in the hopes for better health. Lots of people augment their diets with some sort of thing.
Dr. Birgitta Miller is an internist with a private practice in Annapolis. She prescribes very few supplements. When consulting with her patients, she discusses their diet and what foods they should be eating. She considers The Mediterranean type diet, one that is heavy on plants, lean protein and healthy fats, to be useful for a lot of medical conditions.
In her practice, Dr. Miller recommends to her patients supplements that have been tested in studies. For example, she recently read a study where aloe vera supplements were found to help with diabetes. “I basically give people articles regarding these supplements and let them make up their mind what to do,” says Dr. Miller.
Personally, Dr. Miller takes supplements on occasion. The last one she tried was concentrate of wild blueberry juice for mental acuity. The study on wild blueberry juice concentrate shows an increase in blood flow to the memory section of the brain. While she has only been taking it for a short period of time, the results are still out on the effect to her memory. But she likes the way the juice tastes. So if there is an added benefit of better mental ability, so much the better. She gives her son probiotics for his food allergies, gives alkaline water to her husband, and the whole family takes vitamin D.
“I’m pretty much of the opinion that if you’re doing things right, you shouldn’t need a whole ton of supplements,” states Dr. Miller.
Dr. Frederick T. Sutter is an Annapolis based Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician who has an integrative medical practice. In his practice, he addresses the patient’s whole body for diagnosis, and uses alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and Reiki. According to Linda Showalter, practice administrator, supplements are recommended based on careful analysis of the patient’s medical history and their needs. They look to whatever studies exist when making their recommendations. The practice recommends pharmaceutical grade supplements, rather than over the counter store brands to ensure the quality of the supplements.
Jeannie Hall is an integrative nutritionist with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. As a clinical nutritionist, Jeannie sees people who need to restore health and want to do it holistically. She uses supplements in her treatments. She conducts one-on-one consultations where she studies her patient’s nutrition, their sleep habits, their exercise habits and their level of stress. “I’m not only recommending an individual diet plan, but also all the integrative plans that are going to keep you healthy,” says Hall. She promotes exercise, stress reduction, yoga and natural healing.
For her own health, Jeannie drinks Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. She considers it a really good detox, a cleanse for the body that makes it more alkaline. She drinks homemade kombucha for the natural probiotics. “Probiotics, says Jeannie, “are definitely going to help your mood. It’s going to help your gut, and 80 percent of your seratonin is made in your gut.”
Good nutrition, she says, is the foundation for healthful living. “The body knows how to heal itself, but we need to give it what it needs, which are the nutrients that it needs to perform all these processes.” Thus, balance in nutritional intake is critical.
MEDICAL TREATMENTS GONE WRONG
What happens when your medical treatments go horribly wrong? For 12 years, Ms. X struggled with the physical effects from taking antidepressant medication. She had been taking Lexapro, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), prescribed by her general practitioner to treat hyper-edginess, in an effort to rescue her disintegrating marriage. Her marriage crumbled, but she continued taking the medication. After four years, Ms X found herself severely depressed. The SSRI just wasn’t working. In an effort to stop taking the medication, she tried going cold turkey, she tried reducing her dosage, and in the end she was prescribed Paxil, at a higher dose. It would work for a while, and then she would tailspin with insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks.
Desperate to take control of her mind and body, Ms. X found a holistic psychiatrist who had also had to wean herself off SSRIs. Beginning December, Ms X visited Dr. Alice W. Lee in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Dr. Lee prescribed grocery list of supplements for Ms. X to take in the morning and at night. Up until just two months ago, Ms. X would see Dr. Lee every week to adjust the regimen. Presently, she sees Dr. Lee every two to three weeks. The results of this intense intervention are exciting. Now Ms. X is completely off her SSRI. “Healing with supplements is not a quick fix. It takes your body time to start to heal. It just takes time.” There is still tweaking that has to occur but Ms. X is happy with the results.
At dinner parties, the conversation turns to the use of supplements. Who uses them, and what do they use them for? Vitamin D, vitamin B and magnesium are favorites. People use supplements when they know they will have a stressful week ahead at work and need a little boost. When you feel a cold coming on, some take extra vitamin C and Echinacea. For joint inflammation, take turmeric and ginger. There is still a place for conventional medication in our modern lives. There seems to be a bit of Old World knowledge with supplements; this sensibility is valuable today. Will our brains function better? Perhaps. Will we see results in two weeks? The jury is still out. We are walking chemical experiments, where perfection is elusive.
Jeannie Hall, M.S. LDN CNS
Annapolis Acupuncture and Integrative Healing
Alice W. Lee, M.D., holisticpsychiatrist.com
Birgitta Miller, M.D., 443.221.7416
Frederick T. Sutter, M.D.
Center for Wellness Medicine