Supplements- Quick and Dirty

Are supplements the key to a healthy living or a sham? Read on.

I was reading an interesting article recently by Jame Hamblin, which was an interview and podcast on taking vitamins to ‘boost your immune system’. It was published in the Atlantic and you can find it here.

In essence the two speakers were discussing public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The expert was cynical on pretty much anything, maybe even multivitamins as the “fix-all? for healthy living. The expert was not a physician but was knowledgeable and for the most part, was ok. That got me thinking and I applied what I know as a physician to the issue of taking supplements

Do We Really Need Vitamins?

If you eat a balanced diet and have no deficiencies, generally no.

The days of sailors getting scurvy from lack of vitamin C are pretty much over. If you try and eat

mostly well and have portions of fruit and vegetables daily, you probably don’t.

A Single Multivitamin

A lot of our food is fortified meaning that vitamins are added to it. For a good read about this history look at this article.  As I said before, truthfully, most of

us  probably only need a multivitamin if they are deficient. If you look at a lot of foods you will see many are added. Look at this box of Cheerios:

The tick was for the single multivitamin, not the Cheerios btw!

This works well for those who eat poorly but for most of us the amounts are small and probably pass out of us.

A single multivitamin a day is probably ok.

Folate

When I was a trainee in neurosurgery we say a lot of babies born with defects in their back and their nerves showing, called spina bifida. This

can be mostly prevented through the use of folate during pregnancy. I think no one disagrees that if you are trying to have children or

pregnant perinatal vitamins, particularly folate, are important. Read more here.

Fish Oil

Probably a good thing. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Findings show omega-3 fatty acids may help to:
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Reduce triglycerides.
  • Slow the development of plaque in the arteries.
  • Reduce the chance of abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
  • Lessen the chance of sudden cardiac death in people with heart disease.

Fish oil from deep sea fish is thought to be better than farmed. Read more here.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine with chondroitin sulphate is shrimp shells. You can take it if you have a shellfish allergy. What’s it good for? Mainly osteoarthritis, hips and knees. Theory is the cartilage gets ground down and glucosamine replaces it. The data varies are to it’s benefits but in general it is harmless.Anecdotally I’ve had great responses to it for knee problems. You can read more here.

Vitamin C

Well, the days of scurvy are over. Vitamin C is necessary for healthy connective tissues and gums. Vitamin C is ascorbic acid. It helps in the repair of tissues and immunity. It’s an antioxidant. We need only 75-90 mg/day so most of us get enough. Megadosing probably just passes through the gut without being absorbed. Read more here.

Vitamin D

We need vitamin D for healthy bones. It was thought 20 minutes of exposure to the sun was enough to synthesize this in our skin. This has been challenged over the years. Baby boomers, especially women, mixed bone strengthening and are prone to soft bones (osteoporosis or osteopenia when less soft). The recommended daily allowance is 2000 i.u.  a day. You should take it with calcium 500 mg 2 times a day. Never take calcium without vitamin D as this can be bad for the heart! Probably a must if you are at risk of soft bone (older, >50 years of age, thin, smoker, Caucasian).

Baby Aspirin

Ok. So aspirin is not a vitamin or a supplement but it is something you can buy over the counter. It’s probably one of the most underrated medications out there. It has positive multisystem effects. It can reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack. The small dose of 81 mg is probably ok.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a mainstay in Indian cooking. Turmeric contains curcumin which has been reported to work for osteoarthritis. We don’t really know if it works but it’s probably ok. Read more here.

Coq10

This is an interesting one. CoQ10 is part of some of the basic metabolic pathways in our cells. IT is an antioxidant and protects cells from oxidative damage. It is thought to help with heart failure and a host of other conditions. The data is not strong but it probably does not hurt. Read more here.

Others

Where do you start? Everything from Hawthorne to Grapple Claw to Ginseng. Here’s the thing. They probably are more placebo than not. Take them knowing they may do nothing. Don’t pay an arm and a leg. Stay away from powdered rhino horn and elephant products (killing endangered animals for their horns, feet and tusks is just bad). Talk to your GP.

The Key

Ok. So a baby aspirin is good. Pregnant women need folate. Vitamin D is probably a good thing. A multivitamin is probably not bad. The rest are dealers choice.

If you think it makes you feel better and doesn’t cost an arm and leg go for it. Remember to stop all these a week before surgery because some can cause bleeding. Try to buy from reputable places to make sure the quality is ok and you are not just getting fillers.  Some places don’t put what is on the bottle into the pill and substitutes like houe plants have been found:

Look at sites like this one for more information. If you really want to dig deep, the FDA even keeps a list of recalled products here.

Better than taking vitamins- eat well with fruit and vegetables.

BTW the picture below is what I take every day!

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

Author:

Lali Sekhon, MD, PhD, MBA| Father | Husband | Neurosurgeon| Hockey Fan | Innovator | Inventor | Educator | ΒΓΣ | Health Care Leader | I'm a neurosurgeon (MD, PhD, MBA, FRACS, FACS) who has been a physician for over 30 years. I'm also a tech junkie and a cynical optimist. Having completed a medical degree, a PhD and an MBA, I can give you an honest opinion on anything related to medicine and health care with tips and reviews and commentaries. Some of the topics are related, others, somewhat related, but all for the layperson: honest, simple and practical. It's not brain surgery!

2 thoughts on “Supplements- Quick and Dirty

  1. Thank you for not only reviewing the supplements but showing us which ones you take. I have to admit that I don’t take any, and I feel like I should… I will probably give some of these a try! Super helpful post!!

    1. I have a thoughtful GP who researches it more than me. Women should be taking 500 mg Calcium twice a day and Vit D 2000 iu per day. No questions. You don’t want to be one of this little old ladies that is 3 feet tall! Thanks for reading and commenting. Food for thought!

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