Longevity Coaching® = Optimal Medical and Disease Management + Financial Planning + Diet
not Dieting + Supplements and Hormones + Exercise + Dis-Stress
Reduction + Spirituality
Supplements and Hormones
In 1965 when I started taking vitamin E on the recommendations of the Shute brothers out of London Ontario, I believe I was in the minority. I had an aptitude in high school science and so could understand most of the articles published by them. I liked what they said. And over the years I’ve become more knowledgeable as my level of understanding and comprehension of scientific research has increased. And so has the number of supplements I take and recommend. It shouldn’t bother me that the popular press is trying to remain controversial (and sell ad time) by giving air time/column inches/sound bites to articles that seem to go against the common wisdom, but it does. That means that there are more articles on the lack of benefit of supplements than the good they can do.
Ten to twenty years ago, taking supplements was more cutting a fringe activity than mainstream like today. The publicity in the 90’s was often around the positive articles, such as the New England Journal, May 20, 1993 from Harvard and Brigham, back to back articles, looking at 87,000 female RNs and 40,000 MDs showing the positive benefits of vitamin E. Contrast this with the Annals of Internal Medicine, January 4, 2005 in which 19 studies (out of 2170) were selected then meta-analasized (pun intended) to show increased all-cause mortality for taking vitamin E. What’s a person going to do with this? Except to say that in 1993 it wasn’t fashionable to take vitamin E. In 2005 it was. Being contrarian sells ad space. So how do you get to the truth? With great difficulty since, as I just pointed out, you need to go back to the literature to discover if you believe the research is valid or not.
Why take supplements? Perhaps you believe that you are not getting your basic nutrients from the foods you are eating? Perhaps you are right. Except for a few niche foods like high lycopene tomatoes or hi omega 3 eggs, most crops are genetically refined to grow rapidly i.e. gain weight since farmers are generally paid on weight, deliver long shelf life, improve transportation characteristics, and standardize ripening parameters rather than developed to have increased nutrition. So how do you know what you are eating, even if you are minimizing processed foods? You don’t.
Some take supplements as drugs. Some would say that there is no difference between a supplement and a drug. Some would go further and say there is no difference between a supplement or a drug or a chemical. Some would be right. We ingest this big chemical stew every day through the pills we take, the foods we eat, the liquids we drink, the air we breathe. And it all affects our bodies in some way or another. Is it more beneficial or more dangerous to take 325 mg. of aspirin a day than 20 mg. of beta carotene or 3 drinks of alcohol a day? Now, how about if you are a cigarette smoker? Does it change if you have a family history of heart disease or of stroke? The correct answer is, it depends. Yes, personalization of advice.
Do I believe in supplements? Do I believe in the drugs I prescribe? Yes, for the correct indications, in the right amounts, for the right duration. Do the indications change? Yes, except that for supplements it appears that there may be a higher threshold for the government to take a supplement like ephedrine off the market because of toxic side effects. So it is definitely a case of caveat emptor when you take supplements. Let the buyer beware.
Hormones, on the other hand, are generally drugs regulated by the FDA. There are a few, most notably DHEA, melatonin, pregnenolone and some estrogen preparations that in the U.S. are available legally without prescription.
While hormones are chemicals, they are potentially much more toxic than most other supplements since they control many chemical reactions within the body, everyone is unique in their reaction to hormones, and the difference between optimal effect and toxicity is smaller than most other supplements.
What are you trying to achieve with supplements? Ideally the same situation with your body that you had in your late 20’s or 30’s. Why not back to 16 again? Ask anyone with a 16-year-old son or daughter what it’s like. As a close friend once advised me, “just try to hand on till they get to 20”.
How do you know how much to take? The only safe way is to approach hormones from a strict medical standpoint. Why are you taking them? What results are you trying to achieve? Do you have any contraindications such as hormone dependent cancer or organ system dysfunction? Are there interactions with your other drugs or supplements that you are taking? What are your current hormone levels (blood levels are more accurate than “spit” (saliva))? When you take “X amount”, and your hormone level stabilizes, is it adequate/too high/too low?
And finally, are you monitoring the potential side effects after you start on the hormones?