Study confirms autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet works

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A recent study confirmed what functional medicine has long since known — the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet is highly successful for managing chronic health disorders. The first-of-its-kind study showed the majority of participants quickly achieved and maintained remission of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis on the AIP diet. A number of participants were even able to discontinue drug therapies.

Many people follow the AIP diet to manage not just Crohn’s but also chronic pain, Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes such as eczema or psoriasis, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, brain-based disorders, diabetes, autoimmune disease in general, and other chronic health problems.

People are surprised to find that not only do their symptoms fade but also they enjoy more energy, better sleep, weight loss, increased libido, less stress, and a general overall improvement of their well being.

A primary reason the diet is so effective is because it helps repair leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the gut becomes inflamed and porous, allowing inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream. This creates inflammation throughout the body and brain and leads to a wide array of chronic gut, metabolic, and autoimmune disorders.

Anti-inflammatory is the key to the AIP diet

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on whole foods and is free of inflammatory foods, additives, fillers, and artificial colors. It includes an accompanying protocol of appropriate sleep, physical activity, rest, and positive socialization and self-treatment. Certain nutritional compounds that gently cleanse and detoxify the body may boost the success of the diet.

AIP diet sites and articles abound, in fact, Balanced and Clear is a modified (less strict) autoimmune diet. Here are basics:

  • Eliminate all processed foods, fast foods, desserts, coffee drinks, sodas, etc. Your anti-inflammatory diet should consist of whole foods found in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store, with an emphasis on plenty of vegetables. Also eliminate processed vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils and stick with natural oils.
  • Eliminate common inflammatory foods, the most common culprit being gluten. Many people’s symptoms resolve simply on a gluten-free diet. However, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, grain, and nightshades are commonly immune reactive as well. Eliminate these foods for about six weeks to see whether you react upon reintroducing them one at a time.
  • Eliminate sweets. On the anti-inflammatory diet you will avoid all sweeteners. This helps curb cravings, stabilize blood sugar, lower inflammation, and lose excess fat. Enjoy low-sugar fruits instead, such as berries.
  • Eat lots of vegetables. Not only do plenty of veggies load you up with vital nutrients and fiber, new research shows they create a healthy gut microbiome – the bacteria in your gut that profoundly influence your immune and brain health. A diet based around veggies creates an abundant and diverse gut microbiome and thus better health.
  • Get enough sleep and exercise. Sufficient sleep is a major inflammation-buster, as is regular physical activity. Overtraining, however, can cause inflammation so watch out for that.

Boost success with gut repair and detoxification

Adding in specific nutritional compounds can help repair a damaged gut, lower inflammation, support the liver, and detoxify the system. Ask me for more information about a detoxification and gut-repair program using the AIP diet.

Handling store receipts raises levels of toxic BPA

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A new study that had subjects handle store receipts showed BPA absorbed through the skin stays in the body much longer than ingested BPA. The study had subjects handle common store receipts for five minutes, then wear gloves for two hours before washing their hands.

BPA measurements in the subjects’ urine showed BPA levels highest for the first two days after handling the receipts. After one week, three of the six volunteers still showed BPA in their urine.

However, when the subjects ate a cookie with BPA, follow up urinalysis showed BPA levels spiked after five hours but was cleared after a day. The scientists concluded that the body can more quickly metabolize and clear ingested BPA than BPA absorbed through the skin.

BPA toxicity in everyday food and beverages

BPA (bisphenol-A) is the main component of polycarbonate and is found in water and beverage bottles, plastic lids, the lining of tin cans, food storage containers, dental sealants, contact lenses, and electronics.

Store receipts aren’t the only place people come in contact with BPA. Canned foods often contain significant amounts of the chemical — the lining in a soup can can deliver 1,000 percent more BPA than fresh soup.

Plastics beverage bottles are another common source of exposure, especially if the bottle has been exposed to heat, light, or acids (such as soda).

Plastic food containers, especially if they have been heated, are another common source. Plastic coffee lids, straws, and any other plastics that come in contact with foods deliver BPA as well.

BPA on store receipts

Store receipts aren’t the only source of BPA that can be absorbed through the skin. Other sources of thermal paper that contains high amounts of BPA include fast food receipts, ATM receipts, airline tickets, gas station receipts, lottery tickets, fax paper (if anyone still uses that), etc.

Although this latest study had subjects handle the receipts for five minutes, previous studies have shown handling a receipt for just five seconds transfers BPA through your skin and into your bloodstream. Your skin absorbs ten times as much if your fingers are wet or greasy.

You can even absorb BPA from handling cash that has been stored with receipts.

Why BPA is toxic to the body

Studies have shown BPA to be problematic to human health in various ways. It has estrogen-like properties that skew hormone balance. Rodent studies have shown BPA causes reproductive defects, cancer, and breakdowns in metabolic and immune health.

BPA is especially toxic to a developing fetus, raising the risk of causing chromosomal errors, miscarriage, and genetic damage.

The chemical is also linked to poorer sperm quality, early puberty, reproductive dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, insulin resistance, and obesity.

BPA raises the risk of triggering autoimmunity

Recent studies have also shown that BPA can both trigger and exacerbate autoimmune diseases due to its disruptive effect on the immune system. It has been linked to autoimmunity to nerve sheathes, the common target of attach in multiple sclerosis, and to Hashimoto’s thyroid autoimmune disease.

BPA-free is no guarantee

Unfortunately, products listed as “BPA-free” are not a green light either. Many non-BPA plastics also contain synthetic estrogens.

How to reduce your body burden of BPA

Reduce your exposure to BPA as much as possible by not handling receipts and avoiding plastic food and beverage containers. Additionally, help buffer the damage of BPA and other toxins by eating a whole foods diet and supplementing with nutritional compounds that support detoxification and cellular protection. Ask me for more advice.

Plenty of sunlight needed for a good night’s sleep

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It’s now common knowledge that nighttime exposure to computer, tablet, and TV screens sabotages sleep —the light they emit simulates sunlight, thus suppressing sleep hormones. However, plenty of daytime sunlight is vital for good sleep. Most of us don’t get near enough.

Research shows the average person spends less than an hour a day outside. For shift workers it’s even worse. Lack of exposure to sunlight inhibits production of melatonin, a hormone that puts us to sleep.

A Finnish rat study observed one group living under fluorescent lighting and another group exposed only to sunlight through windows every day. While both groups received the same duration of both light and darkness during the study, the rats exposed to sunlight produced significantly more melatonin.

It’s not that the artificial light was detrimental. It simply wasn’t strong enough — the sunlight was more than seven times brighter than the fluorescent light. This is what boosted melatonin production. Researchers assert variation of light throughout the day, from dawn to dusk, also supports healthy melatonin production.

During a sunny day, lux levels (which measure the intensity of light) reach 50,000. Compare this to indoor lighting, which ranges in the low to mid hundreds at the most. For most of human history we have lived with natural light and it plays a significant role in the function of the body and brain.

Why melatonin and light rhythms are so important

Anyone who has suffered through insomnia and sleep deprivation understands the importance of sufficient and quality sleep.

However, melatonin and our sleep-wake cycle (also called circadian rhythm) are intertwined with every system in the body, affecting much more than how rested or tired we feel. Heaps of studies point to the importance of a healthy sleep-wake cycle for overall immune, hormonal, and mental health.

For instance, one study found that women suffering from PMS show chronically low melatonin levels. Just two hours a day of exposure to sunlight increased their melatonin levels and relieved their symptoms.

A German study showed subjects with mood imbalances exhibited healthier serotonin levels after just one week of light therapy.

Another study showed subjects experienced a 160 percent increase in melatonin at night after just a half hour of exposure to bright light from a light box.

How to get enough outdoor light in an indoor world

It’s not easy getting enough sunlight when you’re indoors all day working or going to school. But it’s vital for healthy sleep, brain function, and metabolic function to get enough light exposure.

Some solutions are obvious — spend time outside as much as you can. Eat lunch outside and go for a walk on your breaks. Maybe you can even work outside on your laptop if your job is portable.

If possible, work near windows that get plenty of natural light. One study showed employees working near a window received twice as much light as their coworkers who didn’t and hence enjoyed more sleep.

If sufficient exposure to natural light isn’t possible, indoor light therapy has been shown to help relieve sleep and mood imbalances.

Look for a light box that delivers plenty of lux and is big enough for sufficient exposure. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics provides criteria for purchasing a reliable light box, which they recommend using for at least a half hour in the morning.

Artificial sweeteners fail dieters; cause health risks

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If you use artificial sweeteners to avoid gaining weight, you’re not only wasting your time but also possibly causing future health problems, according to a new study.

The study found that not only do aspartame and sucralose not prevent weight gain, they also raise the risk of disease in people who use them regularly.

Some research even shows long term use of artificial sweeteners leads to weight gain.

Recent research shows about a quarter of children and more than 40 percent of adults in the United States consume artificial sweeteners daily.

Some people eat them purposefully in the mistaken belief that is better for their health. Many others, however, are unwittingly consuming them in everyday food products.

Artificial sweeteners hiding in many foods

Artificial sweeteners are hiding in many foods unbeknownst to most people. These products are not always clearly labeled and some are even labeled with misleading claims such as “natural ingredients.”

While we expect to find artificial sweeteners in foods labeled “light,” “reduced sugars,” “diet,” and “sugar-free,” they also show up in “smart” popcorn, granola bars, yogurt, and even a popular pediatric electrolyte drink.

Artificial sweeteners linked to obesity; disease

Studies also suggest long term use of artificial sweeteners leads to weight gain and chronic diseases such as diabetes, and heart disease.

Participants in a randomized trial who used artificial sweeteners as part of their weight loss program were shown to have a slight increase in their body mass index, a 14 percent higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, and a 32 percent higher chance of developing heart disease.

Lobbyists for the artificial sweetener industry and researchers agree other variables need to be considered and more research needs to be done.

Why artificial sweeteners cause weight gain

One reason it’s believed these fake sweeteners lead to weight gain and obesity-related health risks is because they trigger sugar cravings that a person eventually gives into.

Another theory suggests that consuming foods with artificial sweeteners leads a person to feel “virtuous” and thus justified in overindulging later.

Animal studies show artificial sweeteners trick the brain into thinking you’ve eaten sugar, which can trigger inflammatory cascades and disease.

Artificial sweeteners also alter the gut microbiome in a way that promotes obesity and diabetes.

Functional nutrition approach to sweeteners

In functional nutrition, we see time and time again that people naturally lose their cravings for sugar and starchy carbs when they eat a whole foods diet that stabilizes blood sugar, lowers inflammation, and promotes brain health. You won’t feel drawn to regular use of artificial sweeteners when you have no cravings for sweets in the first place. Ask me how I can help.

Could you be developing an autoimmune disease?

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You could be developing an autoimmune disease, one of the most common conditions today, and not be aware of it. This is because autoimmune diseases sometimes start off as “silent” autoimmunity. This means your immune system is attacking tissue in your body but the damage isn’t bad enough to cause symptoms yet.

Autoimmune disease is more common than cancer and heart disease combined, and that’s just the diagnosed cases. Many, if not most, cases of autoimmunity are happening without a diagnosis.

This is because medicine does not screen for autoimmunity until symptoms are advanced and severe enough for a diagnosis and subsequent treatment with steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery.

Autoimmunity: The disease of the modern era

Autoimmunity can affect any tissue in the body or brain. It occurs when the immune system attacks and damages tissue as if it were a foreign invader.

Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and psoriasis. More than 80 different autoimmune diseases have been identified so far.

Autoimmune disease affects 1 in 5 people, the majority of them women. It is believed women are more commonly affected because of their hormonal complexity. Although autoimmune disease is very common, the statistics do not tell the whole story.

Autoimmunity can happen long before diagnosis

Autoimmunity can begin long before damage is bad enough for a disease to be diagnosed. Many people can go years, decades, or even an entire lifetime with symptoms but never have damage bad enough to be labeled disease.

As an example, autoimmunity against the pancreas can cause blood sugar issues for years before the development of type 1 diabetes. Additionally, about 10 percent of people with type 2 diabetes, which is caused by diet and lifestyle, also have pancreatic autoimmunity. This is called type 1.5 diabetes.

One of the most common autoimmune diseases is Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Patients often need to gradually increase their thyroid hormone because although they were diagnosed with low thyroid, the autoimmunity was overlooked and left unmanaged.

Also, a patient may have an autoimmune reaction that is not recognized as a disease. For instance, autoimmunity to nerve cells may produce symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an autoimmune reaction to nerve sheathes. However, because the autoimmunity is not attacking nerve sheathes specifically, the patient cannot be diagnosed despite MS-like symptoms.

Autoimmunity can attack anything in the body

People can also have symptoms that suggest multiple types of autoimmunity. Although symptoms vary depending on which tissues are being attacked, many autoimmune sufferers experience chronic fatigue, chronic pain, declining brain function, gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, brain fog, and more.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers lab testing that can screen for autoimmunity against a number of different tissues. We also use strategies to minimize these attacks such as an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar, gut healing, addressing toxins, and teaching habits that minimize stress and inflammation.

Ask me for guidance if you think autoimmunity may be causing your unexplained and chronic symptoms.

Feminine products loaded with absorbable toxins

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Sadly, millions of women and girls absorb high levels of toxins every month thanks to lax manufacturing standards of tampons and sanitary pads. These products are loaded with highly absorbable industrial contaminants — the body takes in more toxins through the vaginal wall than through ingestion.

Manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients used in tampons and sanitary napkins. However, the main material cotton is a crop notorious for genetic engineering and heavy use of pesticides.

Feminine hygiene products also contain synthetic fragrances, bleaches, foams, gels, anti-bacterial agents, and surfactants.

Although the FDA offers recommendations, there are no regulations manufacturers are required to follow regarding the use of toxic chemicals in these products.

Why toxins in tampons are more dangerous

Lack of regulation and oversight means anything goes in manufacturing of feminine hygiene products, including the use of cancer-causing chemicals.

Vaginal tissue is far more permeable than other areas of the body. In fact, it’s so good at absorption that drug companies are looking at ways to deliver drugs vaginally as a way to bypass metabolization.

Because compounds absorbed vaginally do not pass through the liver first, this also means they go into the bloodstream in much higher concentrations than if they were ingested.

Additionally, the thin ridges of the vaginal wall not only provide more surface area to enhance absorption, they also can retain chemicals.

Conventional sanitary pads contain myriad toxic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers that sit against the permeable skin of the vulva for days every month.

Toxic chemicals in feminine products

Sadly, most feminine hygiene products are loaded with toxins. This includes not only tampons and pads, but also feminine wipes, washes, douches, sprays, and creams.

These chemicals include dioxins and other bleaching chemicals, pesticide residues, anti-bacterials, unknown fragrances, dyes, spermicides, phthalates, and surfactants (also used in detergents).

Studies show the chemicals used in feminine hygiene products have been linked to cancer, hormone imbalances, reproductive harm, allergic rashes, and asthma.

Douches in particular have been linked to numerous reproductive and health disorders and should be avoided.

Safe alternatives in feminine products

Fortunately, natural alternatives exist, although they are dwarfed in number by the brands with toxins (I order mine through Thrive Market online). Go for chemical-free pads and tampons, or consider the menstrual cup or even cloth pads.

For other feminine products such as wipes, washes, sprays, and douches, remember that the body is innately intelligent and functions best with the right support.

Support your vaginal health by minimizing sugars and starchy carbs to prevent the yeast and bacterial infections that drive women to these products.

Taking probiotics can also support vaginal health, and these days you can buy brands geared specifically toward that.

Also, in addition to eating a whole foods diet, rule out a sensitivity to gluten, dairy, or other foods — many women have found food sensitivities causes vaginal itching and inflammation.

Ask me for more information.

Having low blood pressure also carries health risks

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Most people worry about high blood pressure, and with good reason as it portends numerous health risks. However, low blood pressure brings a different set of problems, such as reduced brain function and increased mortality risk. If the upper or lower number deviates by more than 10 from 120/80, it pays to be aware low blood pressure may be affecting your health.

Blood pressure pushes blood through about 100,000 miles of veins, arteries, and capillaries in the body, carrying oxygen, nutrients, immune cells, hormones, neurotransmitters, and other vital compounds.

High blood pressure strains blood vessels. However, low blood pressure means not enough blood is getting to capillaries and tissues, particularly in your hands, feet, and brain. This deprives those tissues of sufficient oxygen and nutrients. You may have chronic nail fungal infections and cold hands and feet if so.

Adrenal fatigue as a cause of low blood pressure

The most common cause of low blood pressure in a functional medicine model is poor adrenal function.

The adrenals are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys. They produce stress hormones and help regulate blood pressure. Many people today suffer from adrenal fatigue due to chronic stress. Other causes of adrenal fatigue are poor diets, low blood sugar, chronic infections, gut problems, inflammation, and unmanaged autoimmunity — all stressors.

Adrenal fatigue symptoms include chronic tiredness, low blood sugar, losing function between meals, getting sick all the time, and low blood pressure.

Orthostatic hypotension when you stand up

Orthostatic hypotension is a common type of low blood pressure that causes lightheadedness when you go from sitting to standing. This happens because the blood pools in the legs upon standing, slowing blood flow back to the heart and thus the brain. You will be diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension when the top number of your blood pressure falls by 20 and the bottom number by 10 upon standing.

Orthostatic hypotension is a red flag that you need to address your low blood pressure and it becomes more dangerous when it makes you faint or fall. Orthostatic hypotension is commonly found in those with low blood pressure and low blood sugar but people with high blood pressure can have it too.

Functional medicine tips for low blood pressure

If you have signs and symptoms of low blood pressure and adrenal fatigue, consider an adrenal saliva test. This test measures levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol throughout the day. This gives you a more precise therapy target and follow-up testing will let you know if your protocols are on the right track.

Everyone knows a person with high blood pressure should avoid excess salt, so it may come as no surprise that adding good quality sea salt to your diet may help boost low blood pressure. In fact, you may be one of those people who craves salt.

A nutritional compound that can help raise low blood pressure is licorice root extract, or glycyrrhiza, which can extend the life of cortisol in the body and improve blood volume and electrolyte balance.

Of course, it’s important to address what is causing adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is always secondary to something else. One of the most common causes is a diet that causes low blood sugar. Eating a good breakfast, skipping sweets and sweet drinks, minimizing starchy foods, and eating regularly enough to sustain blood sugar are helpful strategies.

For more advice on supporting healthy adrenal function and blood pressure, contact me.

Exercise your throat muscles to reduce snoring

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Snoring happens when the tissues and muscles become too “floppy” during sleep and vibrate. Researchers found simply exercising those muscles to maintain their tone can help reduce snoring.

In a 2015 study, researchers looked at groups of men and women who did not have obstructive sleep apnea, which is associated with many health risks, but snored due to mild or moderate sleep apnea.

For the study, all the participants were instructed to irrigate their nasal passages (such as with a neti pot) three times a day to rule out nasal blockage as a cause of snoring. (Sinus infections also cause snoring and regular nasal irrigation can help combat this.)

Then the subjects were divided into two groups. One group used nasal strips and deep breathing exercises to address their snoring.

The other group performed 8 minutes of tongue and palate exercises three times a day.

At the end of the three-month study, only the group who performed the exercises saw a difference in their snoring — and it was a significant difference.

The exercise group saw the frequency of nightly snoring drop by the 36 percent and the intensity of sound by 59 percent.

This explains why people who regularly sing, play horn instruments, and even play the didgeridoo also report fewer problems with snoring.

Throat and palate exercises to reduce snoring

As with any exercise, the key is to stick with it and keep up the frequency. You’ll also need to perform these on a long term basis for the benefits. Add the exercises to your commute, tooth brushing routine, or along with your morning cup of coffee. Your bed partner will thank you and you may experience feeling more rested and energetic during the day.

  1. Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide it backward 20 times.
  2. Suck your tongue upward against the roof of your mouth 20 times.
  3. Push the back of your tongue down while keeping the tip touching the inside of your front teeth 20 times.
  4. Lift your soft palate and uvula 20 times.
  5. Using your index finger, press the inside of your cheek muscle away from your teeth 10 times on each side.
  6. When you’re eating, bite down, then lift your tongue to the roof of your mouth as you swallow, without tightening your cheek muscles.

Midlife hormones, inflammation, and snoring

Although nasal congestion and obesity can cause snoring, many people notice their snoring kicked in during midlife.

Some research shows this is due to a decline in reproductive hormones — estrogen in women and testosterone in men. These hormones play a role in the part of the brain responsible for throat and palate muscle tone during sleep.

Inflammation of the upper airways have also been shown to increase snoring. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce swelling in those tissues and reduce snoring.

Ask me about maintaining healthy hormone levels and reducing inflammation through nutritional and lifestyle means.

Why the media attack on coconut oil is unfounded

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The American Heart Association (AHA) recently announced coconut oil is bad for you. This is the same advisory organization that endorses breakfast cereals loaded with sugars and artificial additives.

It’s important to look at this coconut oil advisory in context: Saturated fats have been proven repeatedly not to be bad for your health or raise the risk of heart disease when you eat a diet that is low in sugar and carbohydrates and high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as from cold water fish and raw nuts).

Sugars and carbs biggest heart disease culprits

In fact, studies also show it is sugars and excess carbohydrates that inflame the arteries, lead to arterial plaques, trigger production of the “bad” types of cholesterol, and promote obesity.

Likewise, polyunsaturated fats, which the AHA recommends in place of coconut oil and other saturated fats, are high in omega 6. Although we need a healthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, the average American eats far too much omega 6 already, thus promoting chronic disease.

Inflammation, not cholesterol, is a culprit

Excess omega 6, which is ample in polyunsaturated vegetable oils, is linked with chronic inflammatory disorders, such as fatty liver, arthritis, and irritable bowel disorder. Chronic systemic inflammation has also been found to increase the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, cholesterol has been found not to be a factor in heart disease risk. What matters are levels of inflammation (as measured by CRP or homocysteine on a blood test) and levels of the “bad,” or dense, LDL from eating too many sugars.

Big difference between saturated and trans fats

Although it’s not clear which saturated fats were investigated in the study panning coconut oil, the majority of studies linking saturated fats to heart disease include hydrogenated, or trans, fats. Trans fats are inflammatory, artery-clogging, brain damaging fats that should be avoided at all costs. It is incorrect to group them with natural saturated fats.

Health benefits of coconut oil

In a nutshell, if you manage your blood sugar levels with moderate to low consumption of complex carbohydrates, you avoid sugars and processed carbohydrates, you eat plenty of omega 3 fats, and your diet includes 7 to 10 servings a day of vegetables and low-glycemic fruit, chances are you can safely enjoy your coconut oil.

In fact, coconut oil has been shown to have healthy heart benefits even. The heart prefers the fatty acids found in coconut oil as a source of fuel.

Coconut oil is also known to:

  • Increase metabolism
  • Curb appetite
  • Fuel the brain
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Fight bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections

The AHA diet raises risk of heart disease

Unfortunately, the AHA promotes pro-inflammatory foods that are high in sugars, processed carbs, and omega 6 oils — the very foods most associated with chronic diseases. To their credit, however, they also promote 7 to 10 servings of produce a day and ample omega 3 fatty acids, both of which are excellent anti-inflammatory approaches that support heart health.

If you follow the AHA advice to replace calories from healthy natural fats with AHA-approved foods high in industrialized oils and processed carbohydrates, you may find both your blood test results and symptoms worsen. Ask me for more advice.

How do you really know what’s in your supplements?

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The United States enjoys liberal access to nutritional supplements. We can buy virtually any supplement from multiple sources either at the local grocery store or online. Other countries can be more stringent when it comes to access and don’t enjoy near the wide range of variety.

However, the freedom around nutritional supplements in the United States means consumers must be wary of shoddy, fraudulent and even unsafe supplements with misleading claims. It’s important to learn how to be a smart supplement shopper to make the most of our supplement-shopping freedom. You may be surprised to learn many of the worst supplements aren’t from some shadowy corner of the internet, but rather usually from your local drug or grocery store.

At the same time, it’s also important to protect consumer access to supplements. The FDA’s approach to the industry is often viewed as unnecessarily aggressive due, it is widely believed, to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. As the the rates of “untreatable” or “mysterious” chronic diseases and dementia continue to skyrocket, people increasingly turn to alternative health care and nutritional supplements to address their health concerns. This has turned the supplement industry into one worth many billions of dollars.

What supplements to avoid

The supplement industry has created its own standards of quality that manufacturers can choose to comply with in order to reassure their buyers only the purest ingredients are used.

What to look for in quality supplements

For starters, avoid fillers that use wheat, corn, starches, and magnesium stearate. Also, research the origin of the ingredients. Herbal ingredients can come from heavily polluted areas in other countries and be loaded with toxins. Good companies test their ingredients for toxins.

Research the brand. Are they formulated with a health-care professional and scientific advisory board? Are there peer-reviewed studies to back up the ingredients? Does the company test purity?

What is their marketing like? Do they use sleazy snake-oil selling tactics? Or do they cater to licensed practitioners and provide educational seminars to teach about the products and how best to incorporate them into a health care plan?

Also, look for supplement companies that send their products out to independent labs to test for quality and purity.

NSF International, an independent organization, certifies supplements on three levels of quality:

Certified Good manufacturing practices (CGMPs): Guidelines that assure a product conforms with what’s listed its label.

American National Standard for dietary supplement products: Testing that ensures products contain what is on the label and not undeclared contaminants.

NSF Certified for Sport: Screens for athletic banned substances.

One way to be guaranteed you’re getting a quality supplement is to buy from a reliable source such as FullScript. See the side bar to the left on this page for a link to sign up for an online account with them.