Nutrition and supplement trends are changing faster than ever! One month all the B-list celebs are promoting “detox tea” and the next it’s on to collagen supplements. I was prompted to write this post for two main reasons: 1. to address the completely inaccurate trends seen on social media that make me want to pull my hair out and 2. because questions about supplements are some of the most commonly asked questions by my patients and friends.
First, I’ll give a brief background about myself and my personal interest in supplements and nutrition:
I first took an interest in Integrative Medicine during med school when I noticed that many of my patients and friends were using “alternative” therapies and raved about them! I made it my mission in med school to find out 1. are these treatments safe?! 2. can they actually be helpful? So I took a bunch of extra electives to learn more in-depth about complementary and alternative therapies in medicine. I became fascinated by what I learned and eventually chose integrative medicine as my area of concentration in residency! Overall, the takeaway message has been to look at each person as an individual and make sure that the benefits of any treatment outweigh the risks. To illustrate this, let’s look at some examples of popular supplements and when they might be useful:
These are advertised all over facebook and instagram and it makes me cringe. Celebrities and manufacturers claim that collagen peptides help with bone, joint, skin and hair health however this claim scientifically makes no sense. Yes, collagen is a protein that is naturally found in the bones and skin. However when you consume any protein it is digested in the GI tract and broken down into amino acids which are then redistributed to where they are needed throughout the body (including muscles, skin). However, edible collagen does not preferentially go to the skin, it goes to wherever the body needs it the most.
The bottom line: these supplements are $$$ and have no proven benefit. Save your money.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV)
If you google the benefits of apple cider vinegar you will find claims for improved blood sugar, mood, weight loss, acid reflux, shiny hair, smooth skin – it sounds like a miracle! But what is ACV really? Fermented juice from crushed apples. Proven benefits include improving a condition called achloremia (=insufficient stomach acid). For people with this condition, adding additional acid from ACV can help with digestion. A simple way to test whether you have insufficient stomach acid is the “burp test” illustrated below:
Another proven benefit of ACV is that it contains probiotics, albeit a small amount. Probiotics are live bacteria which are similar to the microorganisms that live in our gut and assist with digestion.
There has been no proven benefit regarding weight loss. If you are trying to lose weight and drink a large glass of water with apple cider vinegar in the morning- as made popular by many celebs- this may help you lose weight but it’s likely simply because you are hydrating.
The bottom line: Apple cider vinegar is not a miracle drug. It will not make your hair shiny and improve your mood etc. Beware that if you have acid reflux consuming apple cider vinegar will INcrease the acid in your stomach and make this worse. Overall, ACV is cheap and not harmful so if you feel like it is helping you then keep on doing it!
Here are my most common supplement FAQ’s:
-Should i take a multivitamin?
Taking a multivitamin will provide vitamins and minerals but will not provide the phytonutrients found in whole foods. I recommend multivitamins for people who are “picky eaters” and do not eat a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Ideally, a multivitamin should be derived from whole foods if at all possible.
-Should I take vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common especially in parts of the country with little sun exposure. If you live in the Northeast you should take Vitamin D supplements between October and March. If you are not sure, ask your doctor to check your levels!
-Should I take protein supplements/pre-workout supplements?
The answer is NO, at least not regularly. Most protein powders and weight lifting supplements are not regulated by the FDA aka are not required to accurately list their ingredients aka can contain ANYTHING inside of them and you will never know. Isn’t that terrifying?! Eat a balanced meal after your workouts and get your protein from real foods. Drink some caffeine or eat a snack an hour before a workout if you need an energy boost. That is all. Real foods people.
So, who needs to take supplements?
The real answer is that that every person’s body has different needs and it is almost impossible to come up with a generalizable recommendation. Consult your doctor/NP/PA/nutritionist prior to starting a new supplement regimen in order to tailor it specifically to YOU.
There are a few absolute indications such as:
-If you have a measured vitamin deficiency you should take a replacement!
-If you are a woman who is trying to get pregnant (or not on birth control because, hey, accidents happen) you should be taking folic acid.
-If you eat a very limited/rigid diet, take a multivitamin
Remember to keep in mind is that supplements and vitamins cannot replace whole foods and should instead be added to a balanced and healthy diet.
Feel free to let me know if you have any supplement-related questions or if you would like any more specific supplement reviews as I love this topic a lot and LOVE to write about it!
Lots of love,