Many have heard or read about an oft-repeated prescription drug story involving elderly (or maybe not so elderly) people: patients who are taking many prescriptions prescribed independently by multiple doctors. Then someone finds out about the potpourri of pills, throws out all of the meds, many of which might have been working against each other, and starts over with a much smaller, basic medication plan. And the patient’s health improves.
Sometimes, I kind of apply that same picture to the nutraceutical and supplement field. I try to at least read a sampling of nutrition industry headlines regularly, and every day there seems to be new studies suggesting this compound or that nutrient may prevent this or reduce risk for that. Here’s just sampling in the past few weeks:
If we were to take all the supplements that appear to impart some health benefit, we’d be taking red clover, cactus nectar, astaxanthin, zeaxanthin, licorice root, hawthorn berry extract, 15 kinds of mushroom powders and 70 other products every day. Maybe we might have room left over to eat some meals, too.
I’m taking more supplements myself. But at some point, I’ll ask myself: “What are the basic health benefits that are important to me? What portion of those benefits can I get through exercise? Through diet? And through supplementation? I’m almost of the mind that if I can get regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, and take just a basic regiment of maybe 3-5 supplements a day, that might be all I need to give my health a fighting chance well into old age. It’s my KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
I know exercise can impart multiple health benefits: weight management, better mental health, pulmonary function, sleep and stress reduction, and a long list of others. Balanced food intake can impact digestive health, weight, energy level, immune health, bone and joint health, and, also, a long list of other health factors. Supplementation can then be layered over the exercise and food regimen, although many nutrition purists say the right food is all you need; supplements are not necessary. I disagree with that. As Dr. Jeff Blumberg of Tufts University, one of the leading antioxidant and aging researchers, has said, ” You need both. Food and supplementation.”
For me, I look at supplementation as a way to fill in gaps that may occur in my diet (there may be a few days where I don’t get the fruits/veggies I need), or because my family history or individual health profile indicates I could use more of something. So I keep it simple: A multivitamin to start; fish oil (because I may benefit from extra heart and cognitive health benefits as I get older); immune supplementation (EpiCor) because balanced immune function impacts everything, including my allergies and cold/flu exposure; Vit D, because it also impacts almost everything and research shows even people with healthy diets don’t get enough D; chromium, because I have some family history of diabetes/blood glucose management issues. And that’s about it. I’m not sure what else I’d need. And I always use up what I buy. I’m confident I won’t be throwing out dozens of bottles of outdated supplements anytime soon.