Category — 04 - Nutritional Supplements and Herbs
We all know about side effects of drugs (which are really primary effects, but the ones we don’t like). But rarely do we hear about the toll that drugs can take on the body as they rob us of important nutrients. Often, the drug creates a nutrient deficiency which produces a symptom, the same symptom that the drug is supposed to treat!
An example of this is statin drugs given to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease. Statin drugs deplete the body of CoQ10, which is an essential nutrient for heart muscle. A deficiency of CoQ10 over a period of time can lead to angina or heart attack! So the drug actually can cause the problem it’s supposed to be treating.
Below is a list of many of the nutrient depletions caused by various drugs, so you can consider supplementing accordingly. Of course, the issue of how to supplement requires a more comprehensive look, but this is a guideline you can use. Generally, most of the drugs in the same class of drug will have the same nutrient depeletion effect.
I’ll include some common herbs as well, because herbs even though they’re generally safer and have less adverse effects than pharmaceutical drugs, also have medicinal effect and do have an effect on certain nutrients.
DRUG TYPE NUTRIENTS IT DEPLETES
|Female hormone replacement||magnesium, B-6|
|Statin drugs (cholesterol lowering)||coQ10, B-12, folic acid|
|Cardiac glycosides (digoxin)||calcium, magnesium|
|Diuretics||calcium, coQ10, folic acid, electrolytes|
|Antacids||B-12, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron|
|Proton-pump inhibitors||B-12, folic acid, D, iron, zinc, EFA’s|
|Aspirin||C, folic acid, iron, aminos/proteins|
|Diabetic meds||coQ10, B-12|
|Anti-depressants||coQ10, B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, folic acid|
|Oral contraceptives||B-2, B-6, B-12, folic acid, C|
|Corticosteroids (prednisone, etc.)||C, D, folic acid, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc,
|Laxative herbs (aloe, cascara, senna, etc.)||electrolytes, many vitamins, essential fatty acids|
|Herbal diuretics||B-1, B-6, C, co-Q10; electrolytes|
|vit A, B-complex, iron, potassium|
February 17, 2009 2 Comments
Many people have asked me what I think of Dr. Mercola’s recent caution against cod liver oil (CLO). CLO is one of the most important supplements, containing essential nutrients for the immune system, and is one of the few “one-size-fits-all” that almost everyone can benefit from.
Especially in the winter months, most of us are deficient in vitamin D, and we need the form that nature provides in CLO. Naturally many people were confused about this sudden change of view, since Dr. Mercola is so well respected in the natural health field.
So I thought I’d give you my thoughts on this issue and point out some of the fallacies I see in the kind of analysis that Dr. Mercola is relying on here. It’s an important case in point. This is not to detract from Dr. Mercola’s very useful information but to illustrate the problem with following “what the authorities say.”
Most of us who keep our eye on the natural health field are familiar with Dr. Mercola and his informative website and newsletters. I would point out that his approach although it’s “alternative” in a sense is still grounded in allopathic medicine, and I also think that his promotion of supplements is potentially a conflict of interest.
Dr. Mercola started selling the tanning machines that promote vitamin D production in the body, at the same time that he began cautioning against the use of CLO, which is an important source of natural vitamin D. The reason he gives for his caution against CLO is the high ratio of vitamin A to vitamin D that some of the CLO products have. There have been studies showing that vitamin A can be toxic at high levels. He also talks about some CLO manufacturers adding synthetic vitamins to their CLO.
I see several flaws in this argument.
One is that there are CLO products that don’t have the high vitamin A/D ratio that he’s talking about, and that don’t add any extra synthetic vitamin A. There’s no reason to blame all CLO prodcucts for the problem with only some of the products.
The studies showing vitamin A toxicity were done withsynthetic vitamin A, and common sense tells us that the body is going to complain about that at high levels! But he’s jumping on the allopathic bandwagon there with the idea that vitamin A is problematic. Vitamin A supplements may also compete with sales of cardiac drugs, so in the world of Big Pharma-driven medicine, that may be part of the bias against it.
We know that native people ate very high amounts of these fat-soluble vitamins in natural form, for ages, and Dr. Mercola doesn’t address this contradiction to his argument.
In place of the vitamin D from CLO, Dr. Mercola recommends his tanning bed, and in place of the omega-3 fatty acids in CLO he recommends his proprietary krill oil. The question that remains to be answered is, is his particular krill oil, or krill oil as compared with other fish oils, actually so much more effective? Is there real grounded evidence behind the claims?
I use and recommend high-vitamin CLO (Green Pastures brand) and then because it’s low in omega-3 oils, additional fish oil can be taken.
Recently Dr. Mercola’s site seems to be throwing so much information at his readers in a way that focuses on quantity of information rather than deeper understanding. These recommendations such as with CLO are usually based on meta-analyses of data, which are not reliable.
Pharma has coopted so much of the natural medicine field in ways that most practitioners aren’t even aware of. Most natural medicine practitioners are still using a basically allopathic model and promoting less toxic methods on top of that, instead of shifting their paradigm entirely.
So as it is with everything, we have to use our own critical thinking and not trust any authority figure blindly. Usually when some new recommendation is based on a new “study,” it’s pretty easy to find the fallacies on closer look at the study itself. Even at first glance, when Dr. Mercola talked about the high levels of vitamin A, I checked my bottle of CLO, and it just didn’t add up.
My recommendation: Keep reading Dr. Mercola’s newsletter and website! He’s uncovering and distilling a lot of valuable information.
The lesson is that the truth doesn’t come from “authority figures” anymore. We can’t shift our allegiance from the allopaths over to the naturopaths. We have to let go of blind allegiance, develop our own discernment and think for ourselves.
When any health authority, natural or otherwise, refers to a “study,” we need to look critically at that study and see if the analysis is sound. It takes practice, but that’s the price in this new world where independent thinking is the ticket!
February 7, 2009 No Comments
The key to understanding the blood pressure issue is that blood pressure is a biological marker, a non-specific indicator, not a disease or an entity to treat. But what we have is the treatment of abstractions, numbers that mean very little by themselves. It’s similar to the way that the public education system “teaches to the test” — we have medicine treating to the test, by the numbers.
The reference range for what’s considered “normal” is arbitrarily defined and keeps narrowing so that just about every adult can fit into some category of hypertension or pre-hypertension and given drugs. The “diagnosis” of hypertension rarely even includes any understanding of causative factors which might indicate different treatments for each individual, but the drugs are usually given in a rather hit-or-miss fashion.
There are so many factors that can cause false high readings, so the measurement itself isn’t reliable even if we were to assume that the test might be meaningful. We’re not cookie-cutter people, and blood pressure naturally fluctuates throughout the day under normal circumstances, and is supposed to rise under stress. But the one snapshot reading while under the influence of white-coat syndrome doesn’t represent anything that can be interpreted meaningfully.
Killing the messenger by lowering blood pressure usually doesn’t accomplish anything, and creates iatrogenic disease. Although sometimes the messenger itself can become dangerous and needs to be dealt with while the source of the problem is also being addressed. When blood pressure drugs are used judiciously in this way, they can be useful, but the majority of blood pressure lowering drugs are given irrationally.
“The diet-heart idea (the idea that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease) is the greatest scientific deception of our times.” –George Mann, MD, former Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee; heart disease researcher
The cholesterol deception is politically driven like the blood pressure issue, and the cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are among the most expensive drugs on the market. No wonder it’s so important to get everyone on them! The studies that the medical establishment have used to connect high cholesterol to heart disease were flawed, and there’s really no evidence that high cholesterol is a medical problem.
Cholesterol is actually needed for hormone production, brain and nervous system function, and low cholesterol is much more of a problem than high. Cholesterol is protective of the artery walls, and the notion that the buildup of plaque causes atherosclerosis is unfounded. There’s never been any correlation seen between high cholesterol levels, even the dreaded LDL, and athersclerosis.
There’s a hypothesis that atherosclerosis is infectious in origin and that LDL cholesterol helps to inhibit dangerous bacteria. I would look to the reason why the bacteria are there in the first place and not blame the bacteria necessarily, but it’s clear that LDL is no culprit.
So when blood pressure or cholesterol are thought to be high, first we need to look at whether it really is high enough to be a meaningful indication, or whether what we’re looking at is normal fluctuation. When blood pressure and cholesterol are elevated beyond normal fluctuations, this is really an indication of the body’s effort to maintain homeostasis in the face of certain underlying disturbances. So neither hypertension nor hypercholesterolemia are actual diseases, but rather they should be seen as signs of some underlying disease(s) or imbalance that need to be addressed. Bringing the numbers down without addressing the underlying cause is often unwarranted.
The problem with statin drugs
The cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, besides depleting needed cholesterol, deplete many other important nutrients. The main nutrient depletions are COQ10, essential fatty acids, folic acid and vit B12.
CoQ10 depletion weakens the heart muscle, and can lead to congestive heart failure, angina or myocardial infarction. CoQ10 improves the efficiency of the heart and reduces hypertension, so CoQ10 depletion could have a range of adverse cardiac effects, as well as weakness of other muscles.
CoQ10 deficiency can also lead to gum problems (and gum health can improve amazingly with CoQ10 supplementation!)
In addition to the CoQ10 depletion, the bile acids are also reduced, so that the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, F, K) may not be able to function properly. Lowering of cholesterol could lead to deficiency symptoms of those vitamins as well.
The bottom line here is that statin drugs interfere with the metabolism of ALL fats. The essential fatty acids are necessary for so many hormonal functions, bone health, the nervous system, etc.. And fats in general are necessary for brain function - no wonder that so many people on statin drugs are declining in cognitive function.
If you’re on these drugs and you want to come off them, work with a skilled naturopathic or nutritional physician to do this safely and assess your individual needs. Professional support is advisable, but you can be part of the decision making process and ultimately make your own choices. There’s more to the issue than “The number is high; we need to put you on a drug!”
For more information:
Cholesterol and Health
The Benefits of Cholesterol
Why the Treatment of Hypertension Has Become Such a Deplorable Fiasco
Dispel the Myths: High Cholesterol is Not to Blame for Heart Disease
June 6, 2008 2 Comments
Cutting through the Natural Health Marketing Jungle
A few years ago the big thing in the natural health marketplace was Noni juice. It claimed to help just about every ailment under the sun, and there were a multitude of glowing testimonials. There was Ester-C and Blue Green Algae.
Now it’s soy shakes, goji berries, and krill oil - and a dozen more. But we forget that these products go in and out of style just like other types of products, and the overinflated claims and testimonials make us believe that each new panacea is the one to stock up on and tell all our friends about.
Well, there’s something wrong with this picture. It’s not that all those products have no value. Some have a lot of value as tools that work for specific purposes. But in any case, it’s not hard to see beyond the marketing hype, that many of these products aren’t exactly what they seem.
Let’s look at a few particular issues to start cutting through the hype:
1. Specialness - is the product really as special as it sounds?
Most of the heavily marketed natural health supplements are essentially “knockoffs” of other products and are not truly unique. Many contain very ordinary ingredients that could be bought separately for a fraction of the cost. But with slick packaging and marketing, they become “new and improved” as if they deserve the special attention and price tag.
Many contain “proprietary ingredients” that make them sound special when they may not be. A critical thinker would want to question the manufacturer to find out what’s so special.
2. Specialness - Hidden presuppositions in the marketing claims.
If the product is really one of a kind, and no other goji juice contains THIS many antioxidants, that may be true, but do we really WANT that many antioxidants? We don’t really know that. Chances are that we don’t really, or that the difference in the amount of antioxidants is not significant. Many people don’t know that too much antioxidant activity can be quite harmful. But the “more is better” assumption is built into the marketing claim.
3. Testimonials - a dime a dozen.
Testimonials can be quite impressive. People seem to “cure” their arthritis with this Flexanol product. Or it’s MSM. No doubt those people did get those results - probably most aren’t lying. But what do testimonials really mean, in terms of how likely this particular product is to help YOU?
Well, it’s a bit more complex than just finding the thing that helped your neighbor’s arthritis or diabetes or high blood pressure or fatigue, and assuming that the product they swear by is going to help you.
The first thing to understand about symptoms is that you may have a similar symptom as your neighbor, but what caused yours is probably different, and so the treatment you need is going to be different. But the natural health market has to paint a picture with a very broad brush, so there’s no room for individualizing. That’s why the results are really very hit-or-miss, and those glowing testimonials don’t mean very much in the end.
4. Marketing to symptoms.
The natural health market targets symptoms. Colon cleansing products are “good for” detoxification. Certain phytonutrients are “good for” brain power. Certain herbal formulas are “good for” flu symptoms. “This product for that symptom.” What’s wrong with this picture?
Well, a dozen cases of flu symptoms might each have different causes. A dozen cases of migraine might each have different causes. If your headache is caused by not drinking enough water, the one-size-fits-all product that claims to reduce migraines is probably not going to work for you.
But if you match the product with the symptom, you get this simplistic view of natural health self-help, which has a very low success rate overall, if you look past the overinflated claims and testimonials to see what actual percentage of people are getting the results.
5. Results based on removal of symptoms.
Now we have to look at what “success” really means. If my cough goes away because I took a “natural” cough suppressant, but a few months later I have bronchitis, was that really a success? It looks like we had a great success with the cough, right?
Now the cough suppressant product claims success. But, the two conditions may very well be linked. Even though the suppression of the cough may have *caused* the bronchitis, still the cough product is claiming success, when really it’s a failure.
Many products will remove symptoms, just like allopathic drugs can remove symptoms. But if they drive the problem deeper so that later on down the road we develop a more serious condition, what does that say about the wisdom of removing the symptom in that way?
Everywhere in the natural health field you’ll see this emphasis on removing symptoms as if that’s what we’re aiming for, and if we do that, then we’re successful. This is a huge error in the understanding of the meaning of symptoms.
The symptom is just the messenger, not the disease. Sure, sometimes you do need to manage the symptoms in order to make yourself more comfortable, but there are ways to do that safely without suppression which drives the disturbance deeper.
The problem with natural health marketing, and even many natural health practitioners, is that they don’t really know the difference between the symptom and the disease. They are working on the level of symptoms just like the allopath is, trying to kill the symptom for the short-term gain of making the patient feel better. That’s what most people are looking for.
Well, that’s what people can get, if they’re willing to risk making themselves sicker in the longer run. They may be young and robust, and maybe they won’t notice the damaging effects of some of these natural health protocols. But I think that many people would want to know that there is another side to this health marketing hype, and that they may be spending a lot of money on products that aren’t really helping.
This is not to overstate the potential for harm, either. But the key is that the appropriate treatment for a particular conditon depends on the underlying cause of that condition and working on the causative level. If you’re simply looking at the superficial level of symptoms, you may be palliating at best, and suppressing at worst.
Generally people don’t really know what they are doing except that they’re taking something “natural” to help a particular symptom or problem. They have no idea of the complex physiological functions that are being altered, and the possible imbalances that are being caused, even by taking a simple nutrient like calcium.
Generally these things are safe in relatively small doses, but we need to take a sobering look at the megadoses and “more is better” approach that’s often thought is required to get the best results. The heroic “no pain, no gain” approach works well for ripping off a band-aid from your finger. But otherwise, we really want to know whether the gain is real and isn’t causing new problems that we didn’t bargain for.
So what’s the best way to make your way through the jungle of health products?
First, find out what is really unique about the product you’re interested in. Consider that what it does might be done just as well by many other more ordinary products. Most of the network marketed products (what used to be called multi-level marketing) fall in this category. Most are not-so-unique products that don’t do much more than their simple counterparts in your local heath food store.
If there is a dizzying array of similar products, and you’re not sure which you need, find out if they’re all really essentially different. For example, there are dozens of different products based on beneficial phytochemicals in berries. Are they each so different from one another? The claims point to specific differences - one comes from a unique source, one is more pure than the rest, etc. The distinctions are dizzying, and probably not as important as it sounds.
Look at what your need is fundamentally. Maybe you’re constipated, and you need to address that. But do you need a stimulating herbal formula - or maybe you just need to drink more water. If you’re a chilly type with certain deficiencies, the stimulating herbs may actually have a weakening effect for you. So you’d want to investigate what is the best way for YOU to approach this constipation problem, and not just match your symptom to the product.
For private consulting to help people sort out their real needs, with a rational approach to cutting through the natural health marketing jungle, see Personalized Consulting by email
August 14, 2007 2 Comments