When I had SIBO, I remember bringing a bag full of supplements into my new functional medicine doc to show her what I was taking. I was probably taking around 15 supplements at that time. It was definitely expensive and time consuming to keep up with all my supplements. But, I was willing to spend what ever I needed to get well.
The problem was that I had no idea if the supplements I was taking were helping me. But, I kept buying them to ensure that I was covering all the bases. I felt like if I could stumble on the right combination of supplements I was bound to get well.
I see this same mentality in many clients that come to work with me. They will be on 30 supplements and no idea if they are helping. Sometimes they don’t even remember why they are taking a supplement.
Supplements are popular in the holistic health world and they can be incredibly helpful. But, it is common to go overboard on supplements. As I described above, I have been guilty of this in the past.
In this post, I want to discuss some of the common mistakes you might be making with your supplement strategy. I also will be providing some tips on how to optimize your supplement strategy. Let’s dive in!
The most common supplement mistakes:
Believing that you can supplement your way to good health. I often get asked, What is the one supplement that helps your clients most? And my answer is always that there is no magic bullet or secret sauce that can cure your health issues. This myth stems from the popular message in conventional medicine that a pill can fix all of your problems. But, like pharmaceuticals, supplements can not fix all of your problems on their own.
Spending too much time and money on supplements can make you lose sight of other big root causes that need to be addressed. A multifaceted approach is the best way to heal your health, but especially gut issues. You can lose sight of sleep, stress management, the brain-gut axis, diet optimization, physical activity and hobbies/passions when you are on a wild goose chase for supplements. No matter how much you supplement, you can not get well if you are not taking steps to repair root causes.
Having no plan or end in sight. There may be a few supplements that can fill some gaps in your diet long term, but most supplements should be implemented with an end in sight. I see a lot of people that get stuck using a supplement long term and it becomes a crutch.
One big example of this is anti-microbials. Instead of progressing treatment and working on root causes, you can get stuck on a never ending coarse of antimicrobials. In most cases, supplements should be used therapeutically and should be discontinued at some point.
Not customizing supplements for your unique needs and case. Many protocols that are online or even that are implemented by practitioners are cookie cutter and not tailored to your needs. Unfortunately, many functional practitioners can be trigger happy when it comes to supplements.
Eager practitioners that dive deep into the supplement rabbit hole wanting to find a perfect supplement regime for a client can miss big areas of a clients cases that can’t be fixed with a supplement. For instance, I see many clients that come to me on 15 supplements that they have been prescribed by a functional practitioner, but yet when we deep dive into their case they are under-eating, they have not addressed stress management and their sleep is crap!
This over reliance on supplements in the functional medicine world can lead to big pieces of the puzzle being missed. Some practitioners may also prescribe more supplements to boost their profit margins since most make commissions off their supplement sales.
I don’t have a problem with receiving a commission on a supplement sale, but there are the shady few that will take advantage of clients through unnecessary supplement sales. It is always wise to choose a practitioner that you trust who will use supplements wisely and won’t abuse their selling power.
Tips for optimizing supplements:
Know why you are taking each supplement. One way to prevent unnecessary intake of supplements is to understand exactly why you are taking each one. If you don’t know why you are taking something, ask your practitioner why you are taking it.
If you have supplement fatigue, prioritize your supplements. Narrowing down to the most crucial supplements can reduce the hassle and expense of taking so many supplements. And, it can help keep you sane! If you are not sure what supplements are top priority, you should ask for help. Your practitioner should be able to help you narrow down the list.
Understand how long you need to take a supplement. Have a timeline for how long a supplement needs to be taken to provide benefit. Taking a supplement for too short a time might prevent you from receiving the total therapeutic benefit while taking a supplement too long can be a waste of money (and in certain cases it can even be harmful).
Staggering the start of supplements. It is not a great idea to start multiple supplements at one time. Staggering the start of supplements can control the variables by isolating each supplement for a 4-7 days before adding a new supplement in. You will have a better understanding how you are responding to a supplement if you start each one separately.
Are you benefitting from your supplements? The real test if you need to continue to take a supplement is if you notice a positive difference in your health when you take it. If you don’t notice a clear benefit from a product you have been taking for a while, stop the supplement. If you have some symptoms crop up upon stopping a supplement, you will know more definitively that the supplement is helping and you can add it back in.
Look for ways to increase the nutrient density of your diet. It can be a slippery slope when you start to supplement vitamins and minerals. While correcting a deficiency or filling gaps in your diet with vitamin/mineral supplements can be helpful, you are still going to benefit more from consuming the synergistic nutrients found in whole foods. You don’t want to be using supplements as a nutrient crutch.
There is a time and place for supplements. They can support our healing journey in many ways, but they can not heal us on their own. Over supplementation is a waste of time, energy and money especially if you are not focusing on other root causes that need to be addressed.
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Optimizing a supplement strategy means having a supplement strategy. There are periods of the past that had widespread health without pharma or supplements. I’m curious as to why. If one understands why, it would be clever to disguise the approaches as other offerings. And start internally. And tell people at the end. Maybe call it health benefits … since sickness benefits is so crowded. And natural doesn’t market itself well. That would be interesting.