Supplementary, My Dear Watson

The fictional super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes was known to chide his simplistic sidekick, Dr. Watson. When explaining obvious steps in his line of deduction Holmes uttered that it was, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

It would seem fitting that we paraphrase Mr. Holmes when it comes to the obvious: The market for nutritional supplements, vitamins and minerals, health food products and items sometimes folderol, has exploded in the past decade, becoming far more than elementary.

Fifteen years ago it would have been tough to find the selection of herbal supplements and vitamin derivatives now common in great numbers at the typical Walgreen’s and in even greater numbers at a Whole Foods or No Name Nutrition. How do we wade through this glut of glucosamine and fish oil, gingko biloba and Echinacea, zinc tablets and chondroitin, grape seed extract and valerian root? The answer is to consult with experts. A licensed acupuncturist or trained herbalist can help. Knowledgeable owners of local stores can help. There are wonderful books like Dr. James Duke’s The Green Pharmacy that can inform. The Internet is good if you have a good baloney filter on your browser.

There is no doubt that extreme conditions might indicate extreme measures. If the body gets radically out of balance (disease) then radical applications of these supplements and medicines may be indicated. In my experience, that course is best led by experienced healthcare providers like a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist or physician who is familiar with drug-free medicinals. But what about the everyday maintenance or minor issues that arise that you don’t feel need a radical treatment? Not everything requires a trip to the acupuncturist or herbalist. Which supplements and herbs are mainstays and why? The answer to that is an individualized one but there are some classics that have stood the test of time and research. In my household, we have some basics that we rely on and I can tell you why.

Vitamin C - This is the granddaddy of vitamins as far as use and popularity goes. The link between vitamin C and health is not news. Two-time Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling championed vitamin C in the 1960s. He continued to lecture and write on vitamin C and health until his death at age 93 in 1994. He believed vitamin C deficiency was the essential cause of modern heart disease. His research has been relatively ignored by the conventional medical community, even with his two Nobels on the shelf. Pauling and his fellow researchers recommended 6 to 18 grams of vitamin C daily. That is 100 to 300 times the government recommendation. Ask yourself. Who do you think is right?

At a time when many pharmaceutical drugs, including the cholesterol-lowering statins, are suspected of actually causing heart disease, our best heart-healthy medicine may be a simple vitamin. Even though getting vitamins from a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is best, supplemental vitamin C seems to do the job. One physician friend took 20 grams a day just to see if there were side effects. He reported that too much vitamin C could cause loose bowels temporarily. Some proponents suggest taking as much vitamin C as one can tolerate up to that diarrhea threshold then backing off a gram. We take up to six or seven grams daily. More vitamin C information is at http://www.paulingtherapy.com 

Vitamin D - Vitamin D is an essential supplement to a good diet. Recent research hints it’s important in fighting cancer, heart disease, infection; lowers blood pressure, regulates metabolism, balances mental health and can even protect against low-level nuclear radiation in case Ft. Calhoun blows.

Quoted in USAToday, Robert Heaney, a professor of medicine at Creighton University in Omaha who has studied vitamin D’s health benefits, says the overall daily value of 600 IUs (International Units) of vitamin D a day “is way too low.” Again, in USAToday, he says people should consider taking up to 4,000 IUs a day.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer. There is a large body of evidence for benefit at intakes above the IOM recommendations. There is no risk, and very little cost, so why not take a chance of a benefit if there's any possibility?” A research committee, made up of nutrition scientists, set the upper limit for vitamin D at 4,000 IUs a day for those who are ages 9 and older, considered the safe boundary and is not the amount people should strive for, the panel cautions. Excessive vitamin D can damage the kidneys and heart, and too much calcium from supplements has been linked to kidney stones, the report says. At our house, we take a couple thousand IUs daily.

Fish Oil - Once I heard Coach Tom Osborne say he took fish oil every day for heart health. That sealed it. We take a high-quality version from wild caught salmon that is tested to be free of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants. The folks at No Name Nutrition can help guide you through the options. Fish oil is considered helpful against heart disease by reducing triglycerides in the bloodstream but there are many other benefits. It is associated with lowered risk of stroke, hypertension, cancers, kidney problems, osteoporosis and more.

Herbals when needed - We purchase herbal tinctures made by Energique in Woodbine, Iowa. Their processes are extremely reliable and quality control is of the highest order. I toured their plant and met two of the Ph.D.s running their labs and saw their production line. We use their Echinacea tincture when feeling an immune system challenge, their valerian as a nervine and mild pain reliever and various others as needed. Keeping supplement intake simple is easier for us. Added to a balanced diet heavy on plants, we believe we’re getting the nutrients we need and keeping things “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice, and it is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at heartlandhealing.com

posted at 11:23 am
on Monday, August 29th, 2011

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