Being a practitioner of alternative health, I must educate myself extensively in the area of supplements. Not because I personally have a lot or need a lot, but because I must be knowledgeable when clients come in and describe the myriad things they are taking. In fact, if you snooped in my medicine cabinet, you might be astonished to see a severe lack of herbs, vitamins, and other health paraphernalia. When I see patients, they are instructed to list medications and supplements within a good solid seven-inch long space on the intake record. When the client fills this space up and begins writing in the margins, I know this person is subscribing to the American adage of “more is better”. It really says “I’m confused about the fundamentals of vitality”. I am going to work to simplify this complicated topic of supplements by placing these categories in a fundamental framework. This will set us up nicely for understanding how this translates to both longevity and wellness in future articles. By the way, supplements in no way replace real, whole, unprocessed food as a staple in your life. That being said, we can now talk about supplements.
Without a doubt, the number of health remedies there are on the market is boggling. I imagine, as I walk down the supplements isle at the health-food store, that the average health civilian could easily get overwhelmed. There is some irony here I must take a quick poke at. Nutrition stores selling wellness products like to play this song entitled, “Big Pharma, Bad Karma”. You’ve probably heard it! It’s a popular hit. However, the nutraceutical industry is quickly learning from big-brother, and getting quite skillful at selling useless products to misinformed people, which both hides and misdirects attention from real underlying issues relevant to the creation of lasting health. By the way, nutraceuticals refer to the class of supplements that are also concentrated versions of natural materials that are every bit as expensive, with a similar mark-up as pharmaceuticals. I will tell you that 10 percent of these products will only marginally meet your expectations of wellness and most “improvements” will be short lived unless the bottom two categories of our supplements pyramid are adequately managed.
For sure the topic is complex, and a blog article is not the place to dive into details. However I am going to borrow from the food pyramid strategy and begin by categorizing supplements in an easy to follow way. This will stretch your supplement dollars tremendously.So the trend to our supplement pyramid, like the food pyramid, goes from, “eat often”, at the bottom to “eat sparingly” at the top. Please know that when I list serving numbers, I do not mean you need that many servings of that particular supplement, I’m merely referencing the actual food pyramid numbers to communicate the level on which to link ratios or proportions needed relative to the other categories. So first, we will start at the base of the pyramid.
Minerals: The minerals are the raw materials. This category represents the “6-11 servings daily” slot on the supplements pyramid. Everything else in the body that is an organic molecule relies first on the inorganic substances for proper structure and function. Minerals are the framework for more evolved molecules to find reason and reference. These include the host of macro and trace minerals. This is a huge topic that I will go in to in the next post in much more detail because it is of such tremendous importance. For now recognize that they are truly the earth from which we are born and thrive.
Vitamins: The next most used material the body relies on are vitamins. These are generally uncomplicated organic molecules that are needed to create or catalyze more complex organic molecules in the body. This category represents the “2-4 servings daily” slot on the supplements pyramid.
Nutraceuticals/Herbal Medicine: Even more specialized in function, the nutraceuticals and herbal medicines include specific organic molecules that are identical to a molecule naturally produced by the body, or can be easily recognized and utilized without throwing the body too far off of homeostasis. These substances have very specific jobs, in specific places in the body. This category would be the “2-3 servings daily”, but in reality, if you manage the previous two categories appropriately, you probably won’t need this category or the next category but very rarely.
Pharmaceuticals: This category represents the very top of the supplements pyramid and therefore “use sparingly”. In general, these materials are even more specific than nutraceuticals. Some of these substances are so specific, that they target specific receptor sites on cells, or molecules. These substances can create drastic changes in body homeostasis and are simply not meant for long-term use without terrorizing the body. Much of this category utilizes “designer” molecules thought up by our science friends whom have graduated from prestigious “science schools.” They are really smart people with an inversely proportional level of common sense for the complexity of the natural world. I was kind on that point!
So this is at least a starting point for you to start thinking about how to organize and manage supplements. The best remedy for a complicated topic is to simplify with fundamentals. With this in mind, we will move on to minerals in the next blog. Appreciate all your comments!