June 19, 2024

Episode 9: Do nutritional supplements work? If so, which ones, and for whom?

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What you’ll find in this episode:

0:48 Introduction

2:58 Take Home Messages

5:11 What are nutritional supplements?

8:25 How the supplement industry differs from pharmaceuticals

14:38 Is there evidence to support use of common supplements?

25:06 Supplements and cognitive decline

27:38 Supplements to treat symptoms or known deficiencies

30:53 Ending thoughts

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Take-Home Messages

·      Lifelong use of supplements to prevent an illness is very different from taking a supplement to treat a known deficiency or a specific symptom

·      The evidence does not support the use of most all supplements to prevent illness (with multi-vitamins being the exception where there is some evidence)

·      Supplements to treat a particular problem can be very helpful, especially if we do our N of 1 study in ourselves

Part One: Understanding Nutritional Supplements

  • Various types of supplements:   Vitamins, Minerals, Herbals, Probiotics
  • Most commonly used Supplements: Multivitamins, Omega-3s, Probiotics, Vitamin D, Calcium, Protein Powder, Psyllium
  • We want to live long and well—taking a supplement may help us feel “agency” or that we are proactive in improving our health—even when the evidence does not support it.  

Part Two: the Supplement Industry Differs From Pharmaceuticals

  • Licensed and prescribed drugs go through extensive testing/FDA oversight to demonstrate that they work and that they are safe
  • Nutritional supplements are viewed as “food” and don’t have similar regulatory scrutiny
  • Challenges: traditional drugs receive patents and can afford extensive clinical studies.  Nutritional supplements generally don’t have patents and can’t afford to conduct extensive research.  For this reason, most supplements have very little scientific evidence to support their benefits, even though their claims may suggest otherwise
  • Real-Life Example: Critical Evaluation of Broccoli Sprout extract Study

Part Three: Evidence (mostly lacking) for Common Supplements

  • Omega-3s: studies don’t show a reduction in heart disease or cardiac death; they may have a role for high blood triglycerides or for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (pain control) 
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Minimal Impact on Disease Prevention except for a daily multi-vitamin which has supportive evidence that they may reduce cancer and cognitive decline
  • Cognitive function: omega 3s and the MIND diet aren’t effective at slowing decline.
  • Supplements for specific deficiencies or specific symptoms can be very helpful.  You can do your own “N of 1 Study” to see if they help you. Step 1: identify the problem (bowel irregularity, sleep…);  Step 2: choose a supplement and begin taking it; Step 3: re-assess after a few weeks.  If it helps, great.  If not, then likely best to stop.

Dr. Bobby’s regimen: a daily multivitamin, colace (for bowel regularity), and recently started Creatine for muscle strength.  I don’t take omega 3s, vitamin D calcium, magnesium, or pro-biotics.

Scientific research underscores the intricate interplay between lifestyle factors and human health. Exercise, a cornerstone of well-being, enhances cardiovascular health, boosts mood, and promotes cognitive function. Coupled with proper nutrition, it fosters optimal physical performance and supports immune function. Beyond the individual, social ties exert profound effects on health, buffering against stress and enhancing longevity. Meanwhile, exposure to hot and cold environments elicits physiological adaptations, bolstering resilience and metabolic efficiency. Adequate sleep, essential for cognitive consolidation and metabolic regulation, underscores the importance of restorative rest. Moreover, the mind-body harmony underscores the intricate relationship between mental and physical health, highlighting the profound impact of mindfulness and stress management on overall well-being. Integrating these factors into daily life cultivates a holistic approach to health promotion and disease prevention.


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