Do supplements make us healthier?

If you look at the older generations in your family very few who have lived to be octogenarians, nonagenarians and even centenarians will have lived their life supported by pill popping supplements. So why in the last twenty plus years have we brainwashed ourselves into believing that so many supplements will make us healthier?

If you also throw in cleanses, juices, diets we must be making our bodies and minds dizzy by the constant overt toxifying and then detoxifying of all of these vitamins and supplements. When I speak to many of my patients they can be taking anything from two to seven different supplements a day. What is more interesting is that most of us have no idea what should be the daily average intake or the ability to measure what difference they are making.

Many of us overdose by taking a super strength variety rather than the standard supplement strength and I know for a fact if I personally take a multivitamin then my urine most definitely changes colour (usually to bright yellow) which means in reality that I am just peeing it away (and my money with it).

So why as a generation have we become so obsessed with supplements? Most of us have absolutely no idea how they work, let alone if they work and in reality, if they make us feel any better.

Testing of most of these supplements is not regulated and what’s more many interact with medications taken for medical conditions.

I have recently undertaken a DNA test and was fascinated to find it tells me exactly:

Optimal Diet Type

Carbohydrate & Saturated Fat

Detoxification Ability

Anti-Oxidant Requirements

Personal Vitamin & Micronutrient Needs

Salt, Alcohol & Caffeine

Lactose Intolerance

Coeliac Predisposition

This has completely taken the guesswork out of eating smart, feeling good, my tolerances and intolerances. It also means I can reduce what I spend on a one size fits all approach to my health and nutrition.

We are all unique so it stands to reason that will all need a unique programme for diet, fitness, health and longevity. Eating food that fits in synergy with your own body and exercising to your strengths and weaknesses is the only way to live a healthy balanced life. My DNA results tell me that I need to reduce sugar, salt and increase fish oil in my diet. So armed with this information, I can now supplement my diet with only fish oil.

My mother turns eighty later this year and my younger sister encourages her to take a variety of supplements on top of her blood pressure pills and blood thinning medication. Many of these supplements thin her blood further but like many of us, my mother (and sister) have convinced themselves that she is better on them.  Trying to get her to stop taking them has become a bit of a battle. This is one of the reasons that I have wanted to write this blog.

For those of us taking medication for a medical condition this is like overdosing on a cocktail of unknown interactions.

The Clinic has had to produce a supplement leaflet for patients undergoing surgical procedures as we need to educate patients in what is safe and not safe to use prior to undertaking a surgical procedure. It is easy to see how many of these supplements could also prove problematic for the elderly and the sick.

The message of this blog? Take supplements with caution. To be informed and aware could just save you making what you believe was making you healthier, have the opposite effect.

Table 1

Supplements contraindicated during the perioperative period

Supplement  Use  Adverse effects 
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) Visual acuity; antioxidant Antiplatelet activity, inhibition of clot formation
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) Relief of menopausal disorders, menstrual cramps May potentiate anticoagulant medications
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifoliaImmune-system stimulant Can cause hepatoxicity; contraindicated with hepatoxic drugs (eg, anabolic steroids, methotrexate)
 Ephedra (Ma huang) CNS stimulant, appetite suppressant, anti-asthmatic, nasal decongestant, bronchodilator Hypertension, tachycardia, cardiomyopathy dysrhythmia, myocardial infarction
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) Migraine preventive; used to relieve allergy symptoms May affect clotting components; contraindicated with warfarin and other anticoagulants
Fish oil Contains omega-3 derivatives DHA and EPA; used to treat hyper-cholesterolemia and increased triglyceride levels EPA and DHA inhibit platelet adhesion and aggregation; excessive doses can inhibit wound healing
Garlic (Allium sativum) Antispasmodic, antiseptic, antiviral, antihypertensive; used to treat hypercholesterolemia Contraindicated with warfarin and other anticoagulants, NSAIDs, aspirin
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Antiemetic, antispasmodic Risk of prolonged clotting time; contraindicated with warfarin and other anticoagulants, NSAIDs, aspirin
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) Antioxidant; enhances cerebral blood flow, alleviates vertigo and tinnitus Inhibition of platelet activity factor; contraindicated with warfarin and other anticoagulants, NSAIDs, aspirin
Ginseng (Panax gingseng, P. quinquefolium) Improves physical and cognitive performance; antioxidant May interact with cardiac and hypoglycaemic agents; contraindicated with warfarin or other anticoagulants, NSAIDs
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) Mild laxative; reduces inflammation May worsen swelling and high blood pressure
Hawthorne (Crataegus laevigata) Used for ischemic heart disease, hypertension, angina, and chronic congestive heart disease Potentiates actions of digitalis and other cardiac glycosides
Kava kava (Piper methysticum) Sedative, analgesic, muscle relaxant, anxiolytic May potentiate CNS effects of barbiturates, antidepressants, antipsychotics and general anaesthesia
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Used to treat gastric and duodenal ulcers, gastritis, and bronchitis May cause high blood pressure, hypokalaemia, and oedema
Melatonin Used for jet lag, insomnia, and seasonal affective disorder May potentiate CNS effects of barbiturates and general anaesthetics
Red clover (Trifolium pretense) Used to relieve symptoms of menopause May potentiate existing anticoagulant medications
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum Antidepressant for mild to moderate depression Contraindicated with other MAOIs or SSRIs; photosensitivity; multiple drug interactions
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) Sleep aid, mild sedative Contraindicated with sedatives and anxiolytics
Vitamin E Antioxidant; used in treatment of cardiovascular disease Anticlotting activity may prolong bleeding time
Yohimbe (Corynanthe yohimbe) Aphrodisiac, sexual stimulant Hypertension; tachycardia; increases potency of anaesthetic agents

CNS = Central nervous system; DHA = docosahexaenoic acid; EPA = eicosapentaenoic acid; MAOI= monoamine oxidase inhibitor;

NSAID = nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; SSRI = selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor.

∗Banned by the FDA in December 2003.


Feel free to contact me for advice, DNA testing and wellness programs on offer. You can take positive steps to look after yourself, and embrace whatever the life throws at you.




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