The Scoop on Supplements

green bottle of spilled gelatin supplement capsules
Rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about what supplements I take to stay in shape.

I believe that many people regard supplements as magical elixirs that can fast-track you to health or a better body.

A case in point is my friend...

I recently encountered her while browsing through the supplement shelves in Whole Foods. Karen mentioned that “someone” had told her that “cat’s claw” was good for heartburn (GERD), and she wanted my opinion. Karen is severely obese. My first thought was, this woman has much bigger battles to fight. What she really needs to do is lose 150 pounds! My guess is, once her weight problem is resolved, her GERD will disappear. I didn’t push the subject because I understand that people are very sensitive about their weight, and it wasn’t the time or place for me to start prescribing. I did, however, tactfully suggest that she try taking high-dose omega-3 fatty acids, which not only address both her digestive and weight issues to some degree, but I also believe provide the most benefit of any supplement on the market.

There are countless people like Karen, who can’t see the forest through the trees. They have little insight into their medical conditions; they lack introspection. Instead of coming to grips with their problem, they look for remedies for ancillary issues. They seek laxative supplements instead of modifying their diets to include at least 20-25 grams of daily fiber and increasing their water intake. They seek supplements touted to lower blood pressure when their diets are laden with sodium and carbohydrate. Obviously, the real and long-lasting solution is to fix the primary issue first. The majority of health problems can be solved with dietary modification and daily exercise. More than 90 percent of chronic diseases are environmental, remember?

Don’t misconstrue this. I am in no way recommending that you abandon nutritional supplements, quite the opposite in fact. I use them aggressively. So should you. But understand their rationale, keeping in mind that they are not cure-alls, but rather health “supplements.” Supplements are not to be used as primary treatments for ailments that should be otherwise addressed. They are as their name infers, “supplements,” to be taken in addition to an optimal diet and lifestyle. They will not, unto themselves, remedy your elevated blood sugar, gouty arthritis, and hypertension. Only you can, with our help of course!


That includes guiding your supplement choices. So what are the proper supplements for you?  Well that’s purely a matter of opinion. Everyone is distinct physiologically. Some may be better served with one versus the other ultimately. At this point however, detailed metabolic testing can be cost prohibitive and therefore not readily available to the masses. I choose to take those supplements that logically appear to have the most benefit given the limited available data.

I know what you’re thinking. Dr. Osborn is taking excessive amounts of supplements when he is probably getting the necessary amounts of these micronutrients from his food. Wrong. Neither you nor I are obtaining adequate micronutrients from the food we eat. There are two reasons for this truism. One, your diet simply does not provide adequate amounts of cold-water fish, green tea, curcumin (in curry powder) and resveratrol to name a few. It doesn’t. And two, if you think it does, you’re wrong. Our food is nutritionally depleted of vital nutrients, and it is laden with toxins (i.e. pesticides). So don’t be fooled by package labeling: err on the side of supplementing.

is it possible to "overdose"?

I know what you’re thinking. If you take high doses of certain vitamins, you will either “overdose” on them, or your body will dispose of them in what critics of supplements so disparagingly dismiss as “expensive urine.” First, the safety profiles of the recommended supplements (and supplements in general) are excellent (far better than that of pharmaceuticals). You are extremely unlikely to overdose. In fact, I have never even heard of a supplement overdose (this does not include ergogenic aids which are often abused).

My point? If you can afford to supplement, and your diet and exercise regimens have been optimized, do it! Err on the side of “expensive urine,” particularly in regards to vitamin C, as it has been shown to reduce the risk of bladder cancer (yes, that vitamin C sitting in your bladder is a chemopreventive agent!) So how, from the literally thousands of supplements on the market, do I select the few that I should take? I chose my supplements logically, based upon what we know to be the agents of the aging process and particularly age-related disease. And they are the same: free radical damage, oxidative stress, and chronic inflammation. While these to some degree are by-products of normal metabolic processes, our systems are easily overloaded despite fairly robust defense mechanisms (antioxidant systems, for example). Therefore, supplementation for most of the non-genetically-endowed populace is essential for health.

read more:

Dr. Osborn's Top Ten Nutritional Supplements.