Are Your Supplements Working?

December 12th, 2014

 

We love simple answers. Many times in casual conversation I’ll hear, “I’ve got _____. What supplement can I take for that?” The question of “what supplement to take?” can be a difficult one to answer, and people don’t always like it when I tell them, “it depends.” It depends on a lot of things. Since our needs are as unique as we are, a good answer to “what to take?” (and for how long!) takes a little investigation. We need to know a bit about how you got here, what you’ve tried, and how you responded.

Since many supplements are available “over the counter” and information is a Google search away, it’s no surprise people experiment with self-prescribing… often with mixed results. Many patients end up in naturopathic doctors’ offices because they’ve tried self-prescribing supplements and things haven’t gone “according to plan.”

When we get to the point in the visit where I ask about medications and supplements this is what many patients tell me: they started taking “supplement X” for “symptom/condition Y,” and they can’t tell whether it’s working or not. Then one of three things happen: 1) They quit taking it, because it didn’t give them the results they expected. 2) They take it inconsistently, because it might be helping. 3) They continue to take it, and have added on another supplement they learned about. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Some patients come in with a grocery bag full of supplements they’re taking (or have taken recently).

The situation can be really frustrating for people, because often things have gotten better, but they’re not sure what’s working and what’s not! This is where talking with a healthcare provider can be helpful. I know not all healthcare providers are well-versed in nutrition, supplements and herbs, but many times they can point you in the direction of a knowledgeable medical professional who can help.

Usually someone’s most concerning symptom is just one in a constellation that reveals a bigger picture. By asking questions about other symptoms, performing a physical exam, and ordering lab tests we can say more definitively what someone does, or doesn’t have. We can factor in responses to other therapies, current medications, and other conditions they have. These factors drastically change the list of potentially therapeutic supplements (and avoid potential interactions).

A “medication and supplement review” is usually a big relief to patients. It means they don’t have to play the guessing game anymore. A review gives us the opportunity to talk about why they started taking something, if it’s being taken appropriately and if it’s still needed at all. Our needs change over time, so we regularly reassess regimens to ensure they’re still working well. Making changes, whether minor or major, can often make a dramatic difference.

In Health,

Michael Stanclift, N.D.

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