“If you’ve been on your wellness journey for any length of time or have been to multiple doctors looking for answers, chances are you have a cabinet full of supplements at home.”
“When patients come to me, they might bring a tote with 20 or 30 bottles along to their appointment, or on the other hand, might feel so overwhelmed by supplements that they’ve stopped taking them all together.”
“I found it truly helps to understand how each supplement works in the body in addition to honoring my own intuition about how it feels when I take them.”
If you’ve been on your wellness journey for any length of time or have been to multiple doctors looking for answers, chances are you have a cabinet full of supplements at home. It’s not uncommon for practitioners, especially in the integrative and functional medicine space, to recommend a host of supplements for their patients without fully explaining what the supplements are for, what they do and importantly, how long should they be taken.
When patients come to me, they might bring a tote with 20 or 30 bottles along to their appointment, or on the other hand, might feel so overwhelmed by supplements that they’ve stopped taking them all together. They come to me with questions: am I supposed to take these forever? How many vitamins are too many? And, are supplements really worth the cost?
I can completely relate to the confusion and overwhelm with supplements. On my own health journey with Lyme disease, mast cell dysfunction and hypothyroidism, I was prescribed many different supplements. I often felt overloaded with the supplements and questioned if more supplements were actually better. Ultimately, I took matters into my own hands and learned more about biochemistry, herbalism and nutrition. I found it truly helps to understand how each supplement works in the body in addition to honoring my own intuition about how it feels when I take them.
Supplements, high quality supplements to be more specific, are an incredibly important tool in my Functional Medicine toolkit and can be personalized for each individual’s unique needs. Supplements, combined with diet and lifestyle change, are truly life changing. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
So, how do you navigate the supplement world to find what is right for you? That’s what I’m going to dive into today.
In this article, you will learn more about:
Let’s get started!
I wish I could say that we don’t need supplements and we can get everything we need from food. In today’s stressful and toxic world, that simply isn’t the case. Because of less nutrition in the soil, food transportation, individual genetics and epigenetics, exposures to toxins, digestion and absorption issues and other factors, it is increasingly hard to get everything we need from food.
To simplify why people take supplements, it’s to meet their nutrient needs and support their individual biochemistry.
Sometimes people will take supplements for a quick fix (supplement advertising is very effective) such as for weight loss, increased sex drive or improved exercise performance. The patients I see at The Fork Functional Medicine clinic are usually taking supplements to heal from and improve chronic symptoms or a medical condition. Others may be taking them out of curiosity or a deep desire to increase their wellness.
While people take supplements for a host of reasons, the questions still arise: Can you take too many vitamins? What happens if you take too many vitamins? What can I do when I am feeling “supplement overload”?
Over half of American’s use dietary supplements. Those who seek functional medicine, those exploring various natural health modalities and those seeing multiple practitioners are likely to be taking more than a couple different supplements.
Supplements are generally safe. Less than 1% of people taking supplements have had adverse reactions and zero deaths are attributed to supplements, according to 2013 data. In most cases, you won’t notice any symptoms of taking too many supplements.
But, it is possible to take too many vitamins. What I’m going to mostly discuss in this article is supplement overload, the feeling of taking too many supplements, the confusion around the reason for so many and strategies to address this.
However, it is also worth mentioning that supplement overdose is possible, just as it is from pharmaceuticals. Certain nutrients, such as magnesium, can be taken at very high doses, but other nutrients such as fat soluble vitamins may cause toxicity if high amounts are taken over long periods of time. In addition, make sure the kids (and pets) aren’t eating too many vitamin gummies as these can contribute to overdose as well.
Especially if you are choosing supplements on your own, without the guidance of an experienced practitioner, be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the package in order to avoid overdose.
When it comes to supplements, more isn’t always better and this goes both for the dosage and for the number of total supplements you take.
With over-the-counter supplements available at grocery stores and online, there is also the concern of supplement quality. Since supplements are only regulated at the level of the facility, it is challenging to know if the label claims match what is actually in the product. Independent studies repeatedly reveal popular supplements are contaminated with heavy metals or actual ingredients don’t match what the label says. Many products contain fillers or allergens that some might be sensitive to.
In addition, if you take medications or have a medical condition it is important to check with your provider or pharmacist before trying new supplements because interactions may be possible.
While this discussion may feel overwhelming, you’ll be happy to know that you can find trusted supplement brands and specific products that I’ve personally vetted in my online apothecary.
The most important vitamins are those that provide foundational nutrition support. These are your nutrition insurance policy to make sure your body is meeting its needs despite the modern environment.
While these are the most important supplements, further supplement needs really depend upon what you are working on as far as your health. Your individual health status, health goals, history and lab testing help to inform what additional supplements you might benefit from. From a Functional Medicine perspective, we take the whole picture into account.
Do you need digestive or detoxification support? What about anti-inflammatory nutrients or herbs to aid in symptoms and healing? Do you have specific nutrient deficiencies that require higher levels of specific nutrients? Are you facing an acute illness that requires targeted immune support? These are just some of the questions that I ask in my practice to help inform supplement recommendations.
Here are some of my most helpful tips to consider when building your supplement plan, learning what supplements work best for your body and considering your timeline:
In some cases, such as supporting a genetic SNP, you might need certain supplements long-term. In other cases, after the initial protocol, progress may be maintained with diet and lifestyle. An example of this might be supplements used to help correct estrogen dominance followed by lifestyle modifications and maintenance for continued hormone balance.
While supplements have the ability to really move the needle on your health in a beneficial and dramatic way, many of us may feel burdened and overloaded with all of the recommendations and options out there. I hope that this article has given you some suggestions and tools that will help you on your path. If you’d like to schedule your own supplement review and have personalized guidance in this area, please reach out.
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