Are supplements safe?  

Let’s explore this subject. According to Consumer Reports & Frontline, supplements are not safe. But let’s don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. Not all supplements are created equally, and that’s why it’s very important to have a health professional you can trust to know the good from the bad. As an ND, I am highly trained to understand all about supplement quality, including the manufacturing process, the physical form of the supplement (tablet, capsule, powder, etc.), the chemical form of the supplement (natural or synthetic?), and the additives used to make them.

Let’s take B vitamins, for example. 99% of the B vitamin supplements on the market are in the synthetic form, meaning they are chemicals made in a lab, not from food. Which one of these forms is natural and which is synthetic B6? Pyridoxine HCL or Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P-5-P)? It’s P-5-P. As a layperson untrained in chemistry and natural health, there’s no way for you to know that, nor should you be expected to know that. But as an ND, I am well aware of the natural and synthetic forms of each and every vitamin and mineral. This applies to all of the B vitamins: from B1 to B12.

Even natural forms have better-absorbed forms and not-so-well absorbed forms, and I keep up with the latest research on this topic, because that’s my job–to provide the latest and most trustworthy information about this to my patients.

Psstt…I have a secret to tell you…I have an ulterior motive: it’s to get YOU healthy! After all, the better your health and the better you feel, the more of your friends and family you will send my way. If I do a poor job of guiding you to safe and effective treatments, you will not return and you will not send others.

I learned this when I started practice 17 years ago. At that time, I gave my patients a list to take to the local drug store or health food store. I immediately realized there was a problem when people came back with incorrect or poor-quality supplements that they’d been taking for several weeks already. They would tell me they were not feeling any better (or even worse!), and after I saw what they were taking, I could see why. I realized that I would need to be involved in every step and every detail of my patients’ treatment plans, and once I was, they started to improve right away! This was a big eye-opener for me, and really reinforced what I already knew to be true about supplement quality.

Let’s go back to B6 for a moment. Why are most B vitamins synthetic? you may ask. Because they are cheaper to make, and have a longer shelf life, so they improve the bottom line of the manufacturer. But they do NOT improve your health! Not only are synthetic B vitamins not helpful, they are actually harmful. They block your B vitamin receptor sites but don’t do anything–they are like putting the wrong key in the lock. The key fits, but nothing happens. And when the wrong “key” is in the lock, the right “key” (natural B vitamins from food or another supplement) can’t get into the lock. So in other words, taking the wrong (synthetic) B vitamins can actually make a B vitamin deficiency WORSE! Yes, worse. It’s no wonder that so many of my patients have severe B vitamin deficiencies (proven with a simple blood test). And this is just one example of many when it comes to supplements.

Sadly, MDs receive no training whatsoever in this subject, and patients often tell me that their MD told them to “just take Centrum or One-A-Day” or “just pick up some Vitamin D from the drug store–it doesn’t matter which one.” This is absolutely not advisable. The difference between a great supplement and a poor supplement is like comparing a Ferrari to a burned out jalopy in the junkyard. They’re both “cars” but they are not the same thing at all!

To complicate this topic even further, we now have the relatively new problem of completely fake supplements–sold on Amazon to look exactly like the real thing, but in fact they are fake from the label down to the capsules themselves. These fakes are so good that even the manufacturers have a hard time detecting them. Unless you have a chemistry lab in your basement, there is no way for you to tell the difference. Some of the better companies have started putting secret codes underneath the labels so that they can tell a fake if a consumer sends it back to them due to a bad reaction. Imagine that you’re a supplement company that takes great care with every step of your manufacturing to ensure a safe and effective product, then suddenly you’re getting returns and complaints that you never got before, and you find out that someone is making FAKES of your supplements! Amazon and other multi-supplement websites are the main sources of these fakes. So WHERE you get your supplements is just as important as WHICH supplements you get.

I have personally seen many cases where I asked patients to switch to a legitimate source of the SAME (supposedly) supplements, and they went from very ill to very well in a short period of time. The difference was DRAMATIC. So please trust your ND to guide you to the right supplements for you.

In this article I have just touched the tip of the iceberg on the subject of supplement quality. Supplements absolutely CAN and SHOULD be an important part of your health regimen, but the choices you make about them are of the utmost importance to your health. This is why I ask every patient to bring in their current supplements for a thorough “audit”–so I can be sure you are taking the best and safest supplements for YOU.

Dr. Abernathy