In today’s modern world we are fortunate to have access to nutritional supplements that may be helpful in supporting our health. Taking supplements may help to boost nutritional status, improve methylation, and may even have the capacity to help unwind chromatin from the DNA to improve overall functioning. There are, however, a number of factors that should be considered before taking supplements. Some things to consider in order to help maximise benefits and minimise harm include the following:
1) The vitamins and minerals in our bodies work synergistically. Supplementing with just one vitamin or mineral can sometimes disrupt the balance of other vitamins and minerals in the body over the longer term. Choline, for example, is considered to be part of the B vitamin group. Taking just one of the vitamins from this group can create imbalances in the body. It is therefore generally recommended that a B complex be taken along with the choline. This information holds true for all vitamins and minerals – if you are going to supplement with something, you need to be aware of what else you may need to include to ensure that imbalances don’t occur.
2) Some vitamins/ minerals compete with each other for absorption. For example, iron competes with zinc. It you take supplemental iron at the same time as you take zinc, then less zinc and iron will be absorbed. Some supplements need to be taken at different times of day to prevent this issue.
3) Some supplements are not appropriate for some people. For example, magnesium should be used with caution in people with renal impairment, and is contraindicated in people with advanced renal disease or renal failure. Iron supplements should not be taken by children unless iron studies shows an iron deficiency, to avoid iron toxicity. Fish oil should not be taken by people with platelet disorders such as ITP, as it increases the risk of bleeding, These are just a few examples of many contraindications. It is important to be aware of all contraindications before starting on any supplements.
4) Supplements can interact with prescription medications. An awareness of all potential interactions is crucial to avoid negative or dangerous outcomes from supplementation.
5) Different forms of vitamins and minerals are available in supplemental forms. Some forms are more bioavailable than others, and some forms are more appropriate for certain conditions. For example, magnesium can be found in supplements as magnesium sulphate, magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, magnesium orotate, magnesium chelate, magnesium chloride, magensium glycinate, magnesium lactate, magnesium malate and magnesium carbonate. Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide may be used for their laxative effects. Magnesium malate is more suitable for supporting the production of cellular energy. Magnesium taurate is considered to be the most effective for supporting heart health. Magnesium glycinate is considered to be most useful for inducing relaxation, supporting sleep and helping with stress management. It is important to know which form of supplement is the most suitable for the condition you are supporting.
6) Some forms of supplements should be avoided by some people due to their genetic makeup. For example, it is generally recommended that people with MTHFR mutations do not take folic acid or the form of B12 called cyanocobalamin. Rather, they should take folinic acid, or 5 -mthf, and B12 in the form of hydroxocobalamin or methyl b12.
7) The therapeutic dose for a vitamin or mineral is not the same as the recommended daily intake (RDI), and different therapeutic dosages are often needed for different conditions. For example, the recommended daily intake for zinc is 14.0 mg for adult males, and 8.0 mg for adult females (1) ). The therapeutic dose for zinc for asthma is 30mg – 50 mg per day (2). The therapeutic dose of zinc for for rheumatoid arthritis is 45mg – 80mg per day (3).
8) Dosages for children are different to dosages for adults, and should be calculated by weight or by using “Clark’s rule” or “Young’s rule”.
9) A poorly functioning gut will not absorb supplements (or food!) properly. Making sure the gut is functioning optimally is an important factor when using supplements. Otherwise you will be spending money on supplements that will be poorly absorbed, so you will not get maximum benefit from your money. Gut health is essential for overall health and wellbeing, and should always be an important consideration in any treatment plan.
10) When starting on supplements designed to assist with methylation, you need to support the methylation pathways to open up, and make sure you aren’t going “too fast too soon”. Otherwise you may run into problems with overmethylation. I have personally experienced what it feels like to take too much too soon. It was NOT pleasant. I was super anxious. My heart was racing, I was grinding my teeth, and generally felt uncomfortable in my body. Overmethylation might also show up as increased anxiety, or more meltdowns. It is important to be able to recognise the signs of overmethylation, so that decisions about appropriate supplements and dosing can be made.
These are just some of the things that need to be considered when using dietary supplements. It is recommended that people work with a professional (eg qualified nutritionist, naturopath, integrative GP etc) to determine the optimum supplement protocol and dosages, based on individual case history and individual goals.
I am not in any way trying to scare people off the use of supplements. Dietary intervention and supplementation have been nothing short of miraculous for us. When we don’t give Sophie her supplements, her teachers and therapists notice. I am sharing this information to advise caution, in the hope of helping people to avoid any negative consequences, and in the hope of ensuring that people get maximum benefit from any supplementation they do undertake.
Please bear in mind, as always, that I AM NOT a doctor or qualified nutritionist (yet!). I am an interested mother, with a background in research, who has been passionate about finding answers to help my own child and others. I am currently studying nutritional medicine but I am not yet qualified. I would suggest that people work with a qualified biomedical doctor, integrative GP, nutritionist or naturopath to ensure that you are going to help and not harm when using supplements.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. (2014). Nutrients. Retrieved from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients
- Rerksuppaphol, S., & Rerksuppaphol, L. (2016). Zinc supplementation in children with asthma exacerbation. Pediatric Reports, 8(4), 63-67. doi: 10.4081/pr.2016.6685
- Hechtman, L. & Costa-Bir, L. (2012). The musculoskeletal system. In Hechtman, L., (Ed.), Clinical naturopathic medicine (1st ed., pp. 508-630). Chatswood: Elsevier Australia