December 20, 2012

Year-End Update: My OTC Supplements -- Fewer Are Better: Part 1 -- My Three Remaining Supps

Yesterday I reviewed the prescription meds I take and noted that I've found that "less is more."  For several of the meds, I've been cutting the prescribed tablet in half and have found that, as a result, the med works just about as well and often with fewer side effects  AND I cut the cost in half.

Today let's look at my over-the-counter supplement,   Tomorrow I'll take up the much longer list of supps I formerly took but have stopped taking. For the sups, my catch phrase is "fewer is better."

I subscribe to several health newsletters and magazines and , since starting this blog, have followed postings on the web dealing with health issues.  And I've enjoyed researching health topics.  Needless to say I've come across numerous reports, studies and personal stories touting a variety of supplements for treating -- and often miraculously curing -- all sorts of ailments.

When it comes to supplements related to my own ailments and needs, I dismiss many  of the reports I see as clearly bogus and come to the same conclusion when I research others.  Still I'm often left with claims for supplements that appear to have some validity and that are backed by seemingly legitimate scientific studies and findings.

In the past, when it seemed a supplement might possibly help me, I frequently decided, "What the hell.  Why not give it a try?  What have I got to lose?" But, thanks to this blog and my own curiosity, I've done considerable  research and reading about dietary supplements and, as a result, I've had an almost 180-degree turn around.

A year or more ago, my bathroom and kitchen shelves were well-stocked with a variety of OTC pills. Today I'm taking only three.  I'll list them at the end of this report.  But first, here's what let to my change of attitude and action:

"Americans Love Hogwash"
That was the title of a 1974 article by the late Edward Rynearson, MD, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.  He wrote that the most widespread quackery in the U.S.  was the promotion of vitamins and dietary supplements.  And that was back in 1974!

David Agus , a physician and author of the best-selling book, The End of Illness, noted that there have been 50 large-scale studies on supplements and not one has shown a benefit in heart disease or cancer. "I don't get it," he said. "Why are we taking them."

Other experts liken buying vitamins to flushing money down the toilet. In some cases, they mean it literally. If the body gets more of certain vitamins than it needs, it often excretes the excess in urine.

We spend about $28 billion a year on dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbal supplements. As Americans, we think more is better, but that's often not the case.

Many of us are spending our money on supplements only to put our health at risk. Taking megadoses of certain vitamins and supplements, unless under medical supervision, isn't a good idea. High doses of vitamin E taken over a long period have been linked to a small but increased risk of lung cancer. Very high levels of vitamin D can cause kidney and tissue damage. Too much calcium can lead to kidney stones. Fish oil may reduce of strokes, particularly ischemic stroke, the most common kind, but too much may increase the risk of hermorrhagic stroke, the less common but more deadly kind. An overdose of iron can damage organ function, and, if left untreated, can lead to death.

More than half of us use dietary suppleme3nts despite the fact that none of them are required to be screened for safety or efficacy.

FDA and Supps
In the early 1990's, the Food and Drug Administration began to crack down on the burgeoning supplement industry. A lobbying campaign by supplement makers and marketers led to the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994 by a misguided Congress that was lead 5367 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, Kissimmee, FL, 34746 believe that it was protecting consumer's right to chose among health care options. In effect, the law prevents the FDA from interfering with the marketing of any product defined as a dietary supplement.

With all regulatory barriers effectively swept aside, the industry exploded to the point that today some 55,000 products are on the market compared with 4,000 in 1994.

The 1994 law requires FDA to follow a burdensome process if it want to prove a product is unsafe. Since 1994, only one ingredient, ephedra, has been banned.

Supplements can interact with our prescribed medications. So few dietary supplements have been tested to see how they interact with prescription medications that no one really know which combinations are likely to cause trouble.

The standard advice we get on most anything we consider trying is "Consult with your doctor and/or pharmacist." No doctor or pharmacist could possibly know all the possible ramifications from the almost limitless possible combination of drugs and supps. And I certainly know from personal experience that individual reactions to any med or combination of meds can vary widely.

Us Older Folks Are At the Greatest Risk

Seniors are more likely to encounter problems. More older people tend to have chronic conditions, like kidney or liver disease, that make it harder for the body to process the compounds found in supplements. Then too, we tend to take more prescription medications than younger people -- and the more medications I take, the greater the risk of hazardous interactions with supplements.

Some Supplements Can Help -- Here's Three That Work for Me
Many supplements are easily dismissed because there is no supporting evidence or even evidence of the risk of harm.  But with other supplements, the evidence is mixed and there's a possibility the supplement might do some good.  In the past, my response in this situation often was "Why not?" And I'd give it a try.

Today my response is "Forget it."  I  have plenty of concerns about the possible adverse interactions of the pills I'm now taking. Why throw new ones into the mix just on a hope they might help?  Almost always with these supplements that might help, there is clear evidence that you can achieve the same desired result more safely and surely by changes in diet.

Tomorrow I'll give a rundown on the relatively long list of supplements that  I've tried  in the past but no longer take.  But I haven't rejected all supplements.  Here's the three I still take:

Vitamin D. I'm taking 1000 mg of this (using the recommended vitamin D-3) at the recommendation of my internist. The blood tests at my annual physical showed I was deficient in this vitamin.  Many  people are -- especially those who are over 60, live at northern latitudes, have darker skin, or are rarely outdoors.  I qualify for the first two on that list.  New studies on vitamin D come out at least once a month, it seems, and most of them suggest potential benefits from a supplement. As a result, many doctors, mine included, now test their patients' blood levels of D and recommend supplements for those, like me, who score low.Although the debate is ongoing, many medical authorities are recommending 800 to 1000 IU of supplements a day for the general population.

5-HTP.  This blog initially was titled "Parkinson's and 5-HTP and Me." (The URL for the blog still reflects that original title) I'd found that 5-HTP, a serotonin-boosting OTC supplement,  was almost a "miracle drug" in dealing with my  Parkinson's -related depression, insomnia and constipation. My research suggested that 5-HTP might be particularly helpful to people with Parkinson's as an offset to the loss of dopamine cells that accompanies Parkinson's. (Serotonin and dopamine are closely related brain chemicals.)  A primary motivation for starting this blog was my belief that by touting 5-HTP, I could help my fellow PD sufferers.

I quickly found, however, that no one else was getting the same positive results from 5-HTP that I was.  It was a valuable lesson for someone running a health-related blog -- what works for me might not work for others. 

But I still was getting good results from taking the supplement. I started with a 50 mg. dose.  But then, following my innate belief that "anything worth doing is worth overdoing," I began adding an extra pill at bedtime. Soon I found myself laughing aloud and flooded with creative new ideas. 

All of which seemed great to this addict . . . until l found myself in a hospital emergency room after I almost passed out.  Turned out that when  I "OD'd" on 5-HTP, I'd get a spike in blood pressure and associated problems..(I proved this cause-effect by trying the same stunt again).

 I stopped taking 5-HTP for awhile but then decided to try taking the 50 mg pill (the lowest dose marketed) and cutting  it in half and taking only 25 mg at bedtime.  This has been working just fine but I carefully monitor my  blood pressure, usually  twice a day. As I reported yesterday, I'm also using just a half pill of my prescribed blood pressure medication.  So I check my blood pressure to be sure this regimen is working and that the 5-HTP isn't causing any problems

OK. I'll fess up. Every once in awhile (never more than once a week), I'll take the full 50 mg. 5-HTP pill at bedtime.  When I do, my 4 or 5 a.m. "meditation hour" is full of creative and problem-solving ideas.

Possible next stop:  A meeting where, when my turn comes, I'll say "I'm John and I'm a 5-HTP-aholic."

Curcumin: This is the active ingredient  in the Indian spice turmeric.It's my big discovery in my health research this year.. It is the most studied of all the dietary supplements and almost all of those studies affirmed its potential for treating a huge number of ailments -- Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and the list goes on.

I could go on at great length here about its promise, but I've written often about it this past year.  See for an overview.  Other posts can be found by putting "curcumin" into the search box in the column to the right.

Rather than repeat what I've said before, take a look at this video which has a good summary of the scientific evidence for curcumin.  I was reluctant to use a video produced as a marketing piece by a company selling a curcumin product.  but my own research is in accord with all of the claims made. Other comparable curcumin supplements are readily available on or just by Googling "curcumin."

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