As a nutritionist I am forever galled (and annoyed) by the comments left by readers who leave their links to their sites spouting the “incredible benefits” of one supplement or another. (You can tell this is going to be one of those venting posts, can’t you?) I know how heady the idea of “quick fix” can be, especially when you want to lose weight, are trying to get pregnant, heal from a chronic illness (or an acute one), or just want to feel better. In fact, our society is built around the “now now now” and “we have a pill to cure every ill” mentality.
Green coffee. Açai berry. Valerian Root. Chasteberry. Detox complexes. I could go on all day about what people take as a result of what they read on the internet, in magazines or see on TV. What’s worse is, in the name of “health” people are taking handfuls of supplements that contain, at best, ineffective, and, at worst, harmful either because many of these complexes have herbal combinations that are seriously unsuitable to be mixed.
A prime example of one of these dangerous complexes is Valerian Root and Melatonin. Valerian root has been used for centuries for everything from a sedative to an upset stomach. Melatonin is a hormone, essentially, one that lets the body slow down and be able to rest. Here’s the thing. Valerian root, with prolonged use, especially when combined with multiple herbs can cause liver toxicity. Melatonin, with prolonged use, can actually cause the body to manufacture less melatonin, in addition, side effects can be dramatic, with shortened REM cycles (deep sleep), vivid dreams, even paranoia and anxiety. Combine multiple herbs including Valerian root and and melatonin, it is a recipe for disaster as your rest cycles are your detox cycles and your liver is a huge part of the detox process.
Chasteberry (Vitex Agnus Castus) is another example of a potentially dangerous herb. Although it has been used medicinally for centuries as an herbal “tonic” for menstrual irregularities due to powerful phytoestrogens. Here is the problem with taking such a supplement without clear supervision from a professional. Depending on the cause of menstrual irregularities, this powerful herbal “drug” can exacerbate problems such as estrogen dominance and OAT Axis imbalance if the reasons for the irregularities are not strictly a hormonal imbalance or low lutenizing hormone. Many women read something on the internet and buy this arguably effective (and cheap) “cure all” thinking it will automatically help infertility and many internet sites recommend using this herb even while going through IVF treatments. Chasteberry actually interferes with the efficacy of such treatments.
When supplements such as certain vitamins are taken without proper analysis of actual deficiencies can cause further imbalances. Case in point, very generalized information is available all over the internet that says zinc is an immune and fertility booster and a way to clearer skin. It’s true, all of it. When supplemented without the proper balance, however, too much zinc can throw off the copper balance in the body, which is important for establishing heart rhythm, proper growth, the functioning of the thyroid gland, wound healing, and the health of the eye. Certain vitamins and minerals will not metabolize when you have too much zinc in your system such as iron, copper, and magnesium. Zinc toxicity also lowers your body’s immunity and good cholesterol levels.
Believing everything you read on the internet is a recipe for disaster. (Even when it’s on The Detox Diva try to remember we recommend an individual approach for different people.) Popping handfuls of supplements is usually ineffective as well because your body utilizes different nutrients in different ways (some are fat soluble while others are water and some nutrients actually block the absorption of others). Also, realize that supplements that work on one person in one way might have the completely opposite effect on another. Doses are tricky because each person has a different “reference point” or level of deficiency.
A diet rich in a wide variety of foods including high quality protein, and fruits and vegetables should provide much of the nutrients your body really needs. If you don’t believe me think of the last time you took a strong multi-vitamin. Remember the smell of your urine? The color? Those are under utilized nutrients!
Always ask an expert about supplements before embarking on any supplement program.
To fine-tune your eating, specific to you, your particular health struggles and metabolic needs, contact me to enquire about a private consultation; either in person in the Middle East, on certain dates in my travel schedule, or long distance via Skype.