Nutritional Know-how: Ten Essential Principles

There are thousands of nutritional companies each touting their products as being the best. The amount of information on nutritional supplements is overwhelming and almost impossible to navigate. In this maelstrom of options, it is important to follow a few guiding principles on choosing and using nutritional products. For those interested in nutritional supplementation, the ten following principles can help establish a foundation in nutritional know-how:

1. Start by changing your paradigm for healing. In holistic treatment, the old medical paradigm of “one pill for treating one symptom” can limit our ability to truly heal. Supplements are not medications. They are components of the physical body–the raw materials that create life function. Thinking in terms of “zinc for energy,” or “magnesium for stress” is analogous to thinking, “wheels for speed,” or “brakes to stop.” Sure, wheels can give you speed and brakes can help you stop, but attaching them to the rest of the bike helps too. Your body works more like an assembly line, and it needs all the parts to be present to make one final product. That final product, in turn, is but a cog in the whole, complicated machinations of your inner workings. Begin your supplementation from the ground up, wherever your personal “ground” is at the start, and work towards creating a basic foundation of the essential aspects of nutritional support: vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, glycoproteins, detoxification, and gastrointestinal support.

2. Support physiology, don’t fight it. Many glorified symptoms, elevated to the status of full-fledged disease or diagnostic label, are actually struggling healing processes in need of additional support. Inflammation, for example, is a symptom that can be treated in various ways. One can debilitate the immune system with a drug and destroy the patient’s ability to generate an inflammatory response, resulting in a prompt decrease in inflammation. This approach stems from the attitude that inflammation is the ultimate enemy and must be destroyed at all cost. The cost, of course, is the patient’s health. An immune system is useful to one’s health after all. A holistic approach, on the other hand, may be to provide the patient with a systemic enzyme that supports the immune system in destroying the toxins and non-self particles scattered throughout the body. As the job of ridding the body of “enemies” gets done, the inflammatory process is no longer necessary, and inflammation will naturally stop. When using nutritional supplements, aim to support the body, approaching symptoms from a different angle, rather than from the aggressive, but foolhardy, “Rambo” approach.

3. The process is just as important as the content. Too many people surf the Internet and are persuaded by well-written ads to purchase products, which promise to eliminate an annoying or debilitating condition. With this approach, the best ad wins. True healing, however, comes from understanding the process of healing, knowing what should come first and how to move from one step to the next. It does not come from a “magic pill”–a fantasy that is part of the “quick fix” mentality. It is important to analyze how to get where you want to go, rather than focusing on buying and using supplements. Some people start off with severely crippled gastrointestinal systems. Others may struggle with allergies to foods and supplements. Some begin with extremely high levels of toxicity. Often people begin with personal hurdles that may interfere with taking orthomolecular amounts of nutritional supplements, even though the supplements may be desperately needed. The process of healing begins differently for each individual, and knowing how to take the required supplements is just as important as what supplements to take.

4. As the body heals, it can handle more. Usually patients need to start with smaller doses of very highly absorbable supplements, because the gastrointestinal system is so severely compromised. You have to be able to handle them, before you can take them. Just because a person may need a particular supplement, does not mean that the person can handle it when it enters the body. For example, some individuals may not be able to handle digestive enzymes initially, because there is hardly any enzymes in the gastrointestinal system to adequately handle the digestion of the digestive enzyme tablet. It may just settle in one spot in the stomach and digest away that little spot where it rests. The approach in such circumstances is to find a way to help the person to be able to handle the product over time. I have found aloe juice to be very useful in healing the gastrointestinal system when the patient is not quite ready for a digestive enzyme, and energy medicine, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT), are quite useful for eliminating allergies to foods and nutrients. Generally, over a period of about a month, patients can move from liquids and sprays to whole food powders, going from very small amounts of supplements to “normal” dosages of supplements. Bloating and gas are often indicative of problems with handling the additional nutritional load. Sometimes the additional nutritional load may be due to changes in the patient’s diet, such as eating more raw vegetables and fiber, which can be more difficult to digest. Starting with low doses and moving up to the recommended dosages will help a patient to steadily improve without a shock to the patient’s metabolism and digestion.

5. The most effective amount is dependent on absorbability. The level of absorbability determines ultimately how much of the product actually gets to the cells in your body and how quickly you will heal. From the most absorbable to the least: energy medicine, liquids/sprays, powders, chelated products, vegetable capsules, gelatin capsules, and finally tablets. Or, in general, from the most absorbable to the least: whole food liquid/powder supplements, whole food capsule/tablet supplements, ionized liquid supplements (e.g., some mineral products), and finally, fractionated supplements. In general, people benefit from a combination of whole food and fractionated supplements. The fractionated supplements providing additional amounts of specific nutrients, while the whole food supplements serve to form a general nutritional foundation for meeting daily needs and any additional nutrients necessary for the healing process.

6. Work with companies that have a good reputation. The easiest way to begin is to go to a health food store that also employs a natural or holistic pharmacist. A natural pharmacist is knowledgeable about both medications and nutritional products. Stores that carry supplements and employ a natural pharmacist (generally they do special compounding of medications as well) are highly specialized in providing excellent nutritional products. They also have staff that are knowledgeable and eager to help you with selecting the best supplements. There are many nutraceutical companies that only sell to practitioners or to health food stores. These companies tend to have high standards for their products as well, or they will soon be out of business. Some multi-level marketing (MLM) companies carry excellent products as well. So, do not ignore nutritional products just because they come from an MLM company. Cheap supplements found in stores that focus on selling candy, shoes, or clothes are not the kind of supplements that would be chosen by knowledgeable experts in the field of orthomolecular medicine, and will often be a waste of your money.

7. Taking out the bad is like adding something good. Just as in math when two negatives result in a positive, in orthomolecular practice taking away toxins is like adding more nutrients into your system. Sometimes it takes a lot of aspirin to relieve a problem of sitting on tacks. Remove the tacks, all of them, and you would no longer need to take aspirin. Some of the common toxins that need removing are: negative thoughts/habits, refined sugar, junk food, cigarettes, coffee, toxic metals (e.g., mercury amalgams), allergens (e.g., wheat, dairy, food dyes), and candida. When detoxifying, I have learned to avoid having patients take supplements that cause the toxins to be dumped into the blood, requiring the liver, spleen, kidneys, and gastrointestinal system to work harder than ever to remove them. Often these systems are too sick to handle more work, and this approach may result in more anxiety and illness for the patient. It is generally better to detoxify through the skin or the lymph system, heal the organs of detoxification (liver, spleen, and gastrointestinal system), and stop the influx of more toxins.

8. Your diet cannot be replaced by supplements. Supplements can help speed up the healing process, but the goal of healing is not to trade one dependency with another. Over time, it is essential to learn about the right foods to eat and the ones to avoid. Improving the diet will be a critical part of healing no matter how many supplements are being taken, because there is no substitute for good nutrition. Organic foods have less toxicity and more nutrients when eaten fresh. Super foods such as goji berries, hemp seeds, sprouts, chlorella, and aloe juice can help bolster the amount of nutrients/serving. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that for many people, initial elimination of refined sugar, wheat, and dairy products can be extremely helpful for supporting the immune system and decreasing physiological stress.

9. Create an easy system for taking supplements. Taking the number of supplements in the right amount and at the right time can be overwhelming without an organizing system. The healing process, however, depends on the patient’s ability to take the supplements reliably and regularly. For those who take orthomolecular amounts of supplements, there are often combinations of liquids, powders, capsules, and tablets, adding up to 20 or more different nutritional supplements. One method I have recommended is to purchase a plastic container from a hardware store that is generally made for holding nails. It has seven across and three down in terms of the number of slots for nails, and it can serve as a roomy container for supplements. With a roomy container, supplements can be sorted into these slots one week at a time, saving a great deal of time spent opening and closing bottle caps. To faciliate taking the supplements regularly without missing dosages, it is also important to keep them in a convenient place within easy sight. Additional time in the morning need to be calculated into the morning routine to take supplements. Otherwise, the need to be at work or school on time may interfere with the ability to take the supplements regularly.

10. When it’s too complex, ask for help. Patients are as different as snow flakes. The right type and amount of supplements depend on the patient and the goal of treatment. Some are trying to get off antidepressants; others are trying to get off antipsychotics. The permutations for the type and amount of supplements are infinite, and the way to approach one’s healing can be too difficult to handle alone. Because it can get very complex, rather than trying to do it alone, it is best to have support from those who already know the information. Climb on their shoulders rather than try to learn everything from scratch. The more specific the help is for you, the better it will be tailored to your needs, rather than trying to fit you into an algorithm found online, or a fixed treatment regimen created for a specific diagnostic label.