Why Your Supplements Should Be Personal
By Radley Griffin, M.D.
Historically, opinions on vitamin supplementation fall into two extremes.
On one side, traditional medicine long dismissed supplements as unresearched snake oil with poor quality control. Some even maligned supplements as just creating “expensive urine” because the body often can’t absorb their high levels of nutrients.
On the other side, some advocated supplements to the point of replacing medicine.
Thankfully, today there is a middle path, and one we take here in our practice. We believe high-quality supplementation can be very helpful for specific needs when lifestyle changes and other natural solutions fail. We recognize that supplements are not a panacea, but we also recognize that some supplementation can be incredibly useful.
How We Approach Supplementing Differently From Traditional Primary Care
Our approach to supplementation is fairly simple: We want to know how any given supplement affects vitamin and mineral levels in the body.
If taking a certain supplement does not rebalance levels in your body, then that supplement isn’t doing what it should.
One of our biggest goals with any member is to treat the whole person. This philosophy is important throughout everything we do at Griffin Concierge Medical.
This same idea applies to our supplement philosophy: First, we look for underlying causes. Then, we make a plan from there.
Supplementation Starts With Baseline Bloodwork
The first step in understanding if any supplement is a good choice for you involves a deep investigation into the root cause of any low values in the blood.
Looking at important markers in your baseline blood work is a great starting point in determining whether or not you might consider taking certain supplements. If we notice any values that are lower than what we’d recommend, we look for potential causes. If possible, we explore simple lifestyle adjustments to see if they bring your blood work back into a healthy range.
If lifestyle changes are not possible or are not helping, we look to see if any of these values could be supplemented in an easy way.
What Are Some of the Most Common Vitamins To Take?
For those who decide to try supplementation, there is no single supplement that everyone needs in the same amount. Instead, the best supplement is the one that will benefit your body.
Some of the most common deficiencies that supplements can help with are vitamin D, iron, B12, folate, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
So how do we know where to start? Our goal is to first understand what’s going on in the body. We don’t want to mask other underlying health issues by hyper-focusing on fixing a vitamin deficiency with a supplement. We also want to avoid recommending supplements when they aren’t necessarily needed.
Let’s say a member’s blood work indicates their vitamin D values are really low. Rather than immediately try to solve it with a supplement, we want to first understand why that value is so low.
One possible cause of low vitamin D values is obesity. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, high amounts of fat tissue in the body can actually pull vitamin D out of the bloodstream. In a case like this, our solution wouldn’t be to supplement with more vitamin D, but rather to support a weight loss plan.
In some cases, a little more time in the sun might solve the problem.
And in other cases, maybe there is no apparent lifestyle- or illness-related cause. Then a vitamin D supplement might be the best solution, especially if attempts at lifestyle adjustments haven’t made any headway.
Vitamin B12 and Iron
We often see low values of iron and B12 in members who have recently adopted a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. In these cases, we don’t try to change our members’ lifestyle, but find alternative ways to accommodate it.
For example, to bring iron levels up we might suggest more iron-rich foods like dark leafy greens, tofu, and legumes, paired with vitamin C-rich foods to help the body absorb that iron. In the case of B12, which is primarily found in animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs, we’d likely recommend a supplement.
The point is, we look for natural lifestyle adjustments when possible and suggest the right supplementation when necessary.
So now that we’ve talked about when and what to supplement, how do we know which brand of supplement to choose?
We care deeply about the quality of the supplements we recommend to our members and that we use ourselves. There are a lot of supplement brands out there, so how do we decide which ones we recommend?
The first and most important indicator that a supplement is high quality is simply that it works.
The goal in taking supplements is to see — and sometimes feel — results. So how do we know if a supplement works?
We know a supplement works by monitoring your blood work to make sure the supplement has an effect. For example, if you’re taking a B12 supplement but your blood work doesn’t show an increase in B12, then we know that supplement isn’t effective. It’s not a quality — i.e., an effective — supplement.
For other indicators of supplement quality, we look to our members’ experiences.
Did a zinc supplement cause stomach upset? Then we need to look for better quality. Did an omega-3 fatty acid supplement lead to unpleasant fish burps or a bad aftertaste? That’s an indicator of quality as well.
How We Choose Supplement Brands
Seeing consistently great blood level results and low-to-no side effects for members taking supplements are big reasons we incorporate certain brands into our recommendations. But we also pay attention to the supplement companies themselves, along with their values and track records.
For example, one supplement brand we were introduced to is called Xymogen. We liked that they were a local company, they only sold to physicians, and their core values aligned with ours. When we tried their supplements, we found them to be consistently high quality and effective. That’s why we’re still working with them and recommending them today.
To support physicians and members in figuring out what supplements and brands work best for them, we provide access to our practitioner account, Fullscript. Here, members can find supplement products we’ve found effective in our practice and that we use ourselves. Members can even order straight from the site and have supplements delivered directly to their home.
Like with most areas of medicine, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to supplementation. Which supplements you need depends on your body, lifestyle, and blood work.
Before you start supplementation, your physician will review your baseline blood work with you. Together, you’ll look at what values are low and discuss the right solutions, whether that’s lifestyle changes, dietary changes, supplementation, or something else.
If you need supplements, Fullscript is one easy way to order those and have them delivered.
The right supplement is one that moves the needle. If your supplements are bringing your blood values into healthy ranges, then you know you’re getting just what you need for your body.