My Ode to the Supplements that Make Our Genes Happy

As a Naturopathic Doctor and Functional Medicine Practitioner, I’ll admit, sometimes I can get a little obsessed. Thankfully, my family and friends know this; they accept my passion in trying to keep up with the latest in health care. This little vice is not only so I can be an excellent physician, but it’s a positive character defect that ensures I’m staying true to my own authentic vision of success. This entails teaching, educating, and writing about the body’s innate healing capacity while bridging the gap between conventional medicine and alternative healthcare providers.

Although the health care reform fiasco may not be optimal, I feel that we are at such a beautiful turning point in our health system. Finally, people are now paying attention to what works and what needs to go!! I love that health and how to honor the body’s needs is becoming more common in the everyday household and how organic food isn’t a dirty word anymore!

It’s great to see how conventional and alternative medicine is blending into a more integrated, holistic model. True, there are lots of problems innate in the growing pains of transformation, but I’m willing to ride it out. Are you willing to be a pioneer with me?

This week, there were some great articles in my newsletters and journals that focus on the positive impact of supplements. I’d like to share them with you, if you so oblige.  I’ve written before on how it’s hard to gauge the efficacy of natural health because it’s so different in its properties and principles of synergism and hormesis than the pharmaceutical drugs which force biochemical manipulation. Please don’t get me wrong, in bridging the gap with integrative medicine, sometimes we need a big bulldozer to plot a new path verses a little nudge out of a ditch. It is in the science and art of the medical practitioner that can differentiate when and how to determine which mode of action is best and at what time. For me, this decision is the most fun and the most challenging part of being a doctor!

When one realizes that a deficiency can and does create a disease; doesn’t it make more sense to study the impact of an intervention when the deficiency is restored? This is not necessarily with a placebo controlled trial, but with real people who really need the vitamin!  The neat thing about synergism in natural substances is that we are usually helping more than the just the system tested. Here’s a case to the point, rock star Vitamin D. Cool.

The best part in all of this: the money invested in your health with natural products may be out of pocket, but they are effective and cheap in comparison to the cost of disease! Dr. Hyman outlines some great points in his latest newsletter on the efficacy of supplements.

SPENDING JUST PENNIES a day on healthcare can reduce our expenditures by $24 billion over five years.

New research from the Lewin Group has shown that spending pennies a day on a few key nutritional supplements can dramatically reduce sickness and chronic disease — and greatly decrease healthcare expenditures as a result.(i) How did they come to this conclusion? And why haven’t we heard about it?

The Lewin Group looked only at rigorous scientific studies that documented the benefits of nutritional supplements. They used the Congressional Budget Office’s accounting methods to determine the economic impact of supplements. And they kept their analysis specifically to Medicare patients and women of childbearing age.

The study looked at:

1. Calcium and vitamin D and their effect on osteoporosis
2. Folic acid and its ability to prevent birth defects
3. Omega-3 fatty acids and their benefits for heart disease
4. Lutein and zeaxanthin and their benefit in preventing major age-related blindness, or macular degeneration

In this study, the researchers were extremely strict and only looked at nutrient interventions that met three criteria.

1. The supplement had to produce a measurable physiological effect.
2. This physiological effect had to create a change in health status.
3. The researchers only looked at health problems where a change in health status is associated with a decrease in healthcare expenditures.

Taken together, these four simple interventions, which cost pennies a day, could produce a combined savings of $24 billion over five years. This does not even include benefits to people younger than 65 or any of the other benefits of nutritional supplementation, such as improved immunity, cognitive function, and mood.

In fact, a whopping 92 percent of us are deficient in one or more nutrients at the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) level, which is the minimum amount necessary to prevent deficiency diseases like rickets or scurvy — diseases that are the result of not getting enough vitamins and minerals. The RDA standards do not necessarily outline the amount needed for optimal health.

What’s more, our government’s nutrient guidelines ignore the fact that many Americans, because of genetic variations and unique needs, may need higher doses of vitamins and minerals than the RDA.

How to determine when one needs more than the RDA?? A rocket scientist? No, someone like me, silly! Let’s look at one major deficiency syndrome with immune deregulation that doesn’t need a baby Einstein determine the body needs support. Cancer.  To me, this disease is a cry out from the body to pay attention to it, nurture it, and retrain it to balance. The effects of integrative medicine with cancer are astounding! Here are two studies that show the positive effects of the use of supplements in breast cancer.

Breast Cancer & Antioxidants

Background: Antioxidants may protect normal cells from the oxidative damage that occurs during radiotherapy and certain chemotherapy regimens; however, the same mechanism could protect tumor cells and potentially reduce effectiveness of cancer treatments. We evaluated the association of vitamin supplement use in the first 6 months after breast cancer diagnosis and during cancer treatment with total mortality and recurrence.

The inverse association was found regardless of whether vitamin use was concurrent or nonconcurrent with chemotherapy, but was present only among patients who did not receive radiotherapy.

Conclusions: Vitamin supplement use in the first 6 months after breast cancer diagnosis may be associated with reduced risk of mortality and recurrence.

Impact: Our results do not support the current recommendation that breast cancer patients should avoid use of vitamin supplements. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 20(2); 262–71. ©2010 AACR. (Abstract)

Breast Cancer & Fish Oil

The mice given a diet high in fish oil showed greater expression of genes related to cellular “differentiation” (specialization) – a sign of lower cancer severity – compared with a diet high in corn.

The combination of fish oil and tamoxifen also reduced the expression of genes linked to tumor growth and spreading.

“If a tumor was being treated with tamoxifen, the addition of an omega-3 fatty acid diet seemed to make the tumor, at least at the molecular level, more benign and less aggressive and responsive to tamoxifen,” says Russo. (FCCC 2011)

 The fish oil diet also boosted the expression of genes related to immune defenses against tumors, more so than did the corn oil diet.

Undesirable gene effects are likely outweighed by beneficial ones

Oddly, the omega-3 group showed increased expression of genes that trigger inflammation and allergic reactions … effects that could curtail the ability of cells to fight cancer and could promote the spread of tumor cells. 

This was unexpected, because omega-3s almost always tend to moderate inflammation and allergic responses.

It is conceivable that the negative gene expressions resulted from the extremely large amounts the mice were eating … a whopping 17 percent of their calories.

However, the positive indications seen in this and prior studies suggest that any hypothetically undesirable effects of omega-3s in rodents with cancer are outweighed by fish fats’ positive influences on cancer control.

With all due respect to Mr. Wetherby, I think I can explain why the body would create more inflammation yet still effectively help modulate cancer’s negative effects. Here’s the big scientific bam! Are you ready??!! The body is smarter than we are! That’s the answer. We need balance. If the body gets the nutrients it needs, it will do everything it can to be our friend and do what it’s supposed to do to get healthy and back in the game. A folk, the body likes life, it’s our crazy minds that think it’s fighting against it. Inflammation, the body’s ability to up regulate the immune system to bring in the power punch of white blood cells to the area needed to heal while attacking the cells that shouldn’t be there, brilliant!

So, here’s just a little reminder in closing, have some self-compassion for your body. Just because we can’t explain everything it’s doing, doesn’t mean it’s not doing for you. J
Have a beautiful, healthy-filled, supplement rich day!