Discount Supplements: When They’re Worth It, When They’re Not

Discount Supplements: When They’re Worth It, When They’re Not

Discounted supplements – what’s not to love?

Like most anything, you get what you pay for. Most kids in my practice need supplementation. When I meet them, they typically have nutrition deficits big enough to interfere with their lives. That is, they aren’t sleeping well, growing as expected, behaving or learning easily, or have chronic conditions like constipation, asthma, sensory integration problems, or super picky appetites. Even when usual lab tests look normal enough, nutrition can be marginal to the point of dropping your child out of the range of their optimal ability. Just eating enough to meet basic nutrition needs, or enough variety, are common problems for kids in my practice. So, supplements enter the picture – at least until a child is eating well.

Discount supplements abound. The trick is finding trustworthy ones, and leaving the not-worth-it ones behind. Many makers of supplements are not trustworthy. They use cheap fillers, don’t standardize their formulations, don’t submit their products for independent testing, don’t participate in clinical trials, and don’t stringently avoid toxins in their own manufacturing processes or in their sourcing. Would you rather: Echinacea from a pesticide-laden field somewhere in Asia, or from a craft grower using organic techniques in Wisconsin? Guess which one will work better, and cost more?

Herbal and nutrition supplements alike have been scrutinized for contaminants, toxins, purity, and potency issues. Heavy metals and pesticides have been found in some (not all) supplements – but whether these are at levels above what already contaminate conventionally raised (that is, not organic) food crops has not been studied. What that means is, while there may be traces of arsenic or cadmium in your morning multi, there may be some in your morning corn flakes or last night’s chicken too.

That doesn’t mean you should eat it. You shouldn’t, and you don’t have to.

You may have noticed that many providers sell supplements themselves. These are often brands you do not see on store shelves. The reason for this is twofold: One, these manufacturers are concerned enough about the proper use of their products that they do not want the general public to use them without guidance; and two, these products are subjected to more scrutiny than the ones you can grab off of a supermarket shelf.

Most better supplement manufacturers take pains to avoid making their products easily accessible to the public. They want you to have guidance, safety, and success with their products, so they want you to only buy it through a qualified health professional who has a license to practice. They want the providers recommending their products to be trained in their use – just like pharmaceutical companies offer training to physicians, supplement manufacturers train providers too (though far less lavishly). And, supplement makers know that most licensed providers will not put their reputations at risk for a lousy product. So, they often elect to exceed government requirements for manufacturing, testing, purity, and potency… and this makes them more expensive.

Here’s what to look for in your supplements:

1 – Third party testing: Better products will come from manufacturers that routinely submit samples for scrutiny by an independent, third party laboratory, and will make the findings available on request. For example, a Certificate of Analysis from an independent laboratory that describes a product’s purity, potency, and presence of contaminants or toxins is maintained by better manufacturers.

2 – Exceeds FDA guidelines: The government requires that supplements (and foods) meet “Good Manufacturing Practices”, and that complaints about a product are documented. Better manufacturers will document, track, and repair any complaint. Look for a more rigorous quality seal such as US Pharmacopeial Convention (UPC), which analyzes products for purity and speed of disintegration.

3 – Non-GMO ingredients: Supplements use fillers, excipients, and oils that will come from non-organic and GMO sources unless otherwise specified. Soy lecithin, vegetable oils, and fillers from wheat, corn, or rice starch are common.

4 – Gluten free: Don’t mess up efforts at a gluten free diet by giving your child something like this for a multivitamin. Many children’s chewables and other supplements contain gluten, unless otherwise specified. Check medications too.

5 – Standardized extracts and potencies – Skip products that give vague label information on how much of the active component is in the product. For example, a probiotic that says it has “500 milligrams (mg)” of  “Lactobacillus” means nothing. What it should tell you is that there is a guaranteed potency of a certain number of colony forming units of a specific strain: “15 billion CFUs Lactobacillus paracasei” is more like it. Likewise, herbal supplement labels should state a standardized amount of active component, and indicate which part of the plant the supplement contains (leaf? stem? whole plant? seed?): “300 mg andrographis extract at 10% andrographolides from stem and leaf” rather than just “500 mg andrographis”.

Handful of pills

Cheap Supplements That Are Never Worth It

In my many years in practice, I’ve seen families spend money on supplements thinking they are getting a bargain when the product is barely worth the bottle it’s in! Buying generic products off supermarket or big box store shelves is not usually worth it. These products tend to use the cheapest excipients and fillers, and have the least oversight for manufacturing. Top of the list? Cheaper fish oils! Fish are unfortunately reservoirs for many toxins in our oceans, including heavy metals. Processing techniques that are less expensive can strip the oil of its health benefits too. And, fish oil labels are notorious for giving fuzzy information about potency. If your product says “1000 mg fish oil”, skip it. It should tell you the amounts of DHA, EPA, GLA or other oils in the product, its source, and should definitely have at least a UPC quality label. Buying a low potency, dubiously sourced, and possibly dirty oil will not give your family much benefit. Many families I’ve met who tried fish oils used poor products that are not potent enough to reach clinical significance – then they give up, never realizing what benefits their children may have missed. My go-to brands are Blue Ice and Pharmax, for high potency and purity.

Next on my Never-Worth-It list are cheap probiotics. If it’s sitting on a store shelf and not in a refrigerator, skip it. Probiotics are living organisms and need gentle handling. They should be refrigerated. Potency and strains should be specifically stated, with a guarantee and expiration date. They should not be heated, microwaved, boiled, or mixed in sugary junk foods. In my own experience, probiotics under 10-15 billion CFUs per dose confer little to no benefit. Some children in my practice need probiotics at hundreds of billions of CFUs per day, to reach benefits. Don’t waste time or money tinkering with products that can’t help. Reputable brands include Klaire Labs , Custom Probiotics, and VSL. These can be very, very expensive – but if it’s the right product, it can be very worth it for a child struggling with encoporesis, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss, or painful stools. Even acne and mood concerns have responded to the right probiotic in my practice.

Number Three on the list is multivitamins like this. Low potency, poor mineral profile, too much iron for many children, weak forms of B vitamins, gluten… should I go on? You can do much better choosing a product that may really help your child’s focus and overall health.

Last but not least… Don’t give your child dozens of individual pills of separate nutrients daily. I’ve met children who come in with schedules to take over sixty pills a day, recommended by other providers. This is too much! I do not believe this is fair to a family or to the child. Use food as much as you can to build your child’s health. When a lot of supplement support is needed, I may consider food-based or glandular blends from product lines like Standard Process. I also can easily help families consolidate, prioritize, and simplify supplements so only a few may be needed daily.

Buy products with professional guidance if you’re not sure – you’ll be buying years of experience this way, rather than going it alone with a shot in the dark. Need help? Contact me here.

7 Winter Wonder Foods For Immune And Mood Boosts

7 Winter Wonder Foods For Immune And Mood Boosts

Can food boost your immune system and mood?  You bet! See if you can eat your way away from colds and flu this season by making a daily effort to give your kids the tools that our immune systems use to fight infection.

As fall and winter progress, and it’s darker and colder, your vitamin D levels are probably dropping. Your serotonin may be as well, with low natural light exposure. People are passing colds back and forth. Time for Winter Wonder Foods! Eat to carry you through to sunnier, warmer times ahead. You will replenish nutrients and antioxidants that your immune system and mood will appreciate. These are among my favorites for this time of year. Most are readily available and in season, with prices that may be better than in other months.

Turmeric Root – For aturmeric root and powder long time now, the functional medicine community has suggested this powerful antioxidant in supplements. Both turmeric and its popular component curcumin have been extensively studied. Curcumin comes from turmeric root. Many families of kids with autism are reporting happy outcomes by supplementing curcumin – read testimonials here, and there are undoubtedly more around the web. For my practice and my family, I love turmeric for its antiflammatory properties, supportive digestive action, and potential as an anti-microbial. When we have colds, I juice fresh peeled turmeric root with fresh peeled ginger root, whole lemon (skin and all), apples, celery, and cilantro. We also use it liberally in cooking. For curries, I like to mix at least a tablespoon of turmeric powder with a heaping tablespoon of cumin and another of curry powder, plus some red pepper flakes or powder.

Ginger Root – More fibrous and tough than turmeric root, ginger root works in a lot of places in your healing kitchen! Peel fresh root and mince into vegetable sautés: Carrot sticks seared to tenderness with fresh minced ginger and a dash of curry powder, cooked in a blend of toasted sesame oil, coconut oil, and a small dab of local raw honey, makes for a more nutritious, healthful, and interesting version than plain old steamed, without much more effort. Mince ginger into curries, simmer slices of it into chicken soup stock (remove before eating), or pour boiling water over sliced root for a tea to open sinuses and soothe an inflamed throat. Ginger’s benefits are legend, and recent work in mice showed that it reduced inflammation in ulcerative colitis. Another showed ginger’s components to be neuro-protective by lowering inflammation and inhibiting memory loss.

Winter comfort food: Meatloaf with bacon, mashed parsnip, Brussels sprouts

Winter comfort food: Meatloaf with bacon, mashed parsnip, Brussels sprouts

Brussels Sprouts – Finally! My favorite vegetable has dropped to a lower price for organic at my local grocer. February is when prices really drop on these and I have been waiting all fall. You knew these were good for you, but did you know how good? Check into these benefits: Brussels sprouts contain compounds that are protective against cancer, calcium loss and bone fractures, diabetes, and more. They also contain sulforaphane, a compound that created significant improvement when supplemented in young men with autism in this initial clinical trial.

Your kids hate these? Don’t give up. They may be won over with roasted rather than steamed Brussels sprouts. This brings out some of the sweetness while minimizing the strong bitter flavor. Rinse the sprouts and cut into halves or quarters. Toss with melted ghee, sea salt, or garlic salt. Add fresh minced garlic if that suits you, and some toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts. Roast at 400 degrees til fork-soft, 18-20 minutes. Go longer for a crispy-chip texture on the leaves. Or, make salty chips by chopping the sprouts into leaves and roast until brown and crisp, with ample salt, ghee, olive oil, or coconut oil.

Pink Grapefruit 2Pink Grapefruit – Sounds summery, but winter is grapefruit season. At this time of year, grapefruit is tastier, cheaper, and more available. Obvious bennies are lots of vitamin C, lycopene, potassium, antioxidants, and bioflavonoids. All of these nutrients are helpful for immune function in one way or another. Even cholesterol levels appear to be directly improved just by eating pink grapefruit. The ultimate convenience food – peel and eat. Put peeled cut sections in your kids’ lunches if they’re too busy during the school day to pull these apart themselves.

Cod liver oil – One of the best sources going for natural vitamin D3, the biologically active form, is cod liver oil. I suggest children under 40 or 50 lbs use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon daily; more is okay for bigger kids under usual circumstances but check with your doctor if you aren’t sure. Fish oils vary for vitamin D content, and for processing, which can have negative impacts on the delicate fatty acids in these oils. Since CLO also contains healthy fatty acids plus some vitamin A, I prefer it over drops that only give vitamin D3 (though drops are useful in some cases too). I skip supplements entirely that only give vitamin D2. Foods that offer it are a bit scant: Fatty fish, egg yolks, beef liver, and cheeses. Debate about the vitamin D content of certain mushrooms leaves me inclined to suggest supplementation for vegans.

Our understanding of the many and diverse things that vitamin D does is far from complete. More hormone than nutrient, virtually every tissue in our bodies has receptors for vitamin D. It regulates genes that control immune response, blood sugar, cell growth, and many other functions. It’s not just about bones! In late winter, many of us lose vitamin D stores as we have less sun exposure. This may be a factor in depression. Increasing vitamin D level by just 10 points improved depression in young men in this study.

Fermented or not? This is a big debate. The Weston Price and GAPS communities won’t have it any other way but fermented cod liver oil. Some families I work with won’t go there. My next best pick is Pharmax, which processes fish oils more gently than other manufacturers, and has liquids that are palatable for most kids I’ve worked with.

Garlic – Eating fresh garlic daily (2 cloves or more) appears to reduce susceptibility to colds and flu. There are many ways to do this. You can:

• Mince and add to sautéed or roasted vegetables and stews.

• Place peeled whole cloves in 1/4 inch of olive oil, and heat gently for 10-15 minutes (until soft but not browned). Eat these whole. You can add salt if you like, and save the olive oil to drizzle on salad, veggies or bread or drink it down.

• Place raw peeled cloves in a blender with 2 cups water, a whole lemon, and 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until smooth; strain, and drink. This pungent drink taken daily will encourage liver to expel toxins and will keep colds and flu at bay. For an extra liver purgative and to make it taste a little easier, add a teaspoon of pure inositol powder.

• Try high potency allicin capsules when eating the cloves is not your thing. My top pick is AlliMax Pro, which gives 450 mg of allicin powder per capsule. Allicin is the active ingredient in garlic that has been shown to have antimicrobial and immune protective activity.

When eating fresh garlic, do so quickly to get the most from the active allicin component, which has a short half life once you crush the garlic.

2 sweet potatoes made 15 hefty pancakes

2 sweet potatoes made 15 hefty pancakes

Sweet Potatoes – Here’s a food most kids like, and it’s easy to prepare: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put in potatoes. Bake 60 minutes. Done! Of course there are other yummy ways to eat sweet potatoes, but start there if you have too much to juggle at dinner time. Place them in your oven in the morning and program to turn on and bake later if you’re not home to do it. It’s worth it to buy organic sweet potatoes or yams – they taste sweeter, less bitter, just better. Whip these with butter, ghee, cinnamon, and a little maple syrup then dust with ground cashews or macadamia nuts, to incentivize for picky eaters.

Seriously though, sweet potatoes give vitamin A as beta-carotene, which is another crucial immune helper. In fact, the recent mania about measles should be talking more about vitamin A than vaccines: Even the World Health Organization and UNICEF have protocols that engage high dose vitamin A for children exposed to measles. Vitamin A has both therapeutic and preventive actions against this virus, and dramatically reduces mortality from complications of measles (diarrhea and pneumonia). For detail on the many ways in which vitamin A supports our immune systems, click here.

If baked sweet potatoes are too boring, you have a lot of options, depending on how ambitious you are. Sweet potato pancakes from scratch are delicious if you have time to make them. Quick breads, pies, and cookies are too, when made with leftover sweet potato. You can drop left over bakers in a smoothie (remove the skin first) to give a sweet and creamy texture. Or, just serve them mashed, with some orange zest or even orange juice added.

A food processor makes this recipe much easier

A food processor makes this recipe much easier

You may feel like hibernating, but if you do, enjoy these foods that are in season in cold months – just in time to carry you through the colds, flu, and winter blues.

Measles Mania? Don’t Ride That Bus

Measles Mania? Don’t Ride That Bus

The media’s obsession with pitting us against each other continues in full swing with ongoing news about the measles outbreak, now up to some ninety cases. Are you buying in? Are you mad at your neighbor? Did you blame that kid down the street, and her crazy parents? Are you a pediatrician who has vowed to break your vow of doing no harm and treating the sick, by booting a kid with measles infection out of your office? Good for you. You’re a hater.

Just like anything else where hate is involved (terrorism, racism, xenophobia, religious zealotry), ignorance and fear are the drivers. Our media loves those. It makes for great ratings.

Measles vaccine was introduced in 1963. That means that not one of these kids had been vaccinated against measles, when Disneyland opened its doors to eager throngs in July 1955:

Thousands of kids. None of them vaccinated.

Thousands of kids. None of them vaccinated for measles.

 There were no outbreaks.

It also means that most if not all of these kids had likely experienced natural measles infection. This was back in the day when your doctor worried if you didn’t get measles by the time you were ten – not the other way around. Measles was regarded as a beneficial childhood infection, for good reason: It conferred protection against some cancers later in life, and may lower odds for chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma, allergies, or eczema later on.

We know this: Natural infection works. It creates longer lasting immunity, by years. It creates community protection, or herd immunity. Vaccines, not so much. They wear off. And they don’t seem to confer strong herd immunity. Many argue they don’t confer herd immunity at all.

Even if we don’t introduce the A word (autism), MMR vaccine has a checkered past. Since it came on the scene, one fail after another has been reported in the medical literature, including reports from the CDC itself. In 48 years (since 1967), PubMed lists 360 articles citing measles vaccine failures and outbreaks in vaccinated persons. Measles outbreaks among highly vaccinated populations have been happening for decades. In one not so unique case from 1983, all children at this school were fully vaccinated against MMR (100% uptake) and there was still a measles outbreak. Can’t blame that one on those unvaccinating parents. But you can blame it on the vaccine being too weak to work. Now that so few of us have strong immunity from natural measles infection, and so many have weak or no immunity thanks to vaccination, outbreaks are going to continue. So, get a vaccine every single year? No thanks.

You might even blame that 1983 outbreak on the vaccine itself: Measles vaccination does, on occasion, actually cause measles infection. Which, of course, can spread. Here is one example, and another here. These are not terribly unique either.

Is this how the recent Disneyland outbreak began? The CDC is vague on its story. They concluded, without presenting clear data, that a visitor from “overseas” arrived with measles and started the outbreak. Where was this person from? Where is the outbreak overseas? Shouldn’t we know, to control more outbreak? Is the CDC so incompetent that it can’t identify the actual start of this small, contained outbreak any further? I doubt it. But I do know this: If this outbreak began with a vaccine-acquired infection, such as in the two examples above, the CDC would never tell the public. It is, um, quite a bit off message for them.

It strikes me as implausible that a person could arrive in a country with 95% vaccine compliance (which is what the US has for MMR) and start an outbreak – unless  (a) the vaccine doesn’t really work in the first place (which it often does not, see PubMed citations above) or (b) the persons who got infected were not vaccinated.

If (b) is true, then in this outbreak, the vaccine was more protective than not. So, vaccinating parents, why are you yelling? Your kid is vaccinated, and you can be at peace. Stop hating already. An unvaccinated person is not going to hurt you.


Me and my sibs, 1962: A buncha unvaccinated grubs. Measles vaccine did not exist at the time

If (a) is true, we have a problem. Whether kids are vaccinated or not, we have kids getting measles. Some data show that vaccinated kids in measles outbreaks get more sick than the unvaccinated ones. Nutrition status, especially for vitamin A, iron, and protein, are potent predictors of how sick a kid gets and whether complications may take his life.

MMR vaccination has not eradicated measles, obviously. And it probably never will. In fact, no vaccine has ever eradicated any disease. We still have all of ’em, from pertussis to chickenpox to polio. And it is not because some people don’t vaccinate. It’s because some vaccines work for some people some of the time, and don’t work at all for others – that is, they trigger clinical infection.

No vaccine works all the time. Some work quite badly. All of them have injured and killed innocent children.

Whose lives matter more, the unvaccinated or the vaccinated? Who do you hate more? Who deserves more care, kindness, and attention? The kid who got natural measles infection, or the kid who got it from a vaccine? The kid with polio from India who got vaccinated, or the kid without polio who got vaccinated? The twelve year old who is permanently disabled from an MMR reaction, or the kid who is disabled from a head injury sustained in a car accident? Pediatricians, which kid should you boot out of your practice?

Every kid matters. Peace out.

Me and just some of my cousins and siblings, 1963. All of us had had natural measles infection or herd immunity by this time

Me and just some of my cousins and siblings, 1963. All of us had natural measles infection or herd immunity by this time