Supplementing Wellness: The Four Pillars
As an herbal practitioner, I have seen how herbs and essential oils can stimulate natural healing processes and normalize the function for a cross-section of organs and organ systems. Most often this occurs with few if any side effects. In combination with functional motion, exercise, good lifestyle and diet choices, botanicals can make a big difference in a person’s overall health and well being.
A few key supplements should also be a part of everyone’s wellness toolbox. These include a high quality multi vitamin, Co enzyme Q-10, fish oil, and probiotics. Suboptimal digestion, poor diet choices, and processed, nutritionally depleted food sources team up to make most of us deficient in these: Some of the specific benefits of these supplements are as follows:
Pillar# 1. Multi-vitamin. A high quality B complex, with a minimum of 2500 iu of Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene is a good starting point. “Preformed” Vitamin A (retinol) can become problematic in higher doses. Often you will see the 2 combined for example: 5000 iu of vitamin A with 50% from beta-carotene. This ratio and dosage is generally considered optimal. A cross section of minerals and trace elements is also essential, especially chromium and selenium. Many of the more broad-spectrum multis may also include up to 2000 iu of vitamin D along with 50- 100 mg of Co enzyme Q-10. Add these doses and values into what you are taking from other sources to determine total amount of supplementation desired. The specific benefits of individual vitamins, such as the B-complex for the nervous system or Vitamin A for eye health is too exhaustive a topic to be dealt with here. Suffice it to say that most of us do not get theses vitamins through our diets, and the lack of some of these can lead to pathologies such as B12 deficient anemia. I often recommend that clients ask their physicians for Vitamin D and B12 readings as part of their routine blood work-ups
Pillar#2. Fish Oil Oils from fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, sardines and anchovies are rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These “long chain omega-3” fatty acids, are also available from plant foods such as flaxseeds and walnuts, but are poorly converted to usable forms by the human body. Fish oils (and fish) consumption decreases risk for coronary heart disease. They are also highly anti-inflammatory and studies have shown specific benefits here for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Fish oils also reduce blood pressure and improve HDL (high density lipoprotein) and decrease production of VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). Anti-carcinogenic: studies suggest they can help prevent colon cancer. Because of their role in nerve signaling and serotonin levels, fish oils have shown to be helpful for depression. DHA is crucially important for neurotransmitter production in the brain. Deficits in DHA are observed in Alzheimer’s patients. Recent studies suggest that fish oil supplementation can be helpful in slowing cognitive decline. In light of these developments a few suppliers have changed their formulations toward a higher DHA/EPA ratio (in fish EPA/DHA is 1.5 to 1
As far as toxicity, when a variety of fish oils were recently evaluated, they were shown to lower levels of mercury and other contaminants. Krill oil from the Antarctic is virtually free of toxins, is highly sustainable, and is a rich source of astaxanthin, a powerful anti oxidant. Note: fish oil may inhibit platelet aggregation; therefore, people on anticoagulant medications should consult with their physicians before using.
Pillar#3. Co-enzyme Q-10 This is a supplement where the ambiguity of research studies and the experience of people using it clash head on. I have had clients on cholesterol medications suffering from muscle pain have their pain go away once they began using Co-Q10. This is after their physicians said it probably wouldn’t help. Essential for the conversion of carbohydrates and fats to adenosine triphosphate (the form of energy used by cells), there is good research indicating this supplement is helpful for a number of cardio vascular conditions including hypertension, vascular issues in diabetics as well as ischemic heart disease.
Co-Q10 is found in a wide range of food, and is present in practically every cell and organ in the body. To this point its converted form is known as ubiquinol. It is unlikely however that therapeutic amounts can be gotten from diet as the average amount consumed is estimated to be 3-6 mg per day. Also Co-Q10 levels in the human body decline with age, and it is hard to believe there is no correlation between compromised digestion in older adults and lower levels of Co-Q10. This leads to the next “pillar.”
The component bacterial life inside the tube that runs through our bodies is probably the most exciting of all “proactive wellness” research, also kind of freaky. Most commercially available products come from the Bifidobacteria, and Lactobaccilus species, but also important are the strains Bacillus coagulans, Streptococcus thermophilus and Saccharomyces boulardi (actually a fungus). Most advertised are the positive effects of probiotics for digestion, where they inactivate pathogenic bacterial, support the mucosal barrier and modulate the local and systemic immune systems. Recent research also shows that certain strains have affinities for specific organs and body systems. Examples of this are: Lactobacillus reuteri for the cardio vascular (lowers LDL and VLDL cholesterol), Bifidbacterium bifidum, and longum: the respiratory system, Bacillus coagulans, aids in cellular mercury elimination, and Lactobacillus gasseri has shown benefits for the genito-urinary and respiratory tracts.
There is also a substantial amount of crossover activity: for instance a very recent study has shown that a combination of the strains Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum, effective in relieving symptoms of seasonal allergies.
The point to be made here is that a healthy gut microbiome is not just the number of bacterial strains, it is also about the diversity of strains. The genes of the microbiome outnumber our own genes by about 100-1. They
modulate local and systemic immune responses, stabilize the gastrointestinal barrier and induce of enzymatic activity favoring absorption and nutrition. Microbes in the large intestine make vitamins we can’t make on our own, and extend their lives. Maybe makes sense to take our probiotic with our multi-vitamin.
Gut bacteria send signals directly to the brain mainly through the vagus nerve. This “enteric brain,” is a collection of over 500 million neurons. The intestine also makes some of the same molecules that transmit signals in the brain like GABA, serotonin, melatonin and acetylcholine. This talks to the indisputable link between gut health and its link to emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression. Preliminary studies suggest that deficiency of Lactobacillus may account for the over production of kynurenine, a molecule closely associated with depression. Look for a lot more research between the gut-brain axis to be published in the near future.
The 5th Pillar
Magnesium. An essential mineral, difficult to get enough of through diet, but so important to hundreds if essential processes in the body. Read more about this: http://www.kauaiislandhealth.com/kauai-island-health-article-archive/magnesium-supplementation
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“Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii for the prevention and therapy of gastrointestinal disorders.” Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 2012 March 5
University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center
“Probiotic found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms.” Science Daily. March 8, 2017