I am a great advocate for nutritional supplements. When used properly and logically, nutritional supplements can be empowering, enlightening, even life-changing. I include a number of nutritional supplements, of course, in my Wheat Belly and Undoctored programs and their use in more complicated ways, such as in our SIBO and SIFO management efforts in the Undoctored program.
Much more so than pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements that address intrinsic need programmed into human genetic code can, when deficient, yield huge benefits. This category of supplements includes nutrients such as vitamin D, magnesium, and iodine that are part of the Wheat Belly and Undoctored programs.
Beyond this, nutritional supplements can also achieve effects beyond those serving intrinsic need, supplements such as turmeric and curcumin that alter bowel flora and thereby reduce inflammation, or pectin that can chelate toxic mineral accumulation and reduce body levels of lead and perhaps other heavy metals. Nutritional supplements therefore have potential to provide wonderful and beneficial effects.
But, when used inappropriately, they can also harm health, responsible for causing infections, introducing unhealthy changes in bowel flora, triggering autoimmune and metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
This typically happens when there is ignorance of the full range of effects of a specific agent. That’s when nutritional supplements taken in the hope of health can achieve the opposite and actually cause health problems. Here are some examples:
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)–NAC is growing in popularity, as it can serve as a precursor (source) of glutathione that declines in Alzheimer’s dementia and may thereby benefit brain health. For this reason, many programs that purport to support brain health and prevent dementia include NAC. Problem: NAC is also known to disrupt the mucous lining (“biofilm”) of the intestinal lining, an effect that, similar to that of synthetic emulsifying agents added to processed foods to maintain ingredient mixing such as polysorbate 80 or hydroxymethylcellulose, can alter bowel flora and increase intestinal permeability of the sort that heightens risk for autoimmune and other diseases, although the consequences of this effect may require years to become evident.
- Berberine—The botanical substance, berberine, has been demonstrated to have metabolic benefits such as reduced blood sugar and reduced blood pressure. People therefore often take it chronically, hoping for long-term benefits. Berberine is also an antibiotic with effects on reducing or eradicating pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Helicobacter pylori. For this reason, we include an antiobiotic preparation that includes berberine (Candibactin) in managing SIBO in the Undoctored program for a two week course to eradicate the Enterobacteriaceae of SIBO. But berberine also impacts non-pathogenic bowel flora species, as do conventional antibiotics. How can taking an antibiotic yield long-term benefit and not generate adverse effects such as undesirable distortions of bowel flora and generating resistant bacterial strains that cause antibiotic-resistant infections? Nobody has an answer, but I believe that taking berberine chronically is playing with fire.
There are others, but I hope you get the idea. Taking supplement X in the hope of some potential health benefit while ignoring the full range of effects can be hazardous to your health. A beneficial effect via one pathway does not necessarily mean that overall benefit can be obtained, similar to the world of prescription drugs. Stay tuned to these ongoing conversations to make sure that you are not misled into taking a supplement for purported benefit only to find out that, say, your newly diagnosed diverticular disease is something you caused.