Stay Healthy with Vitamins and Supplements?
Created on 11/18/2011
I received a sweet e-mail from a 55-year old customer asking about using vitamins and supplements to help optimize health and prevent illness. The customer has high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and a family history significant for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
I really appreciate this question because it speaks to what so many of my patients are facing - some existing health issues in combination with a strong family history of other health challenges.
So let's put things in their right perspective up front -
Just because someone has a strong family history of heart disease, for example, doesn't mean they will develop heart disease. Yes, genetics plays a role in future health, but diet and lifestyle choices far outweigh the influence of family history on an individual's future health.
That bears repeating - your diet and lifestyle choices account for 70-75% of future health compared with 20-25% relating to your genes.
What does that mean in real terms and everyday living? First, it means the best time to start making healthy changes is right now.
If we take the customer's situation as an example, what can be done about high blood pressure and high cholesterol from a diet and lifestyle perspective?
First, you want to have a good relationship with a good doctor. You may need medication to help control your blood pressure and to help lower cholesterol levels, and to help determine why you have these problems in the first place.
After securing a good health evaluation and moving on the path of a good treatment plan you can integrate in healthy food choices (think about a Mediterranean or anti-inflammatory diet that emphasizes plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats) and lifestyle practices such as regular exercise (a daily brisk walk might be appropriate), getting adequate sleep each night (a minimum of 7 hours), and managing stress (breathing exercises could be a good start).
Eat well, exercise, get a good night's sleep, and be calm - everyone knows that, right? But not everyone makes the commitment to follow these guidelines.
Easy? No. Important? Very, especially if you are challenged with a health problem and have a family history of other health issues. Remember, those genes you inherited that may predispose towards diabetes, as an example, can be turned OFF through healthy diet and lifestyle choices. What does that mean exactly?
That you may be able to significantly delay, if not completely avoid, getting diabetes.
There's plenty of research to back that up.
Now, the customer asked specifically about vitamins and supplements. First, keep in mind that they do not take the place of a healthy diet - the single best way to get your nutrients is by eating a delicious and varied range of foods that are largely good for you (occasional splurges allowed and encouraged, provided they are occasional!).
Next thing to keep in mind is that you have to ask your doctor about the need and safety of any vitamins and supplements given your unique circumstances.
Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe for you.
In very general terms, I think most people should be supplementing their diets with vitamin D and fish oils. Both may help decrease inflammation, enhance heart health and protect against diabetes and cancer. People who take statin drugs are often advised to take vitamin D, as doing so may help prevent muscle aches sometimes seen with statins (Coenzyme Q10 might be considered as well).
Beyond vitamin D and fish oils, a multivitamin containing a good mix of B vitamins and a smattering of antioxidants such as vitamin C and carotenes, perhaps a little zinc and copper, can be considered a good idea as a hedge against a nutritional gap in your diet.
There are supplements that are sometimes used to help lower blood pressure (Coq10 or the herbal remedy hawthorn are examples) and lower cholesterol (such as red yeast rice). There are even agents used to help keep blood sugar down (such as chromium) or that show some promise as having anti-cancer activity (turmeric comes to mind), but again it all depends on your individual circumstances. None of these agents should be used without having first discussed them with your doctor - these agents can interact with prescription medications in potentially dangerous ways. In addition, using only these agents to treat yourself may not be adequate to keep you healthy - you need to speak with your doctor, you really do.
Do you have to take a bunch of pills to be healthy?
Might some be of help? Yes, but your doctor or pharmacist are best suited to help you make those decisions. Start by asking them about vitamin D and fish oils to see if they'd be a good fit for you.
I hope this is of help to readers and to the nice customer who sent in their question. Having high blood pressure and high cholesterol now, and a family history of other health problems, doesn't have to mean the future of your personal health looks bleak.
Are there ways to lower blood pressure a little that don't require pills? Yes.
Are there ways to lower cholesterol levels a little without taking pills? Yes.
By taking charge of your diet and lifestyle habits you better control your future health and just might outduel family history. You might even be told by your doctor that you can now come off some of the medications you presently require.
You have some control - it's not all in your genes.
** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **
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