Four supplements a naturopath would never take

Natasha Turner cautions against using these common supplements for fear they may do more harm than good.

A woman pours supplements or vitamins into her hands

Ensure your daily routine is getting you all the proper nutrients you need. (Photo, iStock.)

When it comes to nutrition, beauty and other health products, it’s easy to be misguided on the quality being promised. “Banish wrinkles”, “fat free” and “all-natural” are phrases we see all too often.

Unfortunately, the supplement industry is no stranger to money-making tactics. A 2010 report from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, found that sports nutrition products (excluding drinks, but including supplements) were worth approximately US$4.7 billion a year. As more companies see the potential for profit, the more we need to be aware of what we’re consuming. Despite the enticing health claims, there are some products that can have less-than desired effects.

Here’s a list of supplements I personally avoid. Click here for a list of ones I recommend:

1. Synthetic vitamin E
As a natural antioxidant, vitamin E offers a wealth of health benefits. This widely available vitamin can help fight heart disease and the effects of aging.

When consuming vitamin E, it’s important to note a subtle difference in the words describing it on a label. Dl-alpha-tocopherol makes a world of difference because what you want is d-alpha-tocopherol. Dl-alpha tocopherol represents synthetic vitamin E.

In 2008, Dr. Philip Maffetone warned against the use of vitamin E supplements (especially in synthetic form) because they do not contain all eight compounds that make up vitamin E. “In nature, alpha tocopherol exists with seven other vitamin E compounds: three other tocopherols and four tocotrienols,” he says. He also warns that supplements (whether natural or synthetic) contain, “very high, unnatural doses” — up to 10 times the amount the body would usually consume through food in one day. Recent studies have shown that too much vitamin E in men can actually lead to increased risk of prostate cancer, so it’s best to aim for no more than 400-800 IU daily.

Bottom line: Though a recent study, from the University of Eastern Finland, found that elderly people with higher levels of serum vitamin E (specifically a-tocopherol) experienced fewer memory disorders, we recommend you get it from foods like sunflower seeds, almonds and wheat germ oil instead of supplements.

2. Colloidal silver
Though silver is one of our favourite metals, when it comes to consuming it, we’re less enthusiastic. Colloidal silver is often recommended as a natural antibiotic and can even be found in clothing (for its antibacterial properties).

Most commonly found in tinctures or sprays, the companies marketing colloidal silver claim that it can be used in place of antibiotics and can help the body fight bacteria. In Ayurveda followers often make colloidal silver water, but it’s not something I recommend.

According to Harvard, colloidal silver has no proven benefits when ingested and can even pose significant harm on our brain, kidneys and stomachs. There’s also a risk of taking in too much silver, which can result in a condition called argyria. The most noticeable sign of the condition is blue or grey skin caused by silver particles depositing in your skin, eyes, and internal organs.  The worst part? The effects are irreversible.

3. Kava
Ahhhh, relaxation. A little R&R can go a long way, and one can argue that it’s what the body craves most. So when it comes to kava (also sold as kava kava), a supplement reported to relax the body, boost mood, treat high levels of anxiety and insomnia, it’s no wonder people are interested. And while it’s effects are reported to feel similar to those of alcohol, it’s dangers are also quite similar.

A report on the root, from the University of Maryland, states that, “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer advisory in March of 2002 regarding the ‘rare’ but potential risk of liver failure associated with kava containing products.”

Kava has been banned from being sold in Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

Bottom line: Instead of products that contain kava, opt for l-theanine or rhodiola, which have been shown to reduce psychological symptoms like worrying, sleep disruption, anxiety and depression.

4. Hydrolysed protein
A question I’m often asked is, “What’s the best protein bar to eat?” And with hundreds available, it’s no wonder we get confused.

To make things even more confusing, the ingredient list on these products can be longer than with known junk foods. What’s even worse still is some of the ingredients in these products aren’t as healthy as you may think.

The latest ingredient I’m adding to my list of avoidable ingredients (think sucralose, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oil and cottonseed oil) is hydrolysed protein.

While the FDA requires labels state what type of protein is being hydrolysed (whether it’s vegetable, soy, or whey for example) in the product, what they don’t say is that its presence means the presence of monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Health Canada states that, “Claims pertaining to the absence or non-addition of monosodium glutamate [on food labels] such as ‘contains no MSG’, ‘no MSG added’ and ‘no added MSG’ are considered misleading and deceptive when other added sources of free glutamate are present (e.g., hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), hydrolyzed soy protein (HSP), soya sauce or autolysed yeast extracts.”

According to the FDA, the presence of HVP on a label typically means the product contains 10-30 percent MSG. A 2005 paper by Alfred L. Scopp Ph.D., found that the elimination of MSG from a diet, “resulted in decreased headache frequency” in those patients involved. And though MSG has been highly researched, it’s a known allergen for many consumers. Health Canada notes that symptoms, “…may include a burning sensation, facial pressure, headache, nausea and chest pains appearing about 20 minutes after consumption and disappearing about two hours later.”

Bottom line: It’s best to stick to protein bars and powders that are made from whey protein isolate. Dream Protein is the top selling protein at my clinic and it reports right on the label it is glutamate-free!

Natasha Turner, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Marilyn Denis Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here

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