To Supplement or Not

Nov 27, 2020 at 01:32 pm by pj


The issue of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has come to the forefront in the last few decades, and with much reason. In a previous article on 'The Burgeoning Supplement Pie', we discussed how the health and wellness boom is impacting the ways patients look at treatments. In a survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition in 2013, over 68% of U.S. adults reported that they took supplements, with 50% of that being regular users.  

CAM can be a tricky subject for many professionals. Because the industry is under-regulated, it's not uncommon for patients to swear by supplements and methodologies that have not been proven to work. However, this doesn't mean that all medical professionals are against supplements. 

A study by Italian medical researchers found that physician attitudes towards CAM have been changing slowly, particularly as a complement to conventional cancer treatments. 55% of the study’s participants suggested CAM to their patients, while 44% discussed CAM with their patients. Given this, it's clear that CAM is growing in popularity not only with patients, but doctors as well. But how do you approach the supplement question in your own practice?  


Open the Diet Question  

While a lack of regulation is good enough reason for many physicians' reservations over CAM, there are certain situations where supplements in particular may be beneficial. Our article 'How to Talk to Patients About Nutrition and Diet' highlights the importance of proper communication with patients.  

Effective communication is not only essential in motivating patients to switch to whole-food, plant-based diets, but also in addressing the issue of supplements and CAM. First, it's important that patients understand that a nutritious diet is fundamental to their health. If they're able to clearly internalize and practice this, it may not be necessary to bring up supplements at all.  


Emphasize a Blended Approach  

In cases where patients may need to take supplements, proper communication is even more imperative. Physicians need to underline that supplements should function as supplements— they are not meant to replace conventional methods, but instead fill in gaps or complement them.  


It's also not always helpful for physicians to implement a blanket ban on supplements. Dr. Monique Tello, writing for the Harvard Health Blog, emphasizes that doctors should instead take a targeted approach to supplements. Supplements and CAM can be helpful for patients at high risk for nutritional deficiencies, or with medical conditions that need a more holistic approach. Understanding this and communicating it properly can do much to dispel misinformation on the patient's side.  


Recommend Trusted Products  

If you and your patient do decide to make use of targeted supplementation, the next thing to do is to establish which supplements to take. Clinical guidelines linked to in Dr. Tello's article found that human bodies prefer naturally occurring sources of nutrients. With the lack of regulation, it's up to physicians to explain how and where patients can find these.  

In this case, a little bit of research is in order. One thing that patients can look out for is whether the manufacturing facilities of these companies are FDA inspected and GMP certified, as is as with supplement company Brightcore. Another thing to look at is professional opinions from other physicians. For example, doctors recommend pharmaceutical-grade brands like Klaire Labs, which have no harmful fillers or dyes.  

The supplement question is not an easy one to solve, and there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Arming your patients with the right information and tools, however, is the best way to stop the spread of misinformation, and ensure safe and healthy supplementation for all.