I thought I’d share with you some personal experiences that led me to nutritional supplementation. Why use dietary supplements? What have they done for me? And what do I think YOU should think about when considering dietary supplements?
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a physician, not a nutritionist, just a guy trying to stay healthy. This article is based on my personal experience and opinion, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. I always recommend that you discuss and monitor any dietary or exercise changes with a medical professional.
Food as Medicine: An Early Experience
It’s July 4, 1977, and I’m 16. My friends and I decide to celebrate Independence Day by attending the annual Smoke In at the White House. Thousands of folks smoking pot at the gates of the White House, sounds cool.
We’re sitting there, all groovy and everything, and some old dude walks by. He seems out of place to me, being like 60 or something (ha, ha). He’s not with people, not partying, so my teenage self figures I’ll rib him a little. “Hey, dude, want a hit off this joint?” I might have said, “old dude”.
He walks over with a smile, takes out a huge doob of his own, lights it up, and starts chatting. Turns out he’s not just trying to get through the crowd, he’s here with us. As we speak, I recognize a sparkle in his eyes. He’s not a tired, old man at all. His muscles are well toned. He doesn’t carry any extra weight, but he’s not scrawny. And he’s truly animated when he speaks.
I remark, “You’re in great shape, man. I guess that’s like a recommendation for pot!”
“No”, he says, “I do like my weed, but it’s the apple cider vinegar. Every day, in my morning tea. It’s amazing. I swear by it!”
We talk a while about the benefits of apple cider vinegar, and I’m sold. The joint’s dust, as are my friends and I, but old dude is on the move again. The impression lasts.
Living Healthy: An Experience (if not a habit) that Stuck
So now I’m using apple cider vinegar, daily, in tea with breakfast. The habit travels with me from high school, to college. I’m fortunate to attend an Ag school for my freshman year, and the cafeteria has the best salad bar in the world, a lot of the food grown on the campus’ farm. My dietary habits shift toward the green.
I develop an exercise habit, too, swimming for an hour before lunch almost every day. It’s southern California, after all.
I feel better in my body than ever (or since). Yeah, 18 years old, it would hardly matter what I did, but having that healthy experience was among my most important memories when I achieved “middle age”.
The In-Between Time: Not So Healthy
Time passes and my habits change. Now I’m through college, working 9-5+, and for some stupid reason I forget how good it feels to live healthy. The next 30 years are a downward spiral – except for my weight, which is nothing but up. I’m still taking a daily multivitamin, probably wasted on top of the crap I’m eating, and no exercise to speak of.
A wake-up call comes when the doctor tells me I’m due for a heart attack, if I don’t start taking statins to control my cholesterol and triglycerides. So I start on the statins, and nothing else changes. Except that I keep getting fatter, and sicker.
A Decision: I Can’t Stand This Anymore!
Fatter and sicker, and the aches and pains keep coming. A side-sticker every time I eat. Hands stiff and painful, every morning. Back aches every day. I’m 50 years old, and I can’t stand being in my body.
I make a decision to make a change. I put myself on a strict diet. I start to exercise regularly. And I remember my apple cider vinegar experience – food as medicine – and start looking for dietary supplements to help with the pain in my hands.
A Discovery: This Stuff Really Works!
I learn that a combination of curcumin (turmeric) and boswellia can help with joint pain. So I go to the supplement store and buy some of each, along with their store-brand joint health supplement, and some fish oil, for good measure.
Pain. It’s one of those things you don’t really notice when it’s gone. Looking back, I guess my morning hand stiffness must have faded, but at the time I fail to notice the improvement. Eventually, I run out of my supplements, and don’t bother to buy more.
Within two weeks, my hands are aching in the morning again, and I don’t fail to notice! I think about the last month or so, and realize that I felt better, but now I don’t anymore. You know my next stop: the supplement store. There’s nothing like results to make a believer.
And you better bet I’ll never stop taking my anti-inflammatory and joint health supplements again (especially as a massage therapist)!
So now my mind is open. What else could I do to improve my health every day? Scratch that. At that time I’m sure I thought, what else could I do to reduce my pain every day!
Food vs. Dietary Supplements: Why the Distinction?
People who are “against” taking vitamins and nutritional supplements argue that the best source of nutrients is the food you eat. They’re right. So what?
Of course you have to eat healthy foods to be healthy. And you’re going to get lots of vitamins and other nutrients in your healthy food. But sorry folks, I’m not going to spice my food with enough turmeric to help my joints stop aching. And I’m sure I don’t know what boswellia even tastes like, much less how to find it (or its important compounds) in foods I eat every day.
And some days I still don’t eat like I should. I don’t think I should suffer for that, as long as I’m usually good, and natural solution is as close as the supplement store.
Not only that, but I also believe that I can do BETTER than the “recommended daily allowance”, by boosting my intake of specific vitamins, minerals, and other compounds, like antioxidants. I don’t want to be just healthy, I want to get stronger where I can, feel better where I can. And I really believe it is possible, by targeting specific goals with specific supplements.
So my approach is to address specific issues with dietary supplements derived from food sources. I’m talking about herbs and herbal concentrates, mostly. But I’m not a vegetarian, so for me there’s also fish oil, green-lipped mussels, and other animal-derived dietary supplements. I’m also open to synthetic supplements, if you can show me the science, and explain why it’s better than a natural source. These are IN ADDITION to (i.e. they supplement) a healthy diet, which is a necessary foundation.
Fast Forward: My Today and Your Healthier Tomorrow
A few years ago, my doctor takes me off the statins, because my lifestyle is taking care of that for me. Let’s just say, he’s impressed.
Short story, today I’m 57 and feeling about as good as my college days with a combination of diet, exercise, and supplements. Yeah, maybe not that good, but close. I’m pretty sure changing careers helped, too, but that’s also a topic for another day.
So what dietary supplements would I recommend for you? I wouldn’t. At least not in an article like this.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. Check-in with yourself throughout the day. How are you feeling? What nagging pain do you deal with, every day? What foods upset your stomach? Do you want more energy? Less anxiety? Bigger muscles? Smaller waistline? And what does your doctor say?
Everybody’s needs, goals, and priorities are different, so I’m not about to suggest some one-size-fits-all regimen. But I do suggest that you consider using whole foods and herbal or naturally derived supplements to fill those needs and meet those goals.
And by the way, this old dude still uses apple cider vinegar.