A Guide to Better Health
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on 5/24/19. Thank you.
Interested in taking some of those oddly named supplements you keep hearing about in support groups and chat rooms, but not sure where to get started? Wanting to do something to get more energy, but worried that it might be damaging to your health? Over the counter medications and supplements can be scary, especially when you don’t know exactly what a substance does or how it might react to the medications you have to take or what side effects it might cause. As someone who’s been developing her own protocol to maximize her health for a few years now, I understand your reservations. It’s only common sense to be wary and want to protect our precious health. But it is possible to make big impacts on your health and wellness using natural medications that are often as easy as taking a pill and usually free of the ill side effects so popular to prescription medications. This article aims to show you how to safely choose the right supplements for you, how to research them for the information you need, what questions you should be answering for yourself about their safety and how to test them to ensure their effectiveness once you’ve decided to give them a try.
Selecting the Right Supplements
The first place to begin is to find recommended supplements for the condition you need help with. If you suffer from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, you might try googling the terms “Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome”, “connective tissue”, or whatever illness you have and “Supplements” or “nutrition” or “protocol” and will probably find quite a number of blog posts that suggest a variety of supplements. You can also ask around in support groups, or use EDS related hashtags on twitter to ask. Most of us who use supplements are happy to offer suggestions. I keep my own list of supplements and remedies. Here are a few other sites to get you started:
- http://ohtwist.com/eds-resources/ (look under recovery stories and solutions)
Once you’ve come up with a few suggestions, you can begin your research. I like to consult at least 2-3 articles to ensure I’m getting accurate information, and at least one of them needs to come from a reliable medical source, such as a university medical center, the Mayo Clinic or an accredited association of some kind. The information you want to gather and verify should include the following:
- What the substance does and any testing its undergone. Sometimes anecdotal evidence is all you can find. It’s up to you to judge how reliable the source is and whether or not you feel it’s worth it to spend the time and money testing it out.
- Proper dosage and how to take it
- Any contraindications of use (reasons why you shouldn’t take it)
- Possible side effects
- Possible drug interactions with your current medications
- Does it need to be taken with other substances to be fully utilized by the body? For example, we need Vitamin D to properly absorb calcium.
If you feel unsure of anything or don’t feel comfortable making the final determination about whether or not a supplement is right for you, take the information to your doctor and let her/him help you decide. Unfortunately, most are not well versed on holistic medicine, but usually if you provide them with enough information, they can offer an opinion.
Once you’ve determined that the substance is safe to take and you feel confident that it will do what you want it to, you want to balance cost with benefit. For those of us on disability, sometimes holistic medications which must be paid for out of pocket can be a real hardship. I always shop around. For better or worse, usually Amazon wins. As a general rule, supplements that are in powder form are more affordable than capsules, so I usually opt for a high quality powder over a capsule. Usually, I shoot for a quality brand without the luxury pricing. Some things are even herbs and dried herbs are almost always quite affordable and when made into teas last quite a while. Try to avoid the more common drugstore brands. They tend to be full of fillers that aren’t very healthy and tend to be less effective. Proper supplementation amounts are very important and could be the difference between being homebound and having the freedom to work. Be sure to read labels and reviews carefully to ensure you’re getting a quality product free of any allergens and tested for quality.
Testing Your Supplements for Safety and Efficacy
When beginning with supplements, it may be tempting to start off with several. DO NOT! It is paramount to your health and safety that you begin no more than one at a time and test it for no less than 2-4 weeks before adding a new one. This way, if you have an allergic reaction or unsavory side effect, you know the cause. You will also be able to gauge whether or not it’s having the intended effect. This is testing phase one.
Be sure to take the recommended dose. If it is recommended to start out on a small dose and work your way up, do so. If the suggested dose is a range, you can either start out low and slow and later adjust up to see if there are benefits to taking more, or at a higher dose if you’re comfortable with that and adjust down later to see if you still see the same benefits. A good guide for this is whether the kidneys excrete any excess, which you should be able to determine through research on most things today. Still, you never want to exceed the recommended maximum dosage, as you don’t want your kidneys working overtime.
Some supplements take up to a month to tell a real difference while others show in a matter of days. With antioxidants, the changes are usually apparent within a few days. However, you still want to wait the minimum of two weeks to ensure you don’t develop any side effects. Once you’re clear of the two week mark, you can add another supplement to your protocol without stopping the first. You would treat the second supplement exactly as you did the first.
If you have any signs of allergic reaction, you want to discontinue use immediately and treat your symptoms or seek medical care, if necessary. Contact the seller to see if you qualify for a refund. Despite having mast cell activation disorder, I’ve never had an allergic reaction to any of my supplements, but this may just be dumb luck.
Once you’ve been on the supplements for approximately 3 months, it’s a good idea to take a break of 1-3 weeks to see how you feel without it. Why? Because you want to make sure that the initial effects were not a placebo effect and that the substance is doing the valuable work you are paying for. With some substances, you’ll know within a few days. As soon as you feel those old symptoms returning, there’s no need to wait. You can return to using it knowing you are getting your money’s worth and it’s doing everything you thought it was. If after 3-4 weeks you still can’t tell any difference, it’s probably time to look for something else.
It’s a good idea to do a semi-regular retest of some supplements, especially antioxidants, as not all need to be taken forever. They do their job and once they’re finished you don’t need to take them anymore. I have discontinued a number of antioxidants I used to take at the 9, 12, or 18 month marks. I usually test antioxidants every 6 months. It depends on whether I’ve seen a plateau in my health, I’m looking to discontinue something to make room in my budget for something else, or want to switch to a different antioxidant and find it does enough of the same things that I don’t need both.
Now is the time to implement the knowledge gained here and begin designing your own protocol to help get yourself feeling better and moving more easily through life. It doesn’t take a medical degree or a vast wealth of knowledge to design your own protocol. It just takes a little bit of patience, reading and careful attention to detail.
Looking for a place to get started? Take a look at our list of supplements and remedies for some ideas!