PLAYING THE SUPPLEMENTS GAME: What I learned and a few tricks of the trade discovered while figuring out which supplements I needed to take.

While the NUTRITION AND EXERCISE page on my main site provides information on what I discovered many experts say about vitamins, minerals, and exercise, this page presents what I learned while applying that information toward improving my own nutrition and, hopefully, long term health. I'm posting it here primarily for my own use but also for any visitors that may find it interesting. Please note: I am neither a doctor nor nutritionist and am not in anyway connected with the medical profession. Nothing I say should be taken as advice. The following relates only to my own experiences while figuring out which supplements I wanted to take.

That said, let's get started:

Rule number 1 for Playing the Supplements Game: Get myself off to a good start.

A wise man once said that: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. He was wrong.

The first thing anyone needs to do when embarking on a journey, whether across a continent or towards better nutrition, is deciding where they want to go. The second, and equally important, is figuring out where they are. Without determining these first it's impossible to know in which direction the first step should be. Not observing this step could have ended up with my consuming mega doses of some exotic compound that could cause more harm than good.

In my case where I wanted to go was to make sure I was eating the correct foods and taking the proper supplements to provide the best possible nutrition based on sound scientific proof. For me sound scientific proof means that the desired nutrition values have been determined through peer-reviewed and approved medical studies, preferably double-blind experiments. Anything less and the recommendations are little more than guess work. Since these are going to be compounds I'll be ingesting every day for the rest of my life, relying on someone's guess that something will help and won't hurt me isn't prudent. The NUTRITION AND EXERCISE page details the results of what I found out about the 30 most important food values to track.

I begin on this path toward better nutrition I had to determine where I was. To do this I wrote down the amount of every food I ate for one week, being careful to accurately weight everything and eat normally, which for me includes 7 portions of fruit, 4 portions of vegetables, non-fat milk, walnuts, whole grain cereals and breads, beans, and some animal protein on an average day. Then I used the USDA 17 food nutrition table to determine the amount of nutrients this diet provided. The NUTRITION AND EXERCISE page provided reasonable target amounts for each of these and where there was a deficiency, I noted how much of each nutrient would be required to be supplemented.

What this told me is that I was off on the following:

B6: 2 milligrams low
B12: 20 micrograms low
C: 1,000 milligrams low
E: 400 milligrams low
Folate: 600 milligrams low
Biotin: 16 micrograms low
Pantothenic Acid: 3 milligrams low
Calcium: 500 milligrams high
Protein: 30 grams high

Reducing the amount of milk I drank by 1 and 1/2 cups a day lowered the protein and calcium amounts to close to ideal. The rest would have to be addressed by way of supplements.

Rule number 2: Make Sure I Take the Best Form of Each Supplement Vitamin E is the classic case. The natural form "d" is said to be preferable to the artificial form "dl." Also, it's better to take a mixture of all four types ( alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) of vitamin E because several studies I read have shown to my satisfaction that they work much better together then one type alone. Vitamin A is another case, though this time it's more a question of understanding the units (I.U. of beta carotine or milligrams of Retinol Equivalents.

Sometimes the preferred form simply isn't available. For example, folate is better than it's artificial form folic acid. But, after searching through half a dozen vitamin stores I couldn't locate a single source of folate; all they had was folic acid.

Rule number 3: Don't Assume the Clerks in Vitamin Stores are Smart or Know More Than the Customers I'm far from being any type of expert but I got many lost looks when asking for a particular form of vitamin. Additionally, one national chain I visited had three large banners in the store I visited announcing a sale on "suppliments." If they don't know how to spell what they're selling I wonder what else they don't know?

Rule number 4: Read the Labels, Especially the Small Print I went into a well-respected health food store and saw a large bottle of berry juice for sale in the anti-oxidant section. This made sense because berries have some of the highest amounts of anti-oxidants of any food. Picking it up, I began reading. At first it sounded great: contained blueberries, blackberries, grapes (well... they sort of look like berries), strawberries and so on. The I put on my high-power reading glasses and read the list of ingredients required by law to be accurate: water, high fructose corn syrup, artificial color, glycerine, and natural flavors. All this stuff really was was sugar water with just enough berry juice to block lawsuits.

This taught me two more things beyond the importance of reading labels. First, some supplement companies don't care about your health, all they want is your money and they'll misrepresent their products to the extreme to get it. Second, even respected health food stores are willing to sell junk for the same reason. In the supplements market it's definitely a buyer-be-ware situation.

Rule number 5: It Pays to Shop Supplements vary greatly from brand to brand and retailer to retailer. Researching to learn what I wanted and reading the labels to find it enabled me to make fair comparisons. In several cases lesser brands provided the exact same product at half the cost. Price differences between retailers is even greater. I found a Vitamin Liquidator store that undersold a near-by Vitamin World by a factor of three. The only catch to shopping cut-rate retailers is that I had to make sure to check the expiration dates on all of the bottles.

Rule number 6: Be Creative with Quantities and Earn 75 Dollars an Hour The smallest Biotin pill I could find was 300 micrograms, ten times the amount I needed per day. (While there's no upper limit established for biotin, I still feel uneasy taking megadoses of anything.) At first I was discouraged, then realized that with a cutting board and a single-sided razor blade I could cut the pills into quarters, reduce the cost per dose to 1/4, and avoid overdosing on it. It turned out that half of the supplements I needed were available only in pills that contained much more than I wanted. Pill cutting is quick and easy and increased the number of doses so much I calculated I was earning 75 dollars an hour... tax free.

Rule number 7: Get Organized All totaled I ended up taking ten supplements a day, many of them in two installments to maximize absorption. That's a lot of bottle openings and closings. I tried a pill organized but it only held a week's worth and was hard of open. Small plastic zip-lock baggies sounded like a good idea, but ended up being hard to fill and empty. The best system I found was to go to a restaurant supply store like Smart and Final and purchase a bag of 3/4-ounce plastic cups and lids. These fill and empty easily and don't pop open if dropped. They are also very cheap.

I divided a shoe box in half and placed a month's worth of morning pill packets in the front and a month's afternoon packets in the rear. Quick, easy, simple and cheap... what more could I ask for?

Rule number 8: Ask Questions When Reading Test Reports One study I read stated that people drinking white tea, which is high in flavonoids, had much lower rates of several types of cancer. Sounds great. But how much tea did tea drink? How strong was it? Was it steeped in hot water or boiling water? All these factors effect the nutrient content in the tea. I always try to read between the lines when reviewing a report to find the weak points, then try to fill these in by further research.

Oh yes... the men drank an average of ten cups of white tea a day made by steeping it in hot but not boiling water. Unfortunately I haven't yet been able to determine how strong it was made.

Rule number 9: I Don't Expect to Feel Better Unless I was suffering from a serious deficiency it's doubtful I'll every feel any positive reaction from taking supplements. Their effect is too subtle. Actually, even if they do everything they're supposed to all that'll happen is that I'll be a little healthier than I would have been without them. Since it's human nature to notice what's wrong rather than what's working it's unlikely I'll ever be able to point and say, "hey, that supplement cured that problem.

But, I'm saying this as I begin my supplement regime. I plan on reporting how it's going every month and who knows, perhaps in time I will be able to see a difference.

Additional Comments: In addition to the supplements listed above, I decided to take Saw Palmetto (I'm a 55-year old male and have read enough studies to suggest it might be of value to me) and Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplements (three doctors I've spoken to recommend it for someone who exercises as much me and some studies suggest it may help prevent knee problems.) I've also started drinking white tea because of it's flavonoid density is three times that of any other tea.


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