Vitamins and Supplements: Friends or Foes? by Svetlana Kogan, M.D

Back when I was a medical school student 28 years ago, people hardly talked about supplements. GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe were gaining momentum, but folks were still associating doctors with prescription medications, while vitamins were considered to be something fringe. Fast forward to today and most of us have many friends and relatives who take not one, but a bagful of supplements on the daily basis. Why the change?

Human beings tend to get cozy and comfortable with the things that are repeatedly shown to them on TV, online, in the newspapers, and on the billboards down the street. Add to that a picture of a doctor in white coat holding a bottle and smiling – and the image of the pills on the screen becomes associated with safety in our minds.

Truth be told, taking vitamins, supplements, and herbs indiscriminately is just as reckless and harmful as taking many prescription medications. Here is why: FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not regulate vitamins, supplements, and herbs, and people are taking them at their own risk. Most of the supplements are not even manufactured in the United States anymore, and whereas the prescription drugs made abroad are still subject to rigorous FDA checks – vitamin pills are not. As a result, we have seen an influx of “natural” pills and herbs on the market, which are either contaminated due to unsanitary production or contain lead, mercury, copper, arsenic, and other heavy metals.

Another reason to worry about randomly purchased “natural” medications is their side effects. Take Vitamin D for example. The media is raving about it and everyone is in on this fad by popping whatever cheap Vitamin D pill is in sight. But did you know that Vitamin D is a steroid hormone, and that as a fat soluble substance, it can easily become toxic when taken in excess? That is why, Vitamin D should only be taken upon medical advice, after all the appropriate testing has been done and a true deficiency has been diagnosed. And even so, it should be taken briefly, and supplemented by lifestyle and dietary modifications –which should become the mainstay treatment, replacing the pill whenever possible. Even a seemingly harmless thing like Vitamin C, can be harmful without a doctor’s recommendation. It’s not a panacea for everyone and can cause iron overload in patients with hemochromatosis or gastric ulcer in patient with gastritis or acid reflux.

It may also surprise you to find out that supplements and vitamins have over 20 different miscellaneous add-ons, like preservatives, fillers, colorants, and binding agents, to name a few. Some pills don’t have all of this junk at once, but each has at least one present. How else would you keep all of the ingredients bound together in a multivitamin pill if it was not for the gelatin? Guess what else this gelatin tends to bind? Your gut! Your body resents all this add-on junk – it simply needs to work harder than usual to have you poop this stuff out.

Like vitamins and supplements, herbal compounds taken indiscriminately, can render many important prescription drugs like HIV medications, antibiotics, and oral contraceptives – ineffective. Even the ever popular green tea, which is a main ingredient in thousands of supplements on the market is a potent agent causing cardiac arrhythmia in many people. As an experienced holistic medical doctor, I am writing this not for the shock value but to educate you to never look at the “natural” pills the same way you did before. Purity and quality of the alternative pills matter. Medical knowledge and expertise in advising you to take something and screen for interactions and side effects –matter too.

Americans spend over 30 billion dollars yearly on supplements and unfortunately, most parties involved in distribution and marketing of these pills – are either ignorant or corrupt. They range from your hairstylists to your multilevel marketing friend – almost everyone you know is suddenly a health coach and a wellness expert. And who is to suffer the consequences? Sadly – a consumer.

When you are choosing your medical doctor, ask them if they are experienced and comfortable with the use of herbs, vitamins, and supplements. If they are – great! Experienced holistic medical doctors have already done all the legwork for you. They have spent years observing pills at work, and choosing the most efficient and least harmful formulas from the most reliable manufacturers. This way you can make educated decisions about your health, guided by a highly trained and responsible physician, who will base his or her advice on your unique goals, medical history, examination, diagnostic reports, and lifestyle.

Dr.Kogan is a Concierge Holistic Internal Medicine doctor in Naples.
Her website is

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