Comparing Apples to Apples in Healthcare

My New Year's Revolution: The Supplement War

EDITORIAL NOTE: This sabbatical/hiatus was planned to last two weeks which means I should be back today, but it will go on a a little longer. I will return on Thursday this week.

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today it is Elaine Frankonis, who blogs at Kalilily Time and is one of the earliest elders to take up blogging. She is currently on hiatus while she settles herself into her new home and deals with other of her life's escalating complexities.

No, that's not a misspelling. “Resolution” is just not a strong enough effort. I need a Revolution – a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving.

Actually, I need to make several revolutions, but I'm starting with one I might be able to win.


That is just a part of the stash of supplements that I've accumulated in my search for the magic pill that will revitalize my joints, curb my night-time munchies, keep dementia at bay and minimize the rest of the troubling effects of aging. Do any of them work? Well, it's hard for me to say because now I have so many of them that I rarely take any of them.

So, I've decided to make some surgical strikes at my supplement collection, eliminate the least likely to succeed and come up with a reasonable number of pills to take every day. I have already thrown out all diet remedies (many of which were still unopened).

Supplements cannot replace the nutrients in whole foods, but those of us over 65 – especially if we live alone – too often don't bother to cook well-balanced meals just for ourselves. Following my doctor's advice, I already take a multivitamin as well as extra calcium. I'm also a believer in the benefits of certain herbs, so when I go to the appointment with my new doctor (I just moved to another state), I will bring a list of all the supplements I want to take.

If you decide to take supplements, there are some guidelines you should follow:

  • Check the supplement label. Read labels carefully. Product labels can tell you what the active ingredient or ingredients are, which nutrients are included, the serving size - for example, capsule, packet or teaspoonful - and the amount of nutrients in each serving.

  • Avoid supplements that provide “megadoses.” In general, choose a multivitamin-mineral supplement that provides about 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of all the vitamins and minerals, rather than one which has, for example, 500 percent of the DV for one vitamin and only 20 percent of the DV for another. The exception to this is calcium. You may notice that calcium-containing supplements don't provide 100 percent of the DV. If they did, the tablets would be too large to swallow. More importantly, divide your calcium intake throughout the day.

  • Look for “USP” on the label. This ensures that the supplement meets the standards for strength, purity, disintegration and dissolution established by the testing organization U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).

  • Look for expiration dates. Dietary supplements can lose potency over time, especially in hot and humid climates. If a supplement doesn't have an expiration date, don't buy it. If your supplements have expired, discard them.

  • Store all vitamin and mineral supplements safely. Store dietary supplements in a dry, cool place. Avoid hot, humid storage locations, such as in the bathroom.

  • Store supplements out of sight and away from children. Put supplements in a locked cabinet or other secure location. Don't leave them on the counter or rely on child-resistant packaging.

I've been taking All-One for Active Seniors for years. It's a powdered multi-vitamin that I make into a shake each morning with V-8 Fusion juice (one fruity serving of vegetables).

All-One is the only powdered vitamin that I have been able to find that contains decent doses of a variety of nutrients – especially vitamins C, D and E, calcium, the B vitamins and folic acid.. The concoction doesn't win the aging war, but it does keep the forces in formation. And having my daily vitamins in a shake means that's one or more fewer pills I have to take.

Since I have problems with joint and muscle inflammation, I'll keep the Zyflamend AM and PM. A current Columbia study is examining the positive effects of this supplement on prostate cancer. While that's certainly no personal concern of mine, the herbal ingredients of Zyflamend might help with what does keep me awake at night. The bottle calls for two pills in the morning and two at bedtime. I'm going to start with one each time.

Okay. That's one vitamin shake and two pills (one in the AM and one in the PM) a day – a small battle that should be winnable.

But I think that I also should take something that might bring some reinforcements to my vulnerable (and venerable) brain. Phosphatidylserine supposedly helps to strengthen the brain's ability to remember. According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Phosphatidylserine is a dietary supplement that has received a great deal of interest as a potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease and other memory problems. Most studies involving phosphatidylserine indicate a benefit — improved cognitive abilities and behaviors. However, it seems to be most effective in people with the least severe symptoms.”

You can get phosphatidylserine from various manufacturers. My bottle says “one softgel three times a day.” So, now I'm up to five pills a day, and that doesn't count the three prescription meds I take daily. I'm almost at my limit.

I discovered Acai long before Oprah, but like most of my other supplements, it had not seen any action in my daily regimen. Given the publicity it's gotten, it might be worth incorporating into my supplement strategy. My bottle says one pill daily.

Six supplement pills are almost more than I can grapple with each day, but if I can do that, the revolution will have been successful.

Of course, I'm faced with the problem that I have several other supplements in pill form from which I could benefit. It will be hard enough to remember to take the six pills on my list, but I'll keep them around just in case I get to a point at which I need to expand the battle front. They are all helpful in certain health-related situations:

Because they are not pills, there are two additional remedies I keep around in case I need them. Oregano oil is an anti-viral, and sublingual melatonin helps me fall asleep.

Six supplements, not counting three prescription drugs and a vitamin shake to ingest daily. It's going to be a challenge to remember to take them all, but at least now I can trash my stockpile of other supplements that never saw any action in my body in the first place.

It's going to be a continuing battle to keep from succumbing to advertisements for supplements that will protect my brain or revitalize my body. Developing spending self-control is, obviously, another personal revolution I need to fire up. And, given the projected state of my 2009 economy, that's going to be more necessary than ever.

I wish us all a healthily revolutionary new year.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, Svenka Brolopp (Swedish Wedding) from Alexandra Grabbe. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]


I also take a variety of vitamins and supplements. Don't ask me what they are because my husband buys them and doles them our daily. I know we take calcium, multi vitamin, vitamin E, C. and some others. Some days I simply don't take them because I cannot stand the thought of all those pills inaddition to the prescription drugs I must take for various conditions.

As far as supplements go, I wish the companies would just combine them in one pill. It would be so much easier.

Good luck with the revolution.

It is good that you are going to let your new doctor review your dietary supplements. Too many people don't, thinking that a "natural" supplement can't harm them.

Be particularly careful with herbs and non-vitamin supplements. They very often conflict with your prescription medications, either reducing or amplifying their effects.

My mother's death was hastened (caused?) by her taking St. John's Wort in addition to a prescription blood thinner. St. John's Wort has a blood-thinning property of its own, and she died of a massive brain hemorrhage. Her blood was too thin.

The best thing to do is to consult with your doctor before taking any dietary supplement. In the meantime, you can check supplements on the MedlinePlus web site for interactions with prescription drugs.

And remember always that "natural" does not necessarily mean safe!

Good for you!!!! I think you've inspired me to get back on my vitamin regimen after some revisions and all the idiot test results of the past couple days are in. I think the itsy bitsy vampire in the lab has enough A- to keep it fed for a while. Then again, maybe not.

One often hears, as an argument against taking supplements, that we should be getting all our vitamins and minerals from food. And in an ideal world, we would be. But that fails to take account of the fact that decades of industrialized agriculture have left our soils severely depleted. Therefore, unless you are eating a healthy diet of 100% organically-grown food, you are almost certainly missing certain vital nutrients. So for most of us, supplements are necessary.
I am very skeptical about involving doctors in making decisions about this, though. Personally, I wouldn't dream of discussing vitamins with our local doctor unless I was taking prescription drugs and needed to know about interactions. Even then, I'd be more likely to look it up online. Western-trained medical doctors who practise holistic medicine and really understand human nutrition are very, very thin on the ground.

Great article, Elaine, and good luck to you.
I support Marian's cautions, though, and would add this one: not all makers of supplemental products take the same care with purity, potency, quality of inactive ingredients, etc. Check them out as well. We use the (better than) organic Shaklee products, but others may be as good. I suggest avoiding 'bargains' or superstore brands.

Elaine - oye vay!!! Nice article...
My husband takes 1 multi senior vitamin a day with his gazillion other pills and that seems to do him fine...I alternate between C,D,E taking 1 @ day and moving the bottle for the next has become a game of vitamin moving...I am clueless of why I am taking these and I worry about our livers having to process them with the other 5 pills, I take and his many. This aging thing...

I can appreciate this post. Currently I take 11 supplements daily, including a protein shake. Some days I just can't ingest them all. I do recommend a powdered drink called Reliv Now. A little costly but packed full of vitamins, minerals and herbs. I am not sure why I stopped taking the Reliv Now. Maybe it was the cost. But when I am staring at 11 bottles of vitamins I can hardly swallow, maybe the cost is worth it.

Cathy Warren

Well, I wouldn't dream of discussing vitamins with our local doctor unless I was taking prescription drugs and needed to know about interactions. Even then, I'd be more likely to look it up online.

| Comparing Apples to Apples in Healthcare; 01.26.2009 | My New Year's Revolution: The Supplement War.

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