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In 2003, I embarked on a Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. The program included a course called Integrative Medicine Botanical.
Prior to this time, I had a general knowledge of botanical medicine, vitamins and supplements, but I will confess, I was quite ignorant of the true science supporting this exciting field and how to optimally apply this science in my medical practice. The Fellowship program provided me with the knowledge of botanical medicine greatly enhancing my ability to effectively help people get well and stay well.
My primary teachers were Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Tieraona Low-Dog (brief bios at end of blog). Both doctors are giants in the world of integrative medicine with a wealth of knowledge and experience in botanical medicines. I have had the good fortune of continuing to learn from both doctors, as this growing field continues to develop. I want to share with you here, the relevance of botanical medicine to your health.
Rampant Random Consumption!
Have you ever found yourself chatting with a friend who is super-excited about a new supplement they are using? It promises X, Y and Z and you could even lose 10 pounds in the next month! Or maybe you find yourself not feeling well, walking down the supplements aisle in the supermarket, looking for something to catch your eye and provide you with a miraculous solution to all your ailments? You may find a few things that sound good, but you’re unsure which is the best choice. Or perhaps you ask the health food store assistant for advice, and they tell you what is selling the best in the store right now. You finally head to the checkout, hoping what you have settled on will at least make you feel a little less tired, depressed or anxious, and possibly allow you to get some sleep.
I frequently hear of such scenarios. Many people come to me having tried expensive medications or supplements to no avail. Perhaps they've tried something “natural” that offered the promise of better health. Frustration and disappointment ensues when the time and money spent on these "natural" offerings leads to no results.
You're not alone. There is much confusion in the world of botanical medicine, supplements and vitamins. I find most people are getting information of what to take, from a poor quality source. People are randomly taking supplements because they have heard or read various amazing claims about them. They don’t question the ingredients or quality of what they are putting into their bodies.
The reality is that most supplements on the market today are of very poor quality—often synthetic, genetically modified, and loaded with chemicals, fillers and preservatives—that if taken for a long period time can be harmful to your health.
Many people recognize the value of botanical supplements and, given the option, would prefer them over medication. The problem is that most are unaware of the options. Let's look at an example of a mild sinus infection. With a mild sinus infection, bacterial levels have risen to a level where the immune system cannot handle the bacterial load, evident when symptoms such as runny nose, headache, or sore throat begin to happen. We can approach this infection from two different care persepectives. Medication can bring down the load of bacteria so the immune system can take over; or a protocol of supplements can help with improving the immune system and allow the bacteria to be naturally reduced.
The problem with the medical antibiotic option is that it can potentially wipe out not just the bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria in the gut, which can have long lasting effects on the immune system. The botanical option, on the other hand, attacks only the infected bacteria, leaving the good bacteria to continue supporting your body's immune system, and aiding the natural process of healing.
Most health providers are not trained in botanical medicine, and simply don’t know what to recommend as an option. As a result, they prescribe antibiotics and patients go home with medication.
I remember years ago when Dr. Oz discussed on his show a new wonder supplement called Resveratrol. Many women started taking this supplement, while also taking a breast cancer drug called Tamoxifen, a drug that is commonly given when the initial treatment of breast cancer has been completed. Many women take Tamoxifen for 5 years. It was later discovered that the Tamoxifen was being blocked by the wonder supplement Resveratrol, rendering post breast cancer treatment ineffective!
Today, Resveratrol is found in a whole host of supplements, and if you are taking medication your medical provider needs to have the training to know the interaction between the supplements and the medication you are taking.
Tailoring Recommendations to the Individual
I individually evaluate every patient who comes into my practice, or onto my APO E Gene Online Program to ensure that what they are taking is correct with no contraindictions. Recommendations for botanical supplements should be tailored to the individual person—not just for interactions with medication—but also for individual genetic expression, and should include a health history assessment and medication evaluation.
Genetically, many people are not able to effectively process certain medications. I find this to be especially so with medications intended to treat depression and anxiety, certain antibiotics, statin medication such as Lipitor… and the list can go on and on.
Working with a trained integrative medicine provider who has botanical medicine training is the best thing to do for your short- and long-term health. This will ensure you are getting the vitamins and minerals you, the individual, need.
Many people today, for example, are taking a vitamin D supplement. Just a decade or so ago, vitamin D wasn't discussed as an important supplement. In the past decade, the research on this vitamin D has exploded. Of special relevance today is the research showing that vitamin D, in supporting the immune system, may reduce the risk of severe COVID 19 symptoms. And, we know that most people in the United States have a vitamin D deficiency. The general recommendation for vitamin D levels is between 80 ng/ml–100ng/ml (nanograms per millilitre).The problem is that many medical providers are unaware that people metabolize vitamin D at different rates, so the recommendation for one person is not same as for another. One person can take 1000, 2000, or 5000 IUs of vitamin D to keep their levels at 80 ng/ml–100 ng/ml, but another person may need 10,000 IUs. For example, people who are unhealthy need more vitamin D than a person who is healthy. In the winter, vitamin D levels are much more of an issue from October 1st to April 1st for people who live more than 37 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. In these regions, there is less vitamin D due to the angle of the sun and less UVB rays.
Another especially important vitamin today is B12. A study published in January 2022 connects vitamin B12 deficiency and Alzheimer’s disease, while highlighting that a significant percentage of our population may not have sufficient vitamin B12 levels required for optimal brain health. While seen mostly in the older population, we are beginning to see Alzheimer’s in younger patients.
People with an APO E 4 gene are especially vulnerable to this disease, however I have seen Alzheimer’s in APO E 3s—especially those with poor a nutritional intake—resulting in a deficiency both in Vitamin B12 and folate.
Most people simply do not know or understand their nutritional requirements. I see so many people who have focused on the popular fad weight loss diets, ignoring their basic nutritional needs for their genotype, and seriously compromising their health. They may lose weight, but the cost may be severe, and the weight loss rarely sustained. Similarly nutritional needs are ignored with the huge push towards veganism and vegetarian diets today. I believe a more focused plant based diet is a good thing, but without informed nutritional guidance, vitamin B12 — and often vitamins in general — are often deficient in these diets.
I cannot over emphasize the value of a person knowing the nutritional needs of your personal genotype. When these needs are not met over an extended period of time, disease can take root. Some genotypes being more susceptible than others to poor health in the absence of an appropriate diet.
If you need help in finding someone with botanical medicine training, the Dr. Weil Center for Integrative Medicine has an extensive listing of integrative medicine providers. Or, contact our office and make an appointment for a consultation. Do not assume that the person in your local health food store has the necessary qualifications to address your personal needs.
I Have a Healthy Diet—Why Do I Need Supplements?
Soil that your food is grown in has a substantial impact on that food's nutritional content. A study at the University of Texas found soil depletion has led to declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century. Soil needs a minimum 3-6% organic content to be considered healthy. In many parts of the world, the soil's organic content is at the bare minimum or lower leading to harvests with low nutritional value. For example, the average mineral content of calcium, magnesium, and iron in cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach has dropped 80-90% between 1914 and 2018 in the United States. This information is unsettling, to say the least.
What this means, is that it is difficult to get the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet alone. The value of taking high quality supplements that are right for you, the individual, is more critical today than ever.
In addition, many people are unaware of the poor quality of some supplements. These simply will not do the job. I have been recommending high quality supplements for over 20 years, and in my experience quality make a dramatic difference.
In the bigger picture, changing farming practices and caring for our top soil should become a priority in serving the health of the entire population. Meanwhile, it is more important than ever that we align with companies that offer genuinely high quality supplements that can fill the gaps in our diets and nutritional needs.
At the APO E Gene Program, We Always Choose Quality, Ethically Sourced Supplements
Over the years, we have worked with many companies offering botanical supplements, but when it came to creating our own supplement and vitamin product range, we insisted on unsurpassed quality. We looked to partner with a company that is:
- A recognized leader in the industry, science-based, with years of success and experience in the world of botanical medicine and supplement manufacturing
- Dedicated to legitimately meeting the needs of consumers, and following the safety and quality steps to ensure the very best products
- Certified and accredited for quality and production, and a member of the US Council for Responsible Nutrition
- Ensuring clear labelling of ingredients — especially important for patients with unusual or higher allergy levels — as is often found in patient with abnormal APO E genotypes.
- Ethically sourced — committed to excellent quality and conscious about how they accomplish their quality. For example, checking soil quality and how farming practices can benefit the land for the long term.
Our commitment to supporting the health and healing of each individual, as well as the wellbeing of our planet, with the best quality, ethically sourced supplements, is our highest priority.
Our APO E Gene Private label is called TRUE – because we are constantly reviewing research and working with exceptional people to make sure we sustain our commitment. We as a company strive to provide TRUTH IN MEDICINE.
Pam McDonald FNP
Integrative Medicine Family Nurse Practitioner
Dr. Andrew Weil received an A.B. degree in biology (botany) from Harvard in 1964, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1968. He has traveled widely in North and South America, and in Africa, collecting information on the use of medicinal plants in treating disease in other cultures.1971-84 Weil was on the research staff of the Harvard Botanical Museum, and conducted investigations of medicinal and psychoactive plants. He is the Founder & Director/Professor of Medicine and Public Health/Lovell-Jones Endowed Chair in Integrative Medicine University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Dr. Tieraona Low Dog has been interested in the natural world and natural medicine since she was a child. She has studied and practiced massage therapy, martial arts, midwifery, and herbal medicine. She served as the President of the American Herbalist’s Guild, before receiving her medical degree from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Dr. Low Dog is a founding member of the American Board of Physician Specialties, American Board of Integrative Medicine and the Academy of Women’s Health. She was the Director for Fellowship in Integrative Health and Medicine at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine for many years. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve on the White House Commission for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy; and by Secretary Thompson to the advisory council for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. She has served on numerous NIH advisory panels, including the National Cancer Institute; and been the elected Chair for numerous dietary supplements and botanicals panels for the United States Pharmacopeia for more than 15 years.