When Are Supplements Appropriate?

When Are Supplements Appropriate?

There has been a lot of talk the past few years on supplements. Everywhere we look we can find someone promoting the latest detox tea, collagen supplement, mushroom elixir, custom multivitamin – how do we know what we actually need, or if we should even be taking anything?

I pride myself on being a dietitian who promotes “food first.” In other words, I teach that almost everything we need, with the exception of a few micronutrients for my vegan clients, can be obtained through food...in a perfect world. 

Let me back up a little bit and share a personal story with you. A few years ago I lost almost all ability to write. I had noticed the quality of my handwriting slowly deteriorating for months before that, but it wasn’t until the end of 2017 that I finally (essentially) lost the physical ability to write.

I saw a neurologist for nerve testing, met 17 times with a chiropractic neurology specialist, had a brain MRI, had x-rays of my neck and arm, met with an occupational therapist, and was meeting every other week with a performance enhancement specialist for massage therapy and cupping. I tested myself for food sensitivities (MRT) and put myself on the LEAP protocol to try to reduce inflammation in my arm and wrist. I took all the supplements I could attribute to joint health. I watched webinars, read medical journals, and called hand specialists around the country. All of this was entirely out of pocket. And none of it has given me back the ability to write.

The nerve testing showed no abnormalities, the brain MRI and x-rays were normal, and the occupational therapist said there’s no muscle wasting or weakness. No one could figure out why I couldn't write or hold a pen correctly all of a sudden.

I was 28 years old, exercised ~5 days/week, eating a whole foods, plant-based diet and I had this invisible, frustrating, medical mystery going on.

Prior to getting married my husband and I joined OrangeTheory Fitness (OTF) and both bought the unlimited membership. We were going to OTF 4 days per week, in addition to exercising outside of the gym on our own. I felt and looked great so I continued going after the wedding.

About a year into OTF I started having night sweats no matter how cold we kept our apartment. I had panels of blood work done, to rule out any hormonal concerns and everything was normal. I wrote it off and just thought maybe I wasn’t hydrating enough.

Fast-forward to my micronutrient test results. Luckily I did not have any functional deficiencies, which is highly unusual especially for a vegan! However, I did have borderline deficiencies in very important nutrients and antioxidants.

I was borderline deficient in Vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid, both of which are depleted from heavy exercise, including HIIT activities such as OTF…

Vitamins B6, B12, and pantothenic acid are all related to melatonin and serotonin production. All B vitamins are involved in neurological function so correcting those borderline deficiencies had a high likelihood of helping with my hand issues.

Chromium is commonly deficient in athletes, and while I wouldn’t consider myself an “athlete” I was doing HIIT frequently. This combined with dietary restrictions means that I was running at 100% and only refueling at about 50%.


I’m not saying that supplementing with high-quality vitamins/minerals will fix your problems, but I’m not not saying it, either.

Our bodies are incredible machines but without proper fuel, rest, and activity they will eventually break down. So, while I still believe that food should be used as our primary means of obtaining nutrients, I know that there are some gaps that we all likely have that require supplements to fill.

The fact of the matter is our food supply is so depleted of nutrients that even if you manage to hit Dr. Greger’s “Daily Dozen,” you’re likely under-consuming certain nutrients. Things become even more complicated if your exercise routine frequently consists of high intensity interval training, Cross-Fit, etc.

There’s a great article out about vanishing nutrients in our food supply; I encourage you to read it. It highlights a hazard of climate change that isn’t often discussed, but one that is equally as concerning as the rest. Rising carbon dioxide levels are making our food less nutritious. This was previously only attributed to soil depletion, but now we know that high levels of carbon dioxide rob plants of vitamins that are essential to human development.

This should shock you, scare you, and/or enrage you! We need to do better for our planet, for ourselves, and for our future generations.

In the meantime, however, I encourage everyone to have his or her micronutrient levels checked and I am proud to offer that as a service at Prana Nutrition. The really cool thing about this test is it looks at what’s been going on the past 3-6 months, not just the past few weeks. If you’re interested in seeing what your levels are then get in touch with me and let’s chat! We can figure out what supplements (if any) need to be implemented in order for you to reach optimal health!