What are Nutraceuticals?
Approximately 2,500 years ago, Greek physician Hippocrates wrote: Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Food and its nutrients play a crucial role in helping our body function at its best. The healing properties of food throughout history and across cultures are well documented. Yet, instead of looking to food for answers, modern physicians routinely prescribe a pill to cure whatever ails you—despite the fact that we know that the right food, or medical-grade supplements, may even replace some of your daily prescriptions and the side effects that come with it. And with any pill, we know there are untold side effects, ranging from the mild to the extreme.
The blame for this oversight does not lie entirely with physicians—although we deserve our share. When I went to medical school, we were not provided with the option to take courses on diet or nutrition. We were taught to treat patients with pharmaceuticals and our techniques and technology. As a robotic surgeon, I recognize the necessity and power of technology to save the lives of patients who are in acute distress. But, sometimes, low-tech solutions like dietary changes and proper supplementation can help you avoid the need for such surgical measures in the first place. As a Functional Medicine practitioner, I address nutritional imbalances in the same way I treat all concerns, by first looking to the root cause.
Now food cannot fix everything, but I believe it’s a good place to start. The principle of “first do no harm”is not something that I take lightly. So, looking first to nutrition seems a pretty harmless place to start. Many fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed whole foods have properties that can benefit our health. While I would love to tell you that you could acquire all of the vital nutrients that you need from food sources, this is simply not the case. The modern food supply has been altered to maximize production and yield for commercial value. As a result, the nutritional value of many natural foods has been compromised: today, you’d have to eat seven bowls of fresh spinach to equal the nutrition of one bowl of spinach forty years ago.
This is where nutraceuticals come in. The term “nutraceutical” combines two words – “nutrient” (a nourishing food component) and “pharmaceutical” (a medical drug). Nutraceuticals is a broad umbrella term that is used to describe any product derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. Think of them as non-pharmaceutical therapies used to promote general well being, control symptoms, and prevent disease and malignant processes. Recent research on chemicals in plants, called phytonutrients, have been a specific focus for the benefits they may afford in cancer prevention, cholesterol reduction, and hormone regulation, among others. I often tell my patients that we are now astronauts on planet earth; and, like astronauts, we must also supplement our food.
Why We Need Nutraceuticals
People are living longer than ever and want more out of every day. Modern medicine has increased our longevity to such a degree that people are routinely living well into their 90s. And, if the predictions of some futurists are accurate, we could be living to be 120 by the year 2025. This all sounds pretty exciting, but longevity comes at a price. As we live longer, we do not always live better: we suffer from chronic pain, we are isolated and lonely, and we take more drugs. In far too many cases, I believe patients are taking more drugs than they actually need—drugs with pernicious side effects that negatively impact the way our bodies function. The power of nutrition to improve health, on the other hand, is often ignored by conventional physicians. I’d like to change that.
Of course, many factors influence your overall health and wellness. Things like genetics, stress, exercise, and lifestyle choices all contribute to the state of your health. Your nutritional choices however are paramount and can help determine how you react to environmental and genetic variables. The philosophy behind nutraceuticals is not simply to focus on prevention; however, also, to optimize your body at the cellular level to fight disease. You can use these medical-grade supplements to improve a broad range of health concerns from thyroid health and weight management to autoimmune disorders and heart disease.
You’ve Got One Body
Our body not only houses our vital organs, it also serves as a protective shell—one that is constantly being challenged by the environment, pollutants, our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and side effects from over-prescribed medications. As we age, the effects of these bad actors become more pronounced. To make matters worse, conventional physicians fail to recognize the significance of medical-grade supplements for optimal aging. So, along with a greater susceptibility to environmental toxins, declining cardiovascular health, and the autoimmune and thyroid deficits that afflict us as we age, our body’s ability to utilize nutrients also takes a hit.
Though Americans are living longer, we are falling apart the seams as our various bodily systems fail or function poorly at best. And, as we grow older, our quality of life is gravely diminished. As a Functional Medicine practitioner, I know that this does not have to be the case. In my practice, nutraceuticals play a vital part in my recommendations to patients who want to live their optimal lives. With the emerging field of Precision Medicine—a new science mapping your genetics—physicians will soon tailor your nutraceutical needs according to your individual nutrigenome.
Choose Nutraceuticals Over Pharmaceuticals
A 2013 Mayo Clinic study found that nearly 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two. Even worse, the study revealed that one in five patients are taking five or more prescription medications. If you are among this group, then I am talking to you. Now, some medications are necessary, even unavoidable; however, many are not and they are wreaking havoc on your body in ways that you may have no clue about. That’s not your fault, but once you are armed with knowledge, you may find yourself reevaluating the contents of your medicine cabinet.
The most commonly prescribed medications are antibiotics, antidepressants, and painkillers, including dangerous and addictive opioids. Overall, doctors write more prescriptions for women and older adults. Nearly one in four women aged 50 to 64 take antidepressants. Among young and middle-aged adults, antidepressants and opioids are most common; while, among older adults, cardiovascular and diabetes medications are widespread. In addition, people of all ages, are taking drugs to help them sleep – much of this overmedication could be avoided if physicians addressed the root cause of these problems rather than merely throwing medicine at the symptoms.
Nutritional Support for Optimal Hormonal Health
In my practice, I encourage all of my patients to optimize their hormones for longevity as well as to improve their quality of life. This means evaluating and treating any thyroid dysfunction and hormonal imbalances. To optimize testosterone and estrogen levels, I employ bioidentical hormone replacement with pellet therapy. And, for thyroid problems, I prescribe thyroid hormone. However, for these interventions to succeed, patients need nutritional support and should supplement with medical-grade nutraceuticals. Hormones always need co-factors to work. Typically, these are vitamins and minerals that help the hormones achieve their desired effects in the cell.
Dr.Prewitt Picks 6
If you could only make 6 changes to your diet via supplementation, here’s where I would begin:
- Vitamin D: Bet you didn’t know that low-D can lead to heart attacks.
- Iodine: Bet you didn’t know that iodine detoxes you at the cellular level.
- Probiotics: Bet you didn’t know that a healthy gut makes serotonin, your feel-good hormone.
- Methyl-Guard: Bet you didn’t know methylation rids your body of toxins.
- DIM: Bet you didn’t know that DIM is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-aging.
- Multivitamin: Bet you didn’t know that you really need this one – nutrients are markedly depleted in our food.
How To Choose Nutraceuticals
Over recent years, an increasing number of supplements have become available in supermarkets, health food stores, and in pharmacies. Many, if not most, of these products make claims that are not substantiated by research or even anecdotal evidence. Medical-grade nutraceuticals, on the other hand, are held to a higher standard. Many of them do not necessarily fall into the better-known categories of vitamins, amino acids, and herbal remedies. Their role in the future of human nutrition is an exciting and ongoing area of investigation with promising potential to improve your health without resorting to pharmaceuticals
The biggest challenge my patients face is the huge amount of contradictory or inaccurate information with regards to nutritional supplements. With so many choices and, often, very little oversight in their manufacture, choosing the safest and most effective nutraceuticals is key.
Dr. Prewitt’s Last Word
Buyer Beware! Only medical-grade nutraceuticals are safe and effective. For my patients, I recommend supplements from Thorne Research and BioTE Medical. Take the time to do your homework.