by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Virtually everyone has a family history that includes a chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. You may be concerned that you carry a genetic predisposition to one or more of these diseases. But recent science has shown there’s much you can do to prevent disease, starting with nutrition. The good news is that with proper nutrition, including dietary supplements, you can rewrite your life story with a happier ending.
So why are so many people still unaware of the importance of taking vitamins? Which vitamins do you need and what are the best multivitamins to take? Why are drug companies and doctors often opposed to nutritional supplements? Why is there continued debate over vitamin safety and dosages?
We’ve used nutritional supplements and dietary changes as medical therapies for over 20 years. To this day, we recommend that every woman take a pharmaceutical-grade multivitamin. Yet we agree there are reasons to be concerned about how multivitamins are marketed and used. So let’s talk about what we advocate when it comes to dietary supplements and how we answer women’s questions about the vitamin controversy.
The link between nutrition and chronic diseases
The increase in chronic illnesses is one of the major health stories of our lifetime. Today seven out of ten Americans will die from the complications of a chronic disease, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, depression, metabolic and digestive disorders (including heartburn and acid reflux), rheumatoid arthritis, fibroids, and osteoporosis, just to name a few. Acute diseases, by contrast, are characterized by rapid onset, are usually treated with antibiotics or surgery and are time-limited.
Why the dramatic increase in chronic diseases? Clearly we are living longer and under greater stress, both of which contribute to degenerative conditions. But only recently has the role of nutrition begun to be given its due.
Conventional practitioners treat chronic diseases with an ever-growing array of expensive pharmaceuticals that may temporarily relieve the painful or uncomfortable symptoms, but do nothing to resolve the underlying cause — and may actually cause other serious problems. That’s because conventional medicine is focused on disease screening and drug treatment — ignoring the more powerful approach of disease prevention, especially through nutrition.
What about the role of genetic factors in causing disease? In our view, genetics rarely determine definitively that someone will develop a disease. Instead, you may inherit a genetic predisposition — a kind of vulnerability — that when combined with other factors results in disease. Nutrition is arguably the most important of those factors.
Many of our patients at our medical practice are surprised to learn that their chronic condition or disease can so often be traced to a nutritional deficiency. But the linkage is clear enough. Nutrition affects our immune system, organ function, hormonal balance and cellular metabolism. The nutritional deficiency comes first, followed some years later by symptoms, which lead in time to disease. To make things worse, the whole downward spiral is accompanied by accelerated aging.
Multivitamins and hormonal balance
Our bodies require micronutrients for the non-stop process of synthesizing hormones from simpler molecules. It is simply impossible to achieve and maintain hormonal balance without such support. We have found it helpful to describe hormonal balance to our patients as a kind of symphony in their bodies in which the instruments of the orchestra play together to create health. When some of the players aren’t there, it doesn’t sound right — and you don’t feel good.
Remember that our hormones fluctuate with our circumstances. It is important to understand that cortisol and adrenaline levels rise and fall as we work out stressful situations. Stable insulin levels provide the framework that allows all of our major female hormones to communicate with one another. If nutrients are low or missing, the balance of this communication is undermined. To remain flexible and strong, especially when approaching menopause, we all need to give our hormones the wide array of nutrients they need.