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Regardless of your experience level, the supplement landscape can easily become overwhelming. This section will touch on some key categories of supplements and how to best work with them.
Supplements can be divided into three key categories:
also known as Nutraceuticals or Orthomolecular Medicine
also known as Herbal Medicine or Phytotherapy
also known as Hormone Replacement Therapy or Restorative Medicine
Each category is meant to support underlying excesses or deficiencies, with the ultimate goal of bringing the body back into balance. Where it can become complicated is in understanding the different uses and dosing of specific extracts, chelates, preparations, and more. In the Fullscript catalog alone, there are over 20,000 unique products to filter through and understand.
Let’s try to make some sense of it all…
For the purpose of this guide, nutrients are defined as ingredients that would otherwise be found in food including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
What are nutrients?
In order to sustain life and wellness, the human body requires a careful balance of a broad range of nutrients, categorized as macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients constitute the major food groups of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. They are required in large amounts, used primarily for energy production and tissue growth.
Micronutrients are required in trace amounts and include vitamins and minerals. Phytonutrients, such as anthocyanin found in blueberries or resveratrol found in grapes, are also often classified as micronutrients.
How do Nutrients Work?
Macronutrients are the caloric basis for our daily energy need, but also provide the building blocks of tissue development, fiber for our microbiota, cholesterol for hormone production, and more.
Micronutrients are not relevant for energy and instead contribute to tissue development, hormone and neurotransmitter production, brain function, immune function, and more.
Common Examples of Nutritional Supplements
Dietary supplements can provide a wide array of nutrients in condensed form,
allowing users to target specific deficiencies or upregulate certain pathways that require
those nutrients in abundance. Some common examples include:
• Whey Protein Isolate
• Omega 3 Fatty Acids
• B vitamins
For the purpose of this guide, botanicals are defined as therapeutic plant extracts, not otherwise intended as food, including whole plant extracts and specific phytochemical extracts.
What are Botanicals?
Considered the original pharmacy, records of humanity using botanical extracts therapeutically date back to the beginning of recorded history.2 More recently, botanical medicine has served as the inspiration for numerous pharmaceutical inventions and continues to reveal its purposes via modern research.
For the integrative practitioner, botanical medicine is essential, normally eliciting far fewer and less significant adverse effects than pharmaceutical interventions. A growing body of research shows that if used in correct dosages, certain botanical extracts are in fact more effective than pharmaceutical equivalents, and often more cost effective as well.
How do Botanicals Work?
Botanical medicine has as broad a pharmacopeia as modern pharmaceuticals. Given their capacity to interact with virtually every bodily system and tissue, there are literally thousands of therapeutic uses for botanicals. Although there is a vast amount of literature on the traditional use of botanical medicine, there is only a scant amount of modern research relative to modern pharmaceutical interventions. As a result, it becomes somewhat challenging to compare most botanicals with pharmaceuticals regarding clinical outcomes. However, according to a recent World Health Organization report, this landscape is rapidly evolving.3
Examples of Botanical Ingredients
Botanical medicine can provide an abundance of therapeutic effects, allowing everyone, from the skilled practitioner to the common layperson, to apply these therapies effectively. Some common examples include:
• Garlic (Allium sativum) – immune function, cardiovascular function
• Berberine – lowering blood sugar, decreasing triglycerides, antimicrobial
• Reishi – immune function, potential anti-cancer properties
Note: The form of extract is very important in botanical medicine. Plants contain a variety of therapeutic chemicals, differing in their use and extraction process. Practitioners should not only understand the existing clinical research and how to dose these extracts for therapeutic purposes, but also to prevent harm.
In integrative medicine, hormone therapy typically involves the use of bio-identical versions of plant extracts, mimicking the chemical structure of endogenously produced hormones.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine glands. These messengers have an effect on most tissues and major bodily functions. Establishing and resolving the causes of hormonal imbalance is one of the core therapeutic systems applied not only in integrative medicine, but in conventional medicine as well.
How do Hormones Work?
Hormones are abundant in the body’s circulation, but cells require specific receptors for hormones to elicit an effect. When a hormone binds to a specific receptor, it causes a biological response within that cell, which is why a singular type of hormone can have such a broad effect. The entire endocrine system is based on positive and negative feedback loops, which inform endocrine glands whether more or less hormones should be produced.
While balance of endogenous hormone production is ideally maintained via diet and lifestyle, disease can easily occur when this delicate balance is disrupted. If this happens, exogenous hormones can be used to elicit similar or identical effects on the same cell receptors. However, considering their broad and potent effect on a variety of systems, using hormones therapeutically must be done with caution and skill. Longterm adverse effects are not uncommon with hormone therapy, and its use should be limited to highly-trained practitioners.
Examples of Hormone Ingredients
Exogenous hormones are available in a variety of forms. It should be noted that certain nutrients may also be supplemented to upregulate the endogenous production of hormones. Some common examples include:
• Pregnenolone – the ‘mother’ of the steroidogenic hormone pathway
• Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) – elevates estrogen and testosterone
• Vitamin D – regulates bone density, balancing parathyroid hormone secretion
Preliminary evidence demonstrates broad and highly beneficial therapeutic uses for exogenous hormones. However, similar to botanical medicine, hormone therapy should be used exclusively and with caution by skilled clinicians.
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