Navigating Dietary Supplements for General Health, Mold, and Everything Else

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Vitamins and supplements can certainly help to bridge the gap between what you get from your daily nutrition and what you are lacking, but do dietary supplements really matter when it comes to illness, namely recovery from mold toxicity or healing from chronic illness? I can answer that question with one word, “Absolutely!”—with a few caveats, of course. And, since dietary supplements have become a mainstay in environmental and functional medicine, I thought that digging deeper and explaining more about what to look for when it comes to quality and what supplements can and cannot do when it comes to your health and recovery would be a great topic for today’s article.

Cautious Optimism and Knowing What to Look For

Through the years, dietary supplements have been touted as everything from miracle cancer cures to sexual performance enhancers and everything in between. And, while there are facts and myths on every level of these claims, there is one basic truth that cannot be denied as far as any supplement is concerned: no one supplement, no matter how pure or potent, if taken without also addressing all of the other pieces of one’s health (namely air, food, water, and living environment) can cure any ailment or disease.  Dietary supplements certainly can and DO aid tremendously in healing, but it is important that we understand their place and what to look for when sourcing and purchasing these supplements so that we can make the right choices for our bodies and for our health conditions.

When addressing the topic of dietary supplements, I believe it is helpful to start with the big picture of their use before diving deeper into the mold-focused details. But, instead of just writing from my clinical perspective, I thought it would be more beneficial to share this information by answering here some of the questions that have been presented to me over the years by my patients.

Common Questions About Dietary Supplements

My multivitamin says it has over 100% of the RDA of every vitamin listed on it.  Why do I need to take more supplements if this one pill has everything I need?

RDA stands for “recommended daily allowance” and is defined as the levels of intake of essential nutrients that, on the basis of scientific knowledge, are judged by the Food and Nutrition Board to be adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons.  The issue with this is that the studies are done on population groups, based only on age and gender, and NOT on health issues.  An average of nutrient levels is determined through blood testing of these groups, and this average then becomes the “normal range”.   But, as you can see, “average” does not always equal “normal” or what is optimal health or function.  There are so many other criteria, such as genetics, basic health issues, and more specific lab tests that can be done to truly evaluate needs on an individual basis. Since every person is different and has different nutritional needs, it is best to base your supplement intake on YOUR testing, rather than RDA guidelines.

I eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Shouldn’t I be fine without supplements?

I absolutely recommend healthy foods as the first-line recommendation of getting substantial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In an ideal world, this would suffice, but we are far from ideal.  The environmental stressors on the body, the increasing use of prescription medications, and other factors that have made a heavily industrialized world more convenient and pleasurable have also thrown a monkey wrench into a very delicate operating system.  Studies comparing organic with non-organic foods do show a difference in nutrient content.  Soils have become depleted in trace minerals, hence there is a decrease in the mineral content of foods. Cows, pigs, and chickens that are fed commercial diets have less nutritive value than those our forefathers and mothers hunted and raised. Fish from ponds with pesticide runoff or from oceans with petroleum byproducts dumped there, or fish raised in “farm ponds”, fed with non-native foods simply do not have the same nutritive value as once they did, and worse, contain accumulated toxins in their flesh.

Even those of us eating healthy, organic, free-range, responsibly raised foods, who may be reasonably replete in most essential vitamins and minerals need supplemental factors these days, in my opinion. Why? Because, it takes only a few things to knock a body out of whack—illness, stress, medications, and mold, to name a few, to create a need for some added nutrients.

Are there certain supplements that everyone should take even if they are not sick?

While we try to first advise the clean, organic, nutritious diet, there are a few things that may be helpful for all, recognizing that without a proper history or certain indicated testing, we are shooting in the dark a bit.  In my opinion, these include a good quality multivitamin/mineral, a  probiotic to support gastrointestinal health and immunity, and antioxidants usually in a blend. When certain health conditions are present, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or autoimmune diseases, then the list becomes longer and includes such things as Coenzyme Q10, extra Vitamin C, and essential fatty acids.

Supplements can become very expensive, and my doctor told me that taking them just puts expensive urine in my toilet. Is this true? 

Many physicians, I count myself in that group during the early years of my medical practice, are not familiar with the use of supplements. While we all took biochemistry and biology, some of that information never truly had clinical significance until put into practice.  The amount of training in nutrition in medical school is woefully small.  I say all of that to explain why your physician may not totally understand why you would or should need to take certain dietary supplements to aid in treating a health condition or in maintaining good health. On the other hand, to simply go out and buy everything you hear or read about without really understanding if it is necessary or helpful can be a waste of money. The goal is to “supplement” and to take ONLY what you need for health restoration and prevention.

I found a great deal on supplements at Costco. Can’t I just buy them there?

Quality and purity matter in nutritional supplements.  There are some supplements that are easy to manufacture and the ingredient cost is low.  This includes Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, and some B Vitamins.  For this reason, I am less concerned about over-the-counter brands on these particular vitamins as long as the label is third-party certified.  Third-party verification means is that a non-financially invested person or company has tested the product and certified that it has in it what the label says it does.  For example, there are some very cheap non-certified Vitamin C products on the market that say that they contain 1000 mg of Vitamin C per tablet.  When tested, however, the amount per tablet varied from as little as 100 mg to up to 2000 mg.

Another issue to keep in mind is WHERE a supplement is being produced.  Remember the big scare in recent years about the dog food made in China that had unacceptably high levels of arsenic? Look for dietary supplements that are produced in FDA- and cGMP-audited facilities. This ensures some checks and balances on ingredient quality and purity.

Knowing what substances are used to produce your dietary supplements is also important. For example, some B vitamins are derived from Brewer’s yeast.  Brewer’s Yeast is one of the highest potential allergic foods and should be avoided by most patients. Some dietary supplements can also be derived from molds. When you are healing from mold-triggered illness, mold-derived ingredients are obviously something you are looking to avoid. Thus, the deeper you dive and the more educated you become, the more the importance of knowing your supplement sources becomes clear.

Fish oil is also a big topic in that there are brands that are quite cheap compared with the more expensive and certified brands.  There is a reason for this.  Most cheap fish oils are made from rendering the livers of huge vats of fish into oil and encapsulating that fish oil into supplements. But, you need to be asking, “Where did these fish come from?”  Why? Because southern water fish are notoriously high in petrochemicals, and the livers of all animals are the likely place these chemicals sequester.  Sounds pretty counterproductive to be taking a supplement for health that may actually be adding to the total body load, right?!

Another factor to keep in mind is how the product is being stored once it is produced.  Temperature variation affects the shelf life and active forms of many supplements.  Fish oil offers another great example because it oxidizes fairly rapidly. Thus, if your fish oil smells fishy, don’t take it!

Does this mean that I should only be buying the most expensive brands of dietary supplements?

Again, NO!  Marketing is a powerful tool, and the most expensive and shiny package is not always the best.  An example I have found of this fact are the supplements sold as multilevel marketing products.  They are not necessarily bad products and some of them actually may be quite good BUT selling them in this manner means that the process to get them to people over-rides the product quality. Thus, the cost of retail purchase may be much greater than that of a direct-to-consumer retail brand sold through traditional means.

What else should I look for on my supplement labels?

Along with the third-party certification, we try to be sure that the supplement is derived from hypoallergenic sources, that it is produced in a facility that is pharmaceutical quality as to purity, and that it is in a form that can be readily absorbed by the body. Otherwise, your doctor may be right, in that you have very expensive urine!

Dietary Supplements for Chronic Conditions, Like Mold and Cancer

Can nutritional supplements truly cure chronic diseases such as mold illness and cancer? As I stated before, I avoid using the word “cure” in my practice with any isolated treatment or intervention. I cringe when I see ads or testimonials about cures, especially for cancer, by using one simple or single supplement or protocol. There may be nothing at all wrong with the product or products that are being touted, but when claims of curing an illness in ALL people are included, please know that such statements are a gross misrepresentation of how supplements work or how they should be used. No matter how wonderful a supplement may seem for one person’s healing and recovery, we are all individuals, and no two of us are alike. While there are many common denominators with something like mold and what works for most patients, not everyone can take the same dietary supplement(s) at the same dose(s), and not everyone gets positive effects from nutraceutical interventions. That is part of the beauty of the human body and the science of medicine and why working with a skilled practitioner who assists you in knowing and understanding your body is so important. However, one aspect of health that we do find to be universal and helpful for all is removing as many burdens from the system as possible to give the body the best chance at healing itself.  Hence, why we keep repeating, over and over again, the essentials of clean air, clean water, and clean food. With those in place, at least as much as possible, then things like dietary supplements can come in to bring back what has been overutilized to try to keep the body efficiently working biochemically. By fine-tuning our healing in this way, we get our best chance at returning all bodily functions to normal, no matter what the diagnosis.

Supplements to Aid in Mold Recovery

When it comes to patients who have mold/mycotoxin-related illness, then certain supplements are essential for recovery, once clean air has been established and the body load is no longer being overwhelmed by mold exposure. Because mycotoxins are processed through the liver, there are supportive supplements that help the liver remove them from the bloodstream and excrete them into urine and feces.  The essentials for this processing and protection of the liver include glutathione, milk thistle, and  N Acetylcysteine (NAC).  As with most toxins, they impact the cells of the body such that a situation of “oxidative stress” (which I equate to rusting) occurs, making necessary the use of antioxidants to reverse this damage.  Vitamin C and Quercetin are a couple of these that not only mitigate the harm done by mycotoxins but also have anti-inflammatory and energy-boosting properties that help many patients feel better more quickly.

As you have likely gleaned from previous articles, mold-related illness is far-reaching in its impacts on the hormonal system (thyroid, adrenals, growth hormone), and the immune system of the gut. Damage to the pituitary and hormonal systems makes probiotics and specific combinations of minerals, amino acids, and glandular formulas usually necessary in patients who have been impacted. Some of these aspects of healing from mold have been discussed individually in previous articles, and we will delve into more in future articles, but just know that healing from mold is complicated, and the use of supplements in these cases is essential for a return to health.

In Conclusion

Dietary supplement brand recommendations that I make or link to in articles are all products that meet the criteria discussed above.  For mold, in particular, Micro Balance Health Products has recently started offering some high-quality, professional-grade supplements specific to mold-related illness.  Other products of many different certified brands may be found on the Wellevate portal or NuMedica. The main takeaway, though,  is that supplements need to be treated with the same consideration as one would do with a prescription product.  Because we use these nutritional products like medicines, their purity, safety, and absorbability are extremely important!

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