Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Every time I finish one of these Health and Lifestyle posts, I'm struck by how much I've left out. It's like I'm not even scratching the surface of these huge, critical subjects - not in terms of my own experience of a particular modality, and (sure as hell) not in terms of the modalities themselves.

And let me tell you, constructing this week's posts has been sort of tortuous. What's non-negotiably imperative? What's gratuitous? Have I disclaimed adequately? You get the idea. So, let me put it out there now: If you'd like to know more about any particular subset of any of these epic posts, please email me...

OK, let's talk about supplements. As mentioned, this is one of the cornerstones of my own personal wellness critical path. And when I use the term supplement, I am referring to:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Herbs
  • Other (i.e. glandulars, enzymes, hormones)
Each of these substances is found within the human body. Most of them are produced, through good diet and adequate environment, by the body. Many of them are in the common vocabulary. That Other category is more complicated, less mainstream, and I'm not really going to get into it. Because, if you want to know more about those sorts of supplements (and which kinds of challenges they address), there are tons of fantastic books out there, and knowledgeable health professionals to speak with.

Again, I'm going to say - and I am very sincere - if you want to experiment with supplements, you have my full endorsement. But, unless you are a GP, nutritionist or naturopath, chances are you don't know enough about the topic to be self-supplementing. While supplements are natural, and in most cases food derivatives, they may interact with your body chemistry suboptimally - especially if you don't know enough about the body chemistry you're actively supplementing. Of course, I'm not talking about a drug store multivit (though techinically this disclaimer applies as much to that supplement as any other), but I urge you to be critical.

Having said that, let's talk about me. I have a high tolerance for pill-taking. Given my all-or-nothing mind frame, if I'm going to bother with that multivitamin, I might as well take dozens of things a day. Strange but true.

I swill approximately 50 supplements daily (many of these are the same thing over 3 doses to promote maximum absorption and to minimize tummy hurting). I take them in 4 batches (morning, noon, evening, bedtime). I aportion them out like some crazy old lady - using one of those pill organizers from the drug store. Each day gets its own pill organizer. I refill the organizers once a week, to make sure everything is good to go and I'll only need to think once. It is not sexy.

My own naturopath is somewhat amazed by my willingness to do this. Apparently, she doesn't get a lot of uptake on this strategy (even when it's indicated) and she generally works with the preferences and lifestyles of her clients to find maximal benefit with minimal inconvenience.

But, you know, if this is the best way to get the best result in the shortest time frame, I'm in. And I have found taking supplements to be incredibly effective. (Note that I didn't just start taking a whack of things. First off, I did a lot of testing to determine what specific imbalances I needed to address. And then I added things slowly in a phased approach. Sometimes, a supplement serves its needs and then it's discontinued. Sometimes, we discover that a supplement isn't optimal for me and so we scrap it. It's an iterative process that I've undertaken with a person whose credentials and experience I trust. I continue to see my naturopath every 6 - 8 weeks to review the status quo.)

I'm not going to talk in depth about what I take or why. It's not relevant in the minutiae and, in the words of my husband, you care about having readers, right?

But I will say that, on a daily basis I take supplements to specifically support my immune system, to promote optimal working of my thyroid gland, and to help me manage the myriad systemic stressors of being a full-time working mother, householder, human being.

An Obligatory Word about Adrenal Fatigue (Just to make this post longer):

All you gorgeous 20-something go-getters, who drink a few drinks a few times a week, who eat a lot of fast food, who work your asses off to get ahead: Of course you are doing exactly what you must to make a way for yourself in today's crazy world. However, by the time you are 35, the impact of mediocre diet, extreme life stress and lack of sleep might just be impaired adrenal function.

The allopathic (regular, western) medical community, while its view is slowly changing, does not recognize progressive "adrenal fatigue", only "adrenal insufficiency" (a critical failure of the adrenal glands, occurring by genetic predisposition or due to very extreme environmental conditions). Needless to say, back in the day, extreme environmental triggers were a rare thing, when people weren't inculturated with going for broke ,24/7, all one's life long, and these day's it's not so uncommon to be running those adrenals 80% into the ground while unawarely clinging to their slowly disappearing functionality.

The symptoms of adrenal fatigue, that disputed condition which I (and many other more qualified individuals) have little doubt exists, are extreme anxiety, wretched run-downness, sleeplessness, weight-gain in the abdominal area, cravings for salt, among others. There are some great books on the subject - it's very alternative de rigeur these days - so please do some reputable reading if this resonates...

One more word about adrenal fatigue (aka cortisol running wild): It is often accompanied by thryoid problems, because increased cortisol levels and decreased thyroid function work via the same channel (that being the endocrine system).

So Here We Go with an Obligatory Word About Subclinical Thyroid Disorder:

I would urge all women, especially those in their mid-thirties and older - or those with family history, to pay careful attention to thyroid function along with potentially elevated cortisol levels (see above). When unbalanced, these are indicators that one's body is losing ground in the struggle against stress and lifestyle and, while both are correctable, the longer one muddles through with one of these challenges, the harder it is to rebound.

Allopathic medicine doesn't really address these concerns very effectively. Don't take my word for it, of course, please do your own research and let me know if you disagree... Allopathic thyroid function testing has been shown recently to be pretty ineffective. Apparently, the test doesn't reveal emerging thyroid dysfunction (what's happening to many super-stressed people in their thirties, esp. those with a couple of kids had in close succession) - also know as subclinical thyroid disorder. (This is analagous to the technically unrecognized adrenal fatigue scenario above.) If one works with vitamins and minerals to correct a subclinical problem, one can often reverse damage and obviate having one's thyroid conk out all together.

In my own case, I have family history working against me: My father dealt with near adrenal insufficiency in his (stressed out) twenties. My mother's thyroid stopped working when she was in her early thirties. While my blood work, tested routinely for thyroid function allopathically, repeatedly came back normal, additional testing revealed some evidence of serious thyroid function decay. In using supplements to address this, I have lost weight, regained energy, increased my basal body temperature by about a degree (this is a long story but I've been taking my temp for 10 years so I have years of data to support this), improved the tone of my skin and hair dramatically and I feel way less crazy.

This was NOT a quick fix and it took total commitment, on my part, to the many-pronged approach including supplements. But it's an achievable outcome.

Having fun yet?? Is your head spinning as much as mine? Worry not, a light-hearted piece about exercise is yet to come!


  1. Wow K-line! I am truly impressed! I have to take one pill a day and I'm always forgetting. I also do try take Vitamin C and a fish oil thingy.

  2. Hi K :)
    Thank you for dropping by my blog and left a note.
    How funny it is that we've married at the same day (not the same year).

    Well as it is my second marriage it was only 3 years ago ;)

    To be honest (and I like to be) I just read some parts of this post, but it sounds great, full of good information.

    Hmmm... if you don't mind I think I'll be back...


  3. PS - Oh, I'm sorry I hope you had a great day and that you'll enjoy the rest of it.

    (sorry for my English, but as you might know I'm not an English native)


  4. The fish oil rocks, Bronwyn! So good for everything!! You know, it's just my crazy way. Trust me, if I weren't taking 50 I'd forget the one :-)

    Seeker: Parts of this post overwhelm me and I wrote it! So I appreciate your having taken the time to read any of it. Please come back. When regular posts resume (about fashion) next week, they will be a much more manageable length. Oh, and your English is great. Is Portuguese your first language?

  5. :)
    Yes, my first language is Portuguese, so I have a "double trouble" in reading long posts, but I do have interest in this matter.
    Well if you'll check my blog I've many interests besides fashion, but it's the same "double trouble" when I write about them, so I tend to write "easy posts", because I take a long time doing the others, and I'm always short of time, as I think many of us ;)

    Hopping you had a great day, take care, see you soon.


  6. Your commentary on adrenal and thyroid probs is fascinating to me. A dear friend was recently told that she is experiencing something like "subclinical thyroid disorder," something that sounds like that. Her doctor said they wouldn't treat her until it got worse. Uh, can we say CRAZY?

    I'm a big fan of over-self-diagnosis, but I'll be damned if your symptoms of adrenal fatigue don't sound JUST LIKE ME.

    Thank you for edjumacating my ass, and for sharing this wealth of info.

  7. Seeker: I so hear you about "easy" posts. English is my first language and I have to say they really put these long (which is to say, tough) posts into perspective. I will be looking more at your blog. I'm really enjoying it! (Beautiful photos)

    Sal: I know, isn't that insane. It goes something like: "We see a problem here but our medical community doesn't really have any meaningful way to address it until you're flat out wrecked???"
    If she can get with an alternative strategy, I'd really suggest she at least investigate it. A messed up thyroid is so unpleasant (not to mention dangerous). Oh, and if she's thinking of having kids, she must really be sure it's all working because it's seriously not good for a baby to go through a pregnancy with thyroid problems...

    Maybe my situation seems resonant because we are many of us in the same boat at this point. Thirty-somethings living hard (well, but hard) and not eating right or resting. Not that I'm diagnosing you :-) That's what we have naturopaths for!

  8. I'm so grateful for these posts. I see some of myself in those adrenal fatigue symptoms. I'm going to go get a physical, and bring this up.

  9. Enc: I'm so happy if it resonates with you and others. Not because I wish any yuckiness on you, naturally, but because - if it helps you recognize latent symptoms, then my prattling on has done something good!

    While at your doctor, if (s)he doesn't entirely give you the feedback you feel you need - and I hope (s)he will - don't forget that there are other resources out there too. My own GP is very supportive of my corollary relationship with my naturopath. She recognizes that the naturopath can address some of the things that her style of medicine doesn't really get into...