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7 Reasons Why Your Supplements Aren’t Working

For those with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, nutritional supplements and herbs can be an important part of a natural treatment protocol.  But while many people greatly benefit from taking supplements, sometimes people don’t receive optimal results. In fact, some people don’t notice any improvement in their condition at all.  Sometimes this can be because the person isn’t taking the appropriate supplements, and the quality of the supplement is also something to consider.  In this blog post I’ll discuss seven reasons why the supplements you’re taking aren’t working.

Reason #1: You’re not eating a healthy diet.  Fortunately many of my new patients have already been eating a pretty healthy diet prior to seeing me for the first time, as many of them are gluten free [1], and some of them have followed an autoimmune Paleo diet for awhile.  On the other hand, others eat a very poor diet, and some of these people take many different nutritional supplements.  But if you want to achieve optimal results then you really need to eat well.  While one can make the argument that taking nutritional supplements is important for most people to receive great results, if funds are limited and you have a choice between spending money on healthy food or spending money on good quality supplements, there is no question that you should choose to spend the money on eating healthy food.

Reason #2: You’re not taking a high enough dosage.  While I would be cautious about taking massive doses of nutritional supplements and herbs, sometimes people are too conservative with the dosing of their supplements.  For example, many people take vitamin D [2] supplements, and while labs commonly use a reference range of 30−100 ng/mL, you want the levels to be above 50 ng/mL, and some sources suggest for it to be between 60 and 80 ng/mL.  While some people are able to increase their vitamin D levels primarily through sun exposure, many others need to supplement with vitamin D.  And when this is the case, higher doses are usually required to get the levels above 50 ng/mL.

It’s the same concept with other nutrient deficiencies.  Of course you need to exercise caution, as it’s possible to overdose with certain nutrients and herbs.  On the other hand, some nutrients are relatively safe to take in higher doses, including magnesium, chromium, vitamin C, and vitamin B12.  That being said, it probably is a good idea to work with a competent healthcare practitioner before taking large doses of any nutrient or herb.

Reason #3: You’re not taking the supplements consistently.  While many of my patients do a great job of following the recommendations, it’s not uncommon for a patient of mine to tell me that they haven’t been taking some or all of the recommended supplements on a consistent basis.  For example, if I recommend for someone to take a specific supplement three times per day, they might only take it once or twice per day.  Or sometimes they will completely skip a day.  Of course this doesn’t describe everyone, and so if you’re reading this and are diligently following the supplement recommendations given by your healthcare practitioner then of course keep up the good work!

The truth is that missing a dose of a supplement every now and then might not be a big deal in some people.  On the other hand, for others it can make a difference in their progress.  And since there is no way of knowing which category you fall into, it is best to play it safe and take the supplements as recommended.

But what if you can’t afford to take the supplements as recommended?  Well, I would be honest with the practitioner you’re working with, as perhaps he or she can make modifications to the supplements you are taking.  For example, if someone has had ten different supplements recommended to them, and they are unable to take all of them as recommended, they might be tempted to take a reduced dosage of all of them, when a better option might be to take the full doses of four or five of the supplements.

Reason #4: You’re not taking the supplements correctly.  For example, some supplements are best taken with meals, while others are best taken on an empty stomach.  L-glutamine [3] is an amino acid that is commonly recommended by healthcare practitioners for gut healing, and for this purpose it is best taken in between meals.

Reason #5: You haven’t taken the supplements long enough.  Although many people reading this blog post understand that it takes time to see results, some people have unrealistic expectations, as they expect to notice positive changes in their symptoms within a few days of taking supplements.  Don’t get me wrong, as some people do feel better quickly after taking supplements, but sometimes it can take a few days or weeks before there is symptomatic improvement.

As an example, let’s take a look at how someone with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) [4] might respond when taking an herbal approach.  First of all, with SIBO, higher doses of certain antimicrobials very well might be needed to get significant results.  And in many cases the person with SIBO will need to take the herbs for at least a few weeks before they experience any positive changes.  The same concept can apply with a Candida overgrowth [5], as while some people who choose to take antifungal herbs notice positive changes in their symptoms sooner than later, for others it will take a few weeks or months before they start feeling better.

Let’s look at another example.  Some people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease take the herbs bugleweed and motherwort for symptom management.  And while some people will notice a decrease in their hyperthyroid symptoms quickly, for others it will take a few weeks before they notice any positive changes.

How about if you are taking nutritional supplements to correct a nutrient deficiency?  In this situation it also can take some time before you notice an improvement in your symptoms.  One reason why some people have unrealistic expectations is because we are basing these expectations off of the results other people have had.  For example, you might visit a forum or Facebook group and see someone who took the same supplement you’re currently taking, and they noticed an improvement almost immediately, whereas you have been taking the same supplement for a few weeks and haven’t noticed any positive changes.  While it certainly is possible that the supplement isn’t effective in your case, it is also possible that biochemical individuality is accounting for the rapid symptomatic improvement of that person.

Reason #6: Your supplements are interacting with other supplements or medications.  Some medications can interfere with the supplements you’re taking, and sometimes there are also “supplement-supplement” interactions.  For example, if you’re taking any type of a binding agent, such as Cholestyramine or activated charcoal, this can bind to toxins, but these binding agents also can interfere with the absorption of certain supplements.  This is just one example of how your supplements might interact with other supplements or medications you’re taking.  While I can’t say I commonly see this with my patients, it does happen from time to time, and it’s something you need to be aware of.

Reason #7: You’re taking fake supplements.  This is a big problem, especially for those who purchase their supplements on online sites such as Amazon and Ebay.  This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t reputable sellers on these and other websites that sell supplements, but you need to be very careful.  After all, with all of the different products sold on Amazon and Ebay it is almost impossible for them to tell which supplements being sold are authentic and which ones are counterfeit.

What exactly do I mean by a “fake” supplement?  This simply means that the ingredients being used aren’t the ingredients being advertised on the label.  And the obvious reason why counterfeiters do this is to make a greater profit.  By the way, while it’s possible that the suppliers of these fake supplements will use harmful ingredients, in most cases this isn’t an issue, as they want to put fake ingredients that are safe so that you will continue buying their supplements.  But of course there is always the chance there can be harmful ingredients substituted as well, which is yet another reason to be cautious about buying your supplements through a random seller on Amazon or Ebay.

So when can you feel comfortable buying supplements on Amazon or Ebay?  Well, the only way I would feel comfortable purchasing supplements on these sites is if they are sold directly by the supplement manufacturer.  I suppose if someone has an online supplement store on Amazon and has hundreds of five star reviews then there is a good chance you can trust their supplements, although I’d still be cautious.

Other Reasons Why Your Supplements Aren’t Working

There can be other reasons than the ones I listed in this blog post.  For example, in the opening paragraph I mentioned that it’s important to take the appropriate supplements, and of course the quality of the supplement is also important.  Hopefully you’re taking the correct supplements, but there are circumstances when people are taking the wrong ones, or at the very least aren’t taking the ones that should be a priority in their situation.

For example, someone might have been told they have a leaky gut, and so they are taking supplements to improve their gut health.  And so perhaps they are taking L-glutamine, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and other supplements to support their gut.  But if they have a chronic infection that caused the leaky gut, they should focus on herbs to eradicate the infection, and then focus on healing their gut.

Earlier I mentioned how taking fake supplements is a concern, although some people are taking “authentic” supplements, but unfortunately it’s from a company that uses low quality ingredients.  Some examples of lower quality ingredients include magnesium oxide, cyanocobalamin, and synthetic folic acid.  Another thing to keep in mind is how the supplements are stored, as if you or the manufacturers aren’t storing the supplements properly then this can reduce the effectiveness.  This is especially true with probiotics and fish oils, although it can affect other supplements as well.

In summary, while nutritional supplements and herbs can be an important part of your recovery, there are times when supplements people take aren’t effective.  There can be numerous reasons for this, but some of the reasons discussed in this post include 1) you’re eating too much junk food, 2) the dosage isn’t high enough, 3) you’re not taking the supplements consistently, 4) you’re not taking the supplements correctly, and 5) your supplements are fake.