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Ep. 69 – Nutrients and supplements when there’s no research for an ailment

Welcome to Straight Talk on Health. I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko. STOH is a joint production with WGVU in Grand Rapids MI. I examine the world of health. Nutrition. Exercise. Diet. Supplementation. If there’s something new, I look at the science behind them, and let you know whether it’s real or not. You can check out other things that I do on my website Drchet.com and sign up for my free emails.

Before we get started, I want you to understand that you should always pursue conventional medical diagnosis and treatments. That’s exactly what I do. I may ask my physicians and specialists different questions than you do because of my background and 35 years of experience in exercise and nutrition but when I’m a patient, I follow their approach.

But I also check the research to find out whether diet, exercise, and supplements may help. My blood pressure trends to be high IF I don’t exercise regularly. I still remember the day I went into my urologist and get a BP of 150/100. I had the nurse check it again. Same. Then when she left the room, I checked it again myself. Same. When I went home I checked it on my BP equipment. It really didn’t vary. That was the day I decided I would not let a week go by without exercising—ever. With the exception of my knee replacement, I never let more than 2 days go by without doing at least some exercise. My BP trends to 114/74 most days since then—over 5 years ago. I may need meds at some point but not a day before I need them. We have to do all we can ourselves.

What I want to do is give you my logic for guiding people with nutrients and dietary supplements for rare diseases and conditions for which there is no real research available. Here is my approach.

First, I have to determine the potential mechanisms involved in the disease. Is it a condition of connective tissue? Bones? Muscles? The nervous system? I'm not talking about rare types of cancer or genetic mutations for which treatments may exist. I'm talking about things that are rare for which there may be no treatments available and certainly no research on nutrients.

Second, what are the organs involved? What are the types of cells that could be involved. Is it a function of the nervous system impacting the muscles? There may be no clear indication what the exact answer is but at least I have to get an idea of what types of tissues are involved.

After that, it's examining the issue and trying to figure out what nutrients may be beneficial. Let me give you an example. For some people, glucosamine does wonders for their joint health. It is important in the process of maintaining healthy joints. Whether that may be helping increase the synovial fluid within the joint or help in the repair of some of the connective tissue inside a joint, it doesn't really matter. The potential exists that it could be beneficial. Some people don't appear to be able to make chondroitin, two glucosamines chemically joined, from glucosamine. There are enzymes that are involved that, perhaps because of unknown genetic mutations, the production of enzymes and catalysts are not as high as they should. For those people, chondroitin is going to be a better choice.

That's a rather simple solution but many conditions are extremely complex. So the approach that I use is this. What nutrients can help build cells and provide those cells with the mechanism to produce energy? If we're talking about cellular walls, I think that beginning with omega-3 fatty acids are critical to that function. The cell walls that will result should operate better than cells that are built on a diet of saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids that are prevalent in diets today.

The second thing would be to help the mitochondria produce energy. That would mean using coenzyme Q10. CoQ10 is a naturally produced nutrient that can act like an antioxidant. It is also involved in the production of energy. It can be taken in supplement form to help cells produce more energy.

What often gets overlooked is that mitochondria exist in just about every cell in the body to provide energy aerobically. If a cell or cells cannot produce energy, whether those cells are in your thyroid, in your smooth muscle (which is different than your skeletal muscle), or any other organ, that organ can't do what it's supposed to do because it doesn't have the energy with which to do it. Recently, research has shown that some nutrients help the cells repair, recycle, and replace damaged mitochondria. A combination of two amino acids, N-acetyl-cysteine and glycine, have demonstrated benefits in clinical trials to help the mitochondria repair, rebuild, and replace mitochondria that are not functioning properly.

Another approach is to recommend a diet that feeds the microbiome or use a fiber supplement. Fruit, vegetables, and resistant starches can all feed the good bacteria in the digestive system. In that as a society we eat fewer than three servings of F&V per day, supplemental fiber seems like a good idea. Why? The microbiome is the foundation of our immune system. As it goes, so does our immune system’s ability to help us heal. There are some 6500 different microbes found in our gut. They multiply into the trillions as the number of microbes found in our gut. We don’t even know what every microbe is beneficial for yet but adding fermented foods to your diet may help as well.

I don’t recommend the use of any herbs with rare exceptions. Why not? Because when you start using an herb in a therapeutic manner, that's trying to treat a disease. We don't live in the age of the medicine man, who had decades of experience knowing which herb may help with which condition. In fact most experience with the pharmaceuticals of today are limited to 10 years or less as well. I stick to the nutrients the body is supposed to make and vitamins and minerals, and one more nutrient that's overlooked: water. Sometimes water can be at least part of the solution because too many of us walk around in a dehydrated state most of the day.

Are these going to work for everyone? Nope. But after 30 years of looking at research and trying to connect dots that don't seem to be apparent, my feeling is that we may have more nutritional deficiencies than we realize. Not necessarily something that's relatively simple like vitamin B12 but nutrients that the body is supposed to make like glucosamine and digestive enzymes but sometimes does not.

Physicians are helping people fix what’s broken. They have at their disposal medications, surgeries, and other traditional approaches. I think medicine has come a long way and I’m alive because of the techniques that have been developed over time. But that doesn’t mean the issue is resolved. Physicians manage symptoms in most cases. The body has the only cure, if one exists.

Am I talking about curing diseases here? No and let me say an emphatic no. But by providing nutrients, someone just might be able to feel 10 or 15 or 20% better. And that may improve their quality of life. If that does, perhaps one day there will be a permanent solution for their issue whatever it may be. That seems better than doing nothing at all.

Remember, most doctors are managing symptoms. They're not curing disease. Even opening up an artery by using a stent is still treating a symptom. It is not changing the internal organic structure of the blood vessel. I'm not suggesting that that's not important as someone who does have one stent put it in place over 20 years ago. But it doesn't fix the problem and it doesn't cure the disease. It treats the symptom. If using nutrients can help a person feel better and helps the body heal itself, that only makes sense to me. And that’s the logic I use to help someone find the nutrients to maybe feel a little better. I'm all out of time for this podcast so remember that health is a choice. Choose wisely today and every day. I'm Dr. Chet Zelasko.

Dr. Chet Zelasko is a scientist, speaker, and author. Dr. Chet has a Ph.D. and MA in Exercise Physiology and Health Education from Michigan State University and a BS in Physical Education from Canisius College. He’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist, belongs to the American Society of Nutrition, and has conducted research and been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find him online at drchet.com.
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