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Interview in Open Exchange Magazine

February 25th, 2010

Q: At what age should I start taking supplements?

JOEL LOPEZ, MD: It is my belief that we should all start taking supplements during childhood. Remember taking multivitamins as kids? Everybody’s different, however. So a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. Too much of a good thing could be harmful. For instance, iron if taken too much could cause some serious consequences. Ditto with fat-soluble vitamins. They could actually build up in our system causing different health challenges. One also has to take into consideration one’s general health before taking supplements. People with kidney or liver disease or those taking prescription medications need to talk with their health care provider to see if it’s appropriate to incorporate supplements.

Ideally, we should get everything from our diet. However, due to farming practices and soil mineral depletion, we aren’t able to get all the nutrients that we need from our diet, even if we eat 100% organic.

There are also general recommendations that I give to my clients. Women after menopause should not take multivitamins with iron. Too much iron acts as a pro-oxidant. In other words, it contributes to premature aging.

Fortunately, there are functional tests available to see if a person has nutrient deficiencies. It takes the guesswork of out supplementation!

Q: Does everybody benefit from supplements?

DR. LOPEZ: Definitely. Our bodies need substrates for energy. Yes, ideally we should get it from our food. Refined food, however, only gives us empty calories and causes nutrient imbalances as well. Ideally, I would recommend whole-food based supplements rather than synthetic ones.

Q: How do I know what I need?

DR. LOPEZ: A careful history and physical should be able to reveal nutrient deficiencies. Some signs and symptoms of deficiencies could overlap, however. So, it’s best to do functional testing for nutrient deficiencies. Fortunately, they’re available here in the US. A general recommendation that I make for people is to get a good whole-food based multivitamin/mineral supplement as well as an essential fatty acid supplement.

Q: Are there risks or contraindications?

DR. LOPEZ: Yes there are. That’s why it’s important to work with a nutritionally–oriented physician. Working with your nutritionist or other natural health care provider should be helpful as well. Usually, whole-food based supplements are harmless. Synthetic, isolated forms of nutrients could be dangerous, however. Once you isolate something from nature, it acts more of like a drug long-term. Consider an important study showing that cigarette smokers who took pre-formed vitamin A had an increased incidence of lung cancer.

Taking too much of certain nutrients could cause toxicity symptoms. That’s why it’s important to take things in moderation and if any symptoms arise to consult with your healthcare provider.

Q: Hormone replacement therapy can be a judgment call. Some doctors are more reluctant than others to recommend performance-enhancing drugs, too. How do you work with patients to decide how to weigh the potential risks versus rewards? Can you offer some examples?

Q: Hormone replacement therapy can be a judgment call. Some doctors are more reluctant than others to recommend performance-enhancing drugs, too. How do you work with patients to decide how to weigh the potential risks versus rewards? Can you offer some examples?

As far as recommending drugs for improving brain performance, there’s Dilantin and eldepryl, among many others. Again, the recommendation I give is individualized. I would have to know a person’s SNP’s through a genomic test. This gives me information on how a person would metabolize drugs or nutrients, thus eliminating concerns for safety.

Q: Beyond hormone replacement therapy, do you recommend specific drug therapies for peak performance and life extension?

DR. LOPEZ: There are different nutrients that could help with our peak performance. Among the more popular ones are L-carnitine, coenzyme Q10 and D-ribose. These nutrients are responsible for optimizing muscle function, especially our heart muscles, which actually contract 24/7.

People with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and congestive heart failure are among the conditions that would greatly benefit from these nutrients. People who desire more energy for working out could also take these supplements. As far as brain aging is concerned, nutrients such as ginkgo biloba, acetyl-L-carnitine and vinpocetine actually help. By the way, there are clinical studies done on these nutrients and they could be found in a publication called German Commission E.

Q: What else should I know before starting a program?

DR. LOPEZ: It’s important that we pay attention to the basics before even taking supplements. A healthy diet, adequate water intake, enough sleep and exercise all should be addressed prior to the intake of supplements. There are tests available for people who are ready to embark on a wellness program. There are tests to find out if one is nutritionally deficient, toxic, inflamed or hormonally imbalanced. Failure to address these things leads to premature aging. On the other hand, address all these factors and you surely will age gracefully.