Vitamins as drugs?

Written by by Douglas A. Schwan, DC, Dip ac. Posted in April

As our society becomes more health conscious there is a general trend toward a more natural approach to getting healthy. Many people are shying away from the idea of taking strong prescription drugs on a regular basis. The question then becomes, what is the alternative? While it is true that vitamins, minerals, coenzymes, herbs and such can help with established medical conditions, their more powerful role is in preventative medicine. With that in mind we will discuss the use of some of the more potent supplements as they relate to major organ systems.



The heart and associated veins and arteries are important in maintaining good blood flow around the body. Blood brings oxygen and nutrition while removing waste and carbon dioxide from every cell in the body.

One problem commonly associated with the heart is plaque buildup in arteries. This can lead to blocked arteries in the heart or restricted blood flow in other places such as the neck arteries. Anything that can retard or reverse this plaque buildup will decrease the incidence of heart attacks or strokes.

There has been much in the news lately about red wine’s beneficial effects on the heart. Many doctors agree that something in red wine appears to help your heart. It’s possible that antioxidants, such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol, have heart-healthy benefits. However, alcohol itself in quantity does the body no favors. That is why grape seed extract is recommended as an alternative. The natural combinations of flavonoids and resveratrol are present without the alcohol. Supplementing a heart-healthy diet with grape seed extract just might be a good thing for your heart.


The digestive system is fraught with problems, but the stomach seems to be the worst offender. Often drinking a ginger spiced tea or taking ginger root supplements will help quell a chronically upset stomach.

For more serious problems, such as chronic gastritis or ulcerative lesions, taking a supplement such as a live probiotic may help repopulate the stomach with “good” bacteria. A nasty strain of bacteria can take root in the stomach lining and cause progressive pain for years. The important point here is that you should take a live strain probiotic. These are sold from small refrigerators in health food stores. Probiotics sold over the counter at room temperature are merely the spores of the bacteria and are not absorbed as well. Remember to continue to refrigerate the live bacteria at home.


The prostate is a walnut-sized gland found in men that straddles the urethra. As men age, the gland tends to swell. This can lead to problems completely emptying the bladder, feelings of urgency, a need to get up multiple times at night to urinate, a weak urine stream, or straining to start urinating.

There are a couple of noted supplements that can decrease prostate swelling. One such herb is saw palmetto, an extract that comes from the dried ripe fruit of the saw palmetto plant, Serenoa repens.

A second supplement is the mineral zinc. Zinc is of interest as a treatment for enlarged prostates because it is present in large amounts in prostate cells. Zinc plays a protective and anti-inflammatory role. While zinc supplementation is helpful with enlarged prostate, avoid doses over 100 mg a day, as excessively high doses may be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.


Chronic inflammation and cancer are closely linked. Inflammation basically irritates cells causing damage over time. If that damage involves a gene-regulating cellular division, you can get development of a cancer cell. That is why irritating your lungs by smoking increases your risk of lung cancer. Inflammation over the short term is a good thing: It is the body’s response to injury. However, if the inflammation fails to resolve, it can lead to long-term chronic pain, likely contributing to an increased incidence of cancer.

One powerful supplement in the fight against inflammation comes from the turmeric root used as a spice. The bioactive portion of the turmeric root are substances collectively called “curcuminoids.” Refined turmeric with concentrated curcuminoids can be bought as curcumin over the counter.

The interesting thing about curcuminoids is that they seem to suppress inflammation when taken regularly. Investigations at major universities are ongoing to see if they also have any value as an actual cancer treatment.

The thing to remember if taking turmeric root or the more potent curcumin is that they need to dissolve in something fatty to be properly absorbed. They should be taken with food or a fatty vitamin like Vitamin D or E or omega oil. Taking a pepper-based supplement, such as bioperine, can also increase bioavailability of the curcuminoids and other supplements by up to 2,000 percent.


Our American diet today is heavily laden with simple carbohydrates—pop, prepared snacks, candy, etc. People crave white sugar. The pancreas is responsible for regulating this sugar in our bloodstream by producing insulin. The more sugar we eat, the harder the pancreas must work. Eventually the pancreas “burns out” and is no longer able to produce enough insulin and the condition of type 2 diabetes develops.

The whole idea of prevention with respect to type 2 diabetes centers around the idea of not burning out our pancreas due to the overconsumption of simple sugars. One supplement that helps preserve insulin in the blood, thereby taking some load off the pancreas, is chromium picolinate. Chromium seems to bind with free insulin, keeping it around a bit longer than normal. This helps decrease the load on the pancreas. A side benefit is it seems to suppress the appetite a bit, helping with weight loss, excess weight being a big risk factor for diabetes.

Research suggests other supplements, such as vitaminC taken daily, may lead to an improvement in both blood glucose levels and lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels. Also, magnesium levels are often low in people who have problems with insulin secretion and in people with complications of diabetes. Supplementation may be beneficial.

Of course, the single best way to fight type 2 diabetes is through regular exercise and giving up the big-ticket sugar items like pop and pastries. For some perspective, imagine those little sugar packets you see at restaurants. One 20-ounce can of pop contains, on average, 17.5 of those packets worth of sugar!

If you drink just one 20-ounce pop per day for a year, that translates to about 150 calories every day. That is about 54,750 extra calories per year, and at 3,500 calories per pound, you are adding 15.64 pounds to your body every year! The perfect recipe for obesity. Do your pancreas a favor and just say no.

The important thing to remember with supplementation is that, “if a little is good, a lot is not better.” The body can only use so much of any given supplement, and any excess just clogs up the body’s machinery. Dosages may vary for each patient, so be sure to check with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to see what your specific needs are.❦

Otterbein 2/1/18