The Hemp Connection + [women]

The Lure of Supplements

Every other Sunday morning, I pull out my “old lady pill boxes” and load them up with my current selection of supplements, some of which are for PCOS. At times, I confess, I’ve been known to take as many as 90 pills a day. If that sounds kind of crazy, I’m in full agreement with you. I often incorporate Chinese remedies prescribed by my acupuncturist, and those are typically dosed at three to five capsules, three to four times per day, which can quickly add up. I don’t do that anymore. But I routinely take a hearty little handful of things like fish oil, D-Chiro Inositol, Vitamin C, and alpha lipoic acid. I’m sure many of you do too – or you think you should be, if you’re not.

Some doctors want to know everything you’re on, and some don’t bother to ask beyond the fish oil or the Vitamin D3. I actually keep an Excel spreadsheet listing everything I currently take, both supplements and prescription medications. This is for my own tracking purposes (so I can see if there’s something I’ve tried in the past and deleted because it didn’t do anything for me – no point in trying those again), and for the doctors who want a comprehensive record. It’s too much to track on, and often doesn’t fit on the few lines given on a doctor’s intake form. “See attachment” is my favorite labor-saving phrase!

As I updated my spreadsheet today, I got to thinking about the lure of supplements. Americans spend $20.3 BILLION dollars (NIH, 2004) per year on supplements. That’s a staggering amount of money for something that isn’t guaranteed effective, may be irregularly dosed, and can be just as powerful as prescription medications. And yet, we continue to buy. PCOS patients in particular are prone to chasing the latest and greatest potential cure – or at least, anything that might offer some symptomatic relief. When you’ve got a condition that’s frustrating, complex, inconsistent, and impossible to permanently resolve, you’re vulnerable to the seduction of marketers, Twitter feed, and anecdotal reporting.

At this point, I try to limit my supplementation to things prescribed or recommended by my physician, dietician, and/or acupuncturist to treat the symptoms that most concern me, such as high blood sugars and inflammation. If I hear about something new that holds some promise for my PCOS, I research it independently and then make a decision about whether or not to add it to my repertoire. I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a great deal we don’t know about supplements, just as there’s a great deal we don’t know about prescription medications. My goal is to support my body in becoming as normal as possible.

Periodically, I get disgusted with the whole thing, decide it’s too many pills, too complicated, too much money, and too overwhelming. Then I take a supplement vacation. And in the meantime, I’m continuously researching and contemplating what I can delete, or if perhaps it’s best to eliminate supplements altogether. The supplement vacation usually lasts a couple of weeks, and then I go back into it a little more strategically, and with greater consciousness about my own need to be “fixed,” and how that can lead to bad decision-making.

If you take supplements, I encourage you to think about them consciously, and not just chase the promises. If you don’t, don’t feel bad about it, but consider what might actually be beneficial to your mental as well as physical health (fish oil comes to mind!). Be willing to experiment, monitor, and make adjustments. Be patient with your body and your brain. Seek consultation with experts. Do your own research. Treat yourself with the importance you deserve.

Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D. is a Health Psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. She has completed the inCYST training. She specializes in counseling women and couples who are coping with infertility, PCOS, and related endocrine disorders and chronic illnesses.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. HOUSE or her practice, or obtain referrals in the Los Angeles area, please visit her website at www.drhousemd.com, or e-mail her at AskDrHouseMD@gmail.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @askdrhousemd.