The Pitfalls of
As a naturopathic herbalist I sometimes prescribe supplements for my clients but, more often than not, when a new client comes to see me, they’re already taking a long list of medication and supplements. Some have been prescribed by their GP, some by their specialist and some by themselves. And sometimes this can lead to some unwanted outcomes.
A male client in his fifties had come to see me as he was experiencing chronic insomnia. In fact, he said his sleep had been terrible for a number of years but recently it had gotten to the point where it was literally taking him hours upon hours to fall asleep. The next day he’d still feel incredibly tired, but also wired. He counted a total of only ten hours sleep for the whole week prior; this had prompted his visit.
He’d been diagnosed with haemochromatosis, a condition that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron. His iron levels, seven months earlier, were sitting at an alarming 1200 mcg/L (anything over 300 mcg/L is a concern). He was under medical supervision and was giving blood regularly to bring the levels down. By the time he came to see me, his iron levels were down to 563 mcg/L, better but still way too high. I could only imagine how much strain this was putting on his body.
When I asked about his supplement intake, he said the only thing he was taking was ‘Noni Juice’, a vitamin C-rich elixir made from native Polynesian fruit trees. A friend had recommended it to him. This well-meaning friend had been enthusiastically extolling the virtues of this juice citing better sleep and increased energy during the day. My client desperately wanted better sleep and more energy so he started taking it religiously every night before bed.
This drink, although it may have been a miracle cure for his friend’s health, was in fact damaging the health of my client. It was pumping him full of yet more iron together with vitamin C, which of course helps the body absorb iron, sending his iron levels up sky-high and rendering him sleepless.
Once I explained what was happening he stopped the Noni Juice immediately. I made him a herbal extract tonic to take three times a day to help detox and chelate the iron out of his system and lower his iron stores. He continued his blood donations and added a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a large glass of water to his morning routine. He stayed on the herbal tonic for twelve weeks and, when ordering his second bottle of herbs, he reported that he was feeling great, he was sleeping much better and his iron levels were the lowest they had ever been.
I use this story to illustrate one of the biggest problems facing natural health practitioners today: the increasing rise of people self-medicating. When new clients come to see me, it’s not unusual for them to be already taking a large number of supplements and medication. As mentioned, some are prescribed by their GP or their specialist, but worryingly, many of the supplements are ‘prescribed’ by the client themselves.
To self-prescribe, you only have to step foot into a health food shop or a pharmacy to be greeted with floor to ceiling shelves, packed full with endless rows of mysterious tablets, liquids, capsules and powders, all claiming to be potent cures to any number of health conditions. Pick up your phone and scroll through social media, and you’ll be swamped with a frenzy of ads for all sorts of natural wonder products promising to offer ‘cures’ to any ailment.
This can be super-confusing when you have a health issue. Which product do you choose? Is it the one with the pretty label? Or the product you saw on TV or read about on Instagram? Is it the one recommended by the friendly person at the counter? Or, as in the case of my client, the one your well-meaning friend swears by?
That’s why it’s important to see a qualified naturopath, nutritionist or herbalist as they can advise on what’s best for you. Another client of mine, a lady in her mid seventies, was wondering why she had started to feel anxious as she was not an anxious person usually. She also mentioned that she was feeling a bit depressed. She’d also begun to experience erratic stomach pains and her fingers occasionally felt a bit numb.
Usually, with these symptoms, I would question whether the patient may be low in B12, but we tested and her levels were perfect. Upon checking the supplements she’d self-prescribed, which included a magnesium powder, a B12 capsule and a multivitamin tablet, I found they all contained B6. I tested her B6 levels and they were high.
She stopped taking these products; I found her an alternative magnesium powder with no added B6 and I formulated a herbal medicine mix to replace the other supplements. She also avoided high B6 foods. Within eight days, her symptoms had completely resolved.
Again, this illustrates the importance of seeking advice from a qualified naturopath, naturopathic herbalist, or nutritionist before taking supplements. As was the case with this client, the health picture is often not what the presenting symptoms may suggest.