Collier and Lee Counties Edition
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Southwest Florida Healthcare Professionals Weigh In

According to the 2017 TABS Analytics 10th Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements (VMS) Study, the explanation for the 20 percent soar in the sale of online VMS from 2016 to 2017 was the successful performance of, the largest Internet retailer in the world, and the brick and mortar online retailers such as Walmart. Among Southwest Florida healthcare professionals, the staggering $2.4 billion in 2017 online sales, along with the $13.5 billion in total retail and online U.S. sales volume, has raised notable concern regarding important issues that impact consumers. These range from quality of VMS contents such as GMOs, artificial colors and fillers to hyped online marketing propaganda, misleading information and lack of proper labeling information, as well as added ingredients for long-term stabilization and extended shelf life. An additional concern is for outdated nutraceuticals that are being sold online at reduced prices.

Healthcare professionals that practice a functional medicine lifestyle approach prefer to recommend nutraceuticals and medical foods as part of a patient’s “big picture” plan to correct deficiencies, manage chronic health conditions and restore health and wellness. The basis of their preference is trust in the manufacturers as well as in their research, processes and testing procedures.

Trusting Purity

Pamela Hughes, DO, owner of Hughes Functional Medicine, in Naples, sees successful clinical changes in patients that switch from using their retail products to the nutraceuticals and medical foods made by the trusted companies she purchases from. “Changes are most prevalent when I’m collaborating with a patient who is working to heal the intestinal barrier and brain health issues. I predominantly use two particular brands because I know their process for ensuring purity on individual ingredients arriving to their facilities and on each batch produced. These companies insure ingredients meet more stringent European and Canadian manufacturing standards. The majority of nutraceuticals and diet aids advertised on TV and in stores contains ingredients such as red and yellow dyes, GMO, soy, corn products and others.”

Filling an In-Between Niche

During her 25 years as a physician, Carol Roberts, M.D., who practices at Hughes Functional Medicine, has sold nutraceuticals directly to patients and recommended particular VMS purchases at health food stores and online. “I believe nutraceuticals, which are on a level between food and drugs, are filling a niche that will make many prescribed drugs unnecessary and keep us healthy for our entire lifespan. Adding them to a good diet is important because we’ve no way of knowing what is actually in the foods we are eating, and what gut factors are interfering with our ability to absorb and utilize nutrients,” says Roberts, who considers it essential to do testing that indicates where a patient stands nutritionally. “Otherwise, I'd be guessing, just like most patients who self-diagnose.”

Results Match Product Claims

When Terri Evans, owner of TAE Healthy Aging Center, in Naples, guides a patient through the repair and restoration phases of their health plan, she’s aiming to hit the bull’s-eye with a personalized support program. “I can only achieve this by using research-backed products from nutraceutical companies that take measures to ensure quality. I’ve recommended these since the 1990s and achieve the results that patients deserve. Products may initially cost more; however, because patient outcomes match product claims, in the long run, products are more cost-effective. Blue light and Internet specials don’t pay health dividends,” she says.

Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)

Teresa Spano, a certified nutrition specialist and naturopathic consultant at Lee Physician Group Integrative Medicine, in Fort Myers, sees results from nutraceuticals that are remarkably different from retail VMS products. “Carefully formulated nutraceuticals are made to produce measurable results. Reputable companies are certified through good manufacturing practice (GMP) regulations promulgated by the FDA, which ensures the consumer that they are purchasing a product that is high quality. GMP certification is voluntary. Many companies choose not to participate, which leaves the consumer questioning quality,” advises Spano.

Be Knowledgeable and Use Discernment

When Dee Harris, a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist and owner of D-Signed Nutrition, in Bonita Springs, had to unexpectedly evacuate her home because of Hurricane Irma, she had two hours to pack and get to the airport. “I forgot my supplements, so at my destination, I went to a highly regarded national supermarket chain that is supposed to exclusively feature foods without artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats. Searching through multi-vitamins and fish oils, I found slim pickings based on what I know as a result of my training,” says Harris. She cautions that people need to be discerning and knowledgeable about what they are looking for. “If a patient asks about buying retail or online, I research the product before giving an answer. Some retail products might be okay for a healthy person who doesn’t have gut permeability, gastric or autoimmune problems and food sensitivities, but few of my patients are that fortunate,” remarks Harris.

Check for Verifiable Research

Deb Post, a nationally board-certified, advanced nurse practitioner and owner of Wellbridges Health Center, in Bonita Springs, knows how difficult it is to determine which supplements have been verified by research analysis and how to see through the marketing hype used by pharmaceutical companies. “Even with medications, health professionals see less than 50 percent of the actual research which is done by the drug company. Although this sometimes happens with nutraceuticals, we have so much more data on how vitamins and minerals work in the body,” says Post.  

Professional brands generally have better studies and better-quality processing, as well as third-party analysis. Health professionals chart the efficacy of supplements that their patients use. “Clients rarely follow a protocol on their own in documenting where they start with a problem’s severity or look clinically at how well something worked. It is important to a treatment plan that I use a safe and consistent amount of any VMS or nutraceutical that I know is as exacting as any medication is supposed to be,” clarifies Post, who scrutinizes retail supplements that patients bring to her office. “Most contain GMOs, substances for long-term stabilization, artificial colors and toxins. Many are expired.”

She notes, “People spend unnecessary amounts of money trying to fix their health, sometimes causing more harm than good. Add to this the problems of expired and improperly stored products, all purchased for what consumers consider a “good price.”

Customized Nutritional Support

At her Fort Myers Chiropractic Studio, Christine Hoch, DC, carries many of the nutraceuticals that she recommends. “After consulting with a patient and reviewing their lab results, I frequently find that they need a much more customized nutritional support regimen to get the best results. I do this by using a variety of professional, high-quality herbs, homeopathic remedies and nutritional supplements to help them reset hormones, decrease inflammation, improve joint motion, reduce pain, correct digestive issues and encourage weight loss,” says Hoch.

Health Practitioners Collaborate in Research

“Our bodies are meant to get nutrition and what they need to heal from food. Because there are obstacles such as genetic mutations and food sensitivities that prevent this, we need supplements, nutraceuticals and medical food. I use brands that don’t sell to public. One that I use only distributes through licensed practitioners. They want practitioners to participate in their research by providing feedback regarding the effectiveness of their products in treating specific health challenges,” says Linell King, M.D., owner of Ultimate Vitality Partners, in Naples.

Regarding retail products sold directly to the public, King believes that small, local stores specializing in health products typically have higher standards for what they carry and spend more time researching products. King advises, “Generally, their staff is knowledgeable and their goal is customer satisfaction and repeat business.”

There is much to learn about supplements and nutraceuticals, which is why healthcare professionals agree that self-diagnosis and self-treatment is a problem. Without the guidance of a professional health practitioner, proper testing and a strategy for correcting undetected deficiencies and imbalances, more serious problems may develop.

The Best Quality Care

“Nutraceuticals work best when they are specifically selected for an individual, based on their personal history. Everyone has a different story and path that led to their current health status. Figuring out the missing and necessary pieces ensures the best-quality care,” advises Spano.

Local Resources

D-Signed Nutrition, 3531 Bonita Bay Blvd., Ste. 300, Bonita Springs. 239-676-5249.

Fort Myers Chiropractic Studio, 8971 Daniels Center D., Ste. 304, Fort Myers. 239-243-8735.

Hughes Functional Medicine, 800 Goodlette Rd. N., Ste. 270. 239-571-6585.

LPG Integrative Medicine, 26800 S. Tamiami Tr., Ste. 350, Bonita Springs. 239-495-4480.

TAE Healthy Aging Center, 11983 Tamiami Tr. N., Ste. 100A, Naples. 239-430-6800.

Ultimate Vitality Partners, 9010 Strada Stell Ct., Ste. 103, Naples. 239-465-0098.

Wellbridges Health Center, 9200 Bonita Beach Rd. SE, Ste. 213, Bonita Springs. 239-316-4815.

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