Sweet Geek

Thoughts on Health and Nutrition

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Shiny Supplements

Supplementation is a sticky subject for me. On one hand, I shy away from supplements, especially herbal, because they often seem like snake oil. On the other, I see studies like the one below which really tempt me to try one out on myself.

Effect of L-carnitine on the hepatic transcript profile in piglets as animal model (full text)

In this case L-carnitine affected the gene expression of several key genes in the liver. It up-regulated genes associated with glucose and fatty acid uptake and down-regulated gluconeogenesis. In short, it turned on genes that use up glucose and fat and turned off genes that convert protein into glucose.

Sounds like a great supplement for a diabetic, no? And that’s where the quandary sets in. You shouldn’t just randomly take supplements based on a single study (in pigs no less).

So how do you decide that it’s even worth considering taking a supplement? 10 studies? A double blind randomized study in humans? Even if the results look good, you need to understand what the supplement is, how it works, is one deficient or just supplementing, possible negative effects, the dose, etc. Lets say that you decide to give it a shot and become “an experiment of one”. You still need to monitor the results and figure out if it’s helping, hurting or seemingly not making any difference. Unless you are running blood tests, all you have to go on is how you feel (which is arguably the best data point anyway). It’s not as simple of a choice as it initially appears!

So will I try this shiny new supplement? Maybe but first I’ll spend at least a month or two reading more studies, reviewing other people’s experiences and generally dithering. Dithering… it’s what I do best. :)