How to Pick a Good Multivitamin

Part 2 of a 3-part multivitamin series

All multivitamins are not created equal! There is not one multivitamin that is appropriate for everyone.

Increasingly, most health-conscious consumers are taking a multivitamin, but oftentimes the specific forms of vitamins contained in their multivitamin are not the best-absorbed or utilized forms.

Where to Start – Micronutrient Testing

Picture3Ultimately, the only way to truly know which multivitamin is best for you is to test your micronutrient levels. We are all genetically unique, eat at least slightly different than anyone else we know, have different exercise and stress levels and different absorption rates. All of these factors (and more) combine to create unique nutrient needs. At Leaves of Life, we test most patients’ nutrient levels (if you’re not testing, your ultimately guessing, after all) to ensure that nothing is missed.  Most patients who are not taking a quality multivitamin have multiple areas where they are deficient.

The most common nutrient deficiencies we see in our practice are:

  • Zinc: Deficiency can cause or contribute to depression. Zinc activates more than 200 enzymes involved in cell regulation, immune function, pH balance, DNA, RNA and protein synthesis, lipid metabolism, wound healing, thyroid function and digestion.
  • B12: The most common symptom of deficiency is fatigue, closely followed by depression.  Blood testing is NOT an accurate way to assess B12 status unless measuring methylmalonic acid.
  • Vitamin C: Crucial for collagen and elastin formation (the main structural proteins in skin, cartilage and blood vessels), necessary for production of adrenalin, noradrenalin, cortisol and carnitine.
  • Chromium: It takes 4 chromium molecules for each insulin molecule to plug into cell receptors and allow glucose to enter the cell for energy production.  Low levels are highly associated with elevated blood sugar levels.
  • Vitamin D: Deficiency increases risk for diabetes, heart disease, several different types of cancer, depression, auto-immune disease and loss of bone.

For more information on micronutrient testing offered by Leaves of Life, check out our lab testing menu.

What to Avoid

Picture4Look at the label and avoid multivitamins that contain the following:

  • Synthetic vitamin E: Listed as dl-alpha tocopherol,  synthetic vitamin E is poorly absorbed and utililzed in the body.  D-alpha tocopherol is natural vitamin E. One letter makes all the difference – just remember “L” stands for lousy. Choose d-alpha tocopherol, or even better, if purchasing a vitamin E as a stand-alone vitamin, choose one that contains all 4 tocopherols and all 4 tocotrienols since vitamin E is actually a complex.
  • Calcium carbonate: Is the chemical name for sidewalk chalk, and is poorly absorbed, making it likely to show up in bone spurs, kidney stones and arterial plaque.  Oyster shell and coral calcium are simply other forms of calcium carbonate, and are best avoided.  Instead, choose citrate, gluconate, amino-acid chelate, microcrystaline hydroxyapatite calcium (MCHC) or TRAACS chelated calcium.  There will still be specific forms some people absorb better than others, so testing is best to assess doseage and absorption.
  • Food colorings: After all, there’s no reason to supplement colorings, and many reasons not to – they’re just one more toxin for your body to deal with. So if you can get over the “embarrassment” of being seen taking a brownish/greenish multivitamin, you’re better off.
  • Folic acid: Occurs nowhere in nature and must be converted by the MTHFR enzyme into folate before it is usable by the body.  We find that nearly half of our patients don’t make this conversion well (based on genetic testing).  Choose folate, folinic acid or methyltetrahydrofolate (sometimes called MTHF) instead.
  • If there are no chemical forms listed on the label, assume the company has nothing to brag about! The better forms of vitamins are more costly to incorporate, so companies that use them want you to know.

The next post will discuss the most common mistakes people make when taking a multivitamin, and the basics we should all consider taking regularly.

Until next time, wishing you good health!


Copyright Patty Shipley. All rights reserved.

A Guide to Better Breast Health

Beyond The Mammogram

pink-ribbon3Years of marathons and ad campaigns have taught us all that regular mammograms are an essential tool in the early detection of breast cancer. But what do you know beyond the bumper stickers? Are you familiar with xenoestrogens? What about a thermogram as a non-irradiating, low risk mammogram alternative? What else should you be doing to ensure you’re on the right track when it comes to managing your breast health?

A Place to Start

We’ve put together a helpful guide to address that very question. As you’ll see, many of these strategies would make sense for anyone trying to live a healthier, less toxic lifestyle… while other suggestions are more focused on reducing or minimizing estrogen and other hormone exposure.

Reduce Your Hormone Exposure

  • Eat a diet of organic, whole, fresh foods. This will reduce your exposure to chemicals/xenoestrogens (xenoestrogens are chemicals that mimic estrogens and increase risk of hormone-fed cancers).
  • Drink clean, filtered water. This will help reduce exposure to xenoestrogens, drug residues and chemicals.
  • Limit or avoid hormonal contraceptive or synthetic hormone use.
  • Never take estrogen- , testosterone-, or DHEA-containing hormones without progesterone to balance them. Even in women who have had hysterectomies, breast tissue is still vulnerable to imbalance caused by “unopposed” estrogen or androgen use.

Upgrade Your Intake

  • Consume foods and spices rich in antioxidants (kale, berries, curcumin/turmeric, basil, etc).
  • Regularly consume dark, leafy greens. They are a rich source of antioxidants, chlorophyll and activated folate – all important in promoting optimal detoxification and lowering cancer risk.
  • Eat a single serving of cruciferous vegetables daily. This reduces your risk of many types of cancer, including breast cancer. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, brussel sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, daikon, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, and watercress.
  • Make omega-3 fatty acids a regular part of your diet to lower/prevent inflammation. Good sources include salmon, mackerel, walnuts, flax, and fish oil.
  • Avoid vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, soy or corn oil) as these are easily damaged by light, oxygen and heat, making them harmful and inflammatory in the body.
  • For cooking – ghee, coconut, grapeseed, and olive oils are best. Use olive oil liberally, but avoid heating to high temperatures (add at end of cook time or use in salad dressings, cold foods).
  • Avoid eating charred meat or fat. This is a source of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are known to promote breast tumor formation. Even without charring, high heat will produce HCAs.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar. These compromise gastrointestinal health and hamper the ability to clear toxins and estrogen.
  • Avoid processed foods or items grown with chemicals/pesticides or GMOs. These contribute to overall toxicity, inflammation and cancer risk.
  • Choose pastured, free-range poultry and eggs, grass-fed beef/buffalo/bison and wild caught fish to avoid estrogenic compounds and other toxins.
  • Aim for 20-30 grams of fiber per day. Fiber binds toxins and hormones carrying them out of the body, and provides food for “friendly” bacteria in the gut that help metabolize estrogen.
  • Optimize vitamin D. A serum level of 60-70 is ideal, and in my practice, I find the average dose necessary for Ohio adults is 5000 IU per day, though be sure to check levels to avoid toxicity or under-dosing. There are small sub-sets of patients who need more or less than average.
  • Ensure optimal iodine and selenium levels (I utilize a dried urine iodine test with my patients that assesses iodine, selenium, mercury, bromine and arsenic levels, all key factors in thyroid, breast and total body wellness).
  • Limit alcohol intake as much as possible—alcohol competes with liver clearance of estrogens.

Kick Caffeine

  • Opt for green tea over black tea. Green tea contains approximately 4 times the amount of polyphenols and has less caffeine than black tea (caffeine content may vary).
  • Minimize caffeine – it competes for liver clearance of estrogen. Also, avoid conventionally grown (non-organic) coffee – it is often heavily sprayed with chemicals and pesticides that are estrogen mimics.

Lifestyle and Daily Practice

  • Exercise strenuous enough to cause perspiration for 20 minutes at least 5 times weekly has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 40% (exercise encourages healthy lymph flow/toxin removal and helps balance blood sugar and hormones, all factors in breast health).
  • If you have a sedentary job, make it a habit to move/walk/stretch for 2+ minutes every hour.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding both lower the risk of breast cancer.
  • Optimize your sleep and minimize light exposure at night, which decreases melatonin.
  • Melatonin has antioxidant properties and has been shown to be helpful in breast and hard tumor cancers. If you’ve been diagnosed w/breast cancer, consider 20mg of melatonin nightly.
  • Practice stress reduction (meditation, yoga, breathing, recreational activities, etc).
  • Consider daily breast massage with castor or sesame oil or dry skin brushing (always toward the heart) to help mobilize lymph and drain toxins, fats and excess hormones. Breast tissue is mainly composed of fat, so has less blood flow than other parts of the body.
  •  Address constipation if you are not having at least 2 bowel movements daily. The bowels are the most important channel of toxin and estrogen elimination.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Avoid antiperspirants since sweating provides a channel for toxin elimination from the breast area, and instead opt for deodorants free of aluminum, parabens and xenoestrogens.
  • Optimize lymph flow (lymph flow removes toxins from the breast area) by wearing a comfortable and non-restrictive bra. Do not wear your bra to bed.


Check out the our lab testing menu for more information on the lab testing available through Leaves of Life.

See the Leaves of Life blog post on thermograms and breast health for more information on thermograms, including a local thermography provider plus a comparison of thermograms and mammograms.

Multivitamins – Should You Take One?

Part 1 of a 3-part multivitamin series

Should You Take a Multivitamin?

Unless you eat 6-8 servings (a serving is the size of your closed fist) of fresh or frozen organic vegetables and 1-2 servings of fresh or frozen organic fruits in an array of colors MOST days, you should be taking a multivitamin.

I find many clients eat what I call the “White-Yellow-Brown Diet”: eggs, cheese, nuts, meat, dairy and grains (pasta, bread/baked goods, crackers), and regularly consume refined/processed foods which provide caloric, though not nutrient density, and require nutrients for proper metabolism of the calories they contain.  For optimum nutrition, we need to eat the colors of the rainbow, since each color provides a different portion of the spectrum of nutrients necessary to good health, and we need to consume them in sufficient quantities.

One salad at lunch and one cooked veggie for dinner is simply not enough.

Would I prefer my clients eat sufficient veggies and fruit rather than take a multivitamin?  Absolutely!  Don’t get me wrong: a multivitamin does not substitute for eating well, or provide a valid excuse not to, but if you’re not doing so, a multivitamin is a must.  And even if you are, it’s important to consider the nutrient depletion that occurs from farming over and over in the same soil without properly nourishing it.

If you’re ill, recovering from surgery or injury, dealing with excessive or chronic stress, or exercise regularly, your nutrient needs will be higher, and a multivitamin can provide a nice array of necessary nutrients to catalyze numerous chemical reactions involved in repair, detoxification, production of hormones and neurotransmitters and much more.

Without enough vitamin B6, for instance, you can’t make sufficient serotonin or progesterone.  I like to think of vitamins (and minerals) as metabolic spark plugs.

What’s with all the Negative Press about Vitamins?

Here are the most common problems I find when dissecting often sensationalized study results:

1. Correlational Studies

Most research findings we hear about are based on correlational studies (usually observational or epidemiological) which are designed to observe for correlations, NOT determine cause and effect.

Before being accepted as fact, results from correlational studies should then be taken to a randomized controlled trial (RCT), a study that is designed to ensure that only one possible relevant factor distinguishes the treatment group from the control.  When done properly, a RCT can draw a cause-and-effect relationship under specific conditions that exist within the study setting.

Unfortunately, when reported by the media in sensationalized headlines, correlative research findings are not quantified as “preliminary” or “research hypotheses,” and many people mistakenly use these “sound bytes” to make decisions about their health.

2. Potentially Flawed Studies

Often studies have serious design flaws.  The Iowa Women’s Health Study was an 18-year observational study that was repeatedly reported to have shown that women who took multivitamins had a statistically higher mortality rate.

Among the design flaws: women who took multivitamins were nearly twice as likely to be taking synthetic hormones (which we now know increases mortality), there was no data gathered on other prescription medication use, and the study ended at age 82, which is older than the current average life expectancy for women, AND more than 50% of the women studied lived BEYOND life expectancy.

None of these confounding variables were factored in.

3. Skewed Data

Sad to say, often data is “cherry-picked” to manipulate consumers.

4. Incorrect Species or Dose

Sometimes the study does not use the proper species or part of a medicinal plant (leaves vs. roots), uses a dose below what is typically recommended for the condition being studied, or doesn’t use it long enough or at the correct stage of the condition.

5. Incorrect Form or Usage

In the case of vitamins, the wrong form may be used (synthetic vs. natural), or other guidelines of proper usage are not accounted for (antioxidants, such as vitamin E, should never be given alone, and toxic compounds should not be used to extract the active components from a plant).

Bottom Line

In a world that has become increasingly toxic (toxins require nutrients to be removed safely from the body), and where our farming practices, genetically engineered and processed/refined foods provide us with less and less of what we need, a multivitamin can mean the difference between marginal or outright deficiencies and optimal nutrient levels.

I encourage all of my clients to do micronutrient testing to assess their nutrient status.  It is almost always obvious when clients are not taking a multivitamin (or are wasting their money on a bad one).

Next post I’ll discuss how to pick a multivitamin and some common mistakes I see when reviewing supplement labels and regimens  in my practice.

Until next time…

Copyright Patty Shipley. All rights reserved.