Why Formulations Are So Crucial In Supplementation

What you should be looking for when incorporating supplements into your practice.

From promoting vitality to addressing nutritional gaps, the allure of supplements is undeniable, which is why they have found their way into the daily routines of millions. Yet, the landscape of supplementation is rife with misconceptions that can lead consumers astray.

One prevalent misconception is the belief in the universal safety and effectiveness of supplements. The reality, as highlighted, is that quality, efficacy, and safety vary significantly among different products.

Clever marketing often overshadows the importance of distinguishing between sub-therapeutic food-grade supplements and TGA-listed complementary medicines. The latter, containing therapeutic doses for specific indications, stand apart as potent contributors to health.

Dr Agnes has been a practicing Cosmetic Physician and Nutritional Medicine Practitioner for 15 years.

We speak to Dr Agnieszka Warchalowski, practicing Cosmetic Physician, Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, and Founder/Managing Director of Bio-Alai, to provide a compass for navigating the intricate world of supplements, urging consumers and businesses alike to approach these health-enhancing products with discernment, research, and a commitment to ethical practice.

What key misconceptions do you frequently encounter when it comes to supplementations and their formulations?

One common misconception about supplements is that they are universally safe and effective, but supplements vary significantly in terms of their quality, efficacy, and safety.  And not all supplements are supported by research.  Unfortunately, consumers are often being guided by clever marketing and sometimes even a misinterpretation of scientific data.

It’s important to understand the difference between sub-therapeutic food-grade supplements and TGA-listed complementary medicines, which contain nutrients at therapeutic doses for specific indications. A lack of distinction between the two categories often leads to confusion.  

Many food grade supplements contain minimal or negligible amounts of the active ingredients, essentially making them ineffective. In addition, they often contain a higher proportion of excipients compared to active ingredients.

Excipients are additives like bulking agents, stabilisers, sweeteners, and flavours designed to improve the product’s shelf-life and taste, however, these additives can come at a health cost.

For example, in mice studies, maltodextrin, a common excipient found in many nutraceutical products, was found to increase intestinal permeability (commonly known as leaky gut) when the mice consumed maltodextrin at doses proportionally equivalent to those found in baby formula.

In human studies, there is increasing evidence suggesting a strong connection between leaky gut, inflammation, and many common chronic health conditions.

Another misconception is that more is better.  While sub-therapeutic doses are ineffective, mega-doses can be harmful.  One study found that long-term intake of high-dose nutrients can even increase the risk of death. 

Mega-doses can force cells to perform in ways they’re not designed for and with a lack of clear protocols on dose and duration, people tend to take them long-term and run into trouble. 

Another misconception about supplements is that they are just expensive urine.  Many practitioners believe that we obtain adequate nutrients from our diets but according to research conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the standard Australian diet only meets the nutritional needs of five nutrients and over 70% of Australians consume a diet that is deficient in at least one nutrient. 

Additionally, nutrient needs increase with age, higher activity levels, menopause, and chronic conditions, like obesity, so a significant portion of population may benefit from supplementing their diet with high-quality nutrients.

Almost every metabolic and biochemical reaction in the body relies on nutrients.  Nutrients are essential for improving microbial diversity, supporting mitochondrial energy production and detoxification, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, and serving as cofactors for neurotransmitter production, amongst many other processes.  It makes sense that if we’re not getting enough nutrients in our diet, we cannot adequately support health.  

High-quality supplements, when implemented correctly, can help support foundational cellular processes and slow down the processes that drive ageing and illness.

What are the most crucial considerations from a consumer standpoint when it comes to supplements? And also, for businesses looking to supply them in their practice?

Both consumers and business should opt for TGA-listed supplements, which come under the banner of complementary medicines.  Any claims made about a TGA-listed complementary medicine must relate to the doses of active ingredients contained within the product– so you’re not paying for expensive urine. 

In addition, products are tested for purity and stability so you’re not getting a product full of toxins.  But it’s important to understand that the TGA does not test products for safety or efficacy, nor do they require that excipients are listed on the label, so you need to do your own research and make sure to choose reputable brands.  

Another factor to consider is that supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet and are unlikely to mitigate the negative impact of processed food and lifestyle factors like smoking, inactivity, and chronic busy-ness.  Ideally, supplements should be taken in conjunction with diet and lifestyle modifications.

What are the medico-legal and ethical considerations for businesses looking to have supplements in their business?

From a medicolegal perspective, aestheticians and dermal clinicians need to practice in accordance with their level of training and comply with regulatory guidelines.

Patients present to aesthetic practitioners with skin signs and symptoms that often reflect a physiological disruption – inflammation or metabolic or hormonal disruption – and possibly even an underlying medical condition.  It’s important not to make any medical diagnoses or attempt to manage any medical conditions.

It is important to note to not make any unsubstantiated claims about supplements or claims regarding curing medical conditions.  Supplements can be used to support cell function and manage certain processes that drive illness and ageing, they do not cure medical conditions.  Educate yourself on the TGA-approved claims for any supplements you offer and do not make any claims beyond these.

From an ethical perspective, practitioners have a duty of care to only recommend treatments and interventions that are genuinely in the best interests of the patient, and supplements are no exception.  

Always first consider whether your patients could benefit from supplements, determine the treatment objectives, and choose supplements based on reliable information that best align with the goals. And always provide clear protocols on dosing and duration, this is essential to reduce the risk of adverse effects.

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