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Dr Jeff Sharman on Nutritional Supplements

Dr Jeff Sharman on Nutritional Supplements

For one of most balanced and informative postings I've read on nutritional supplements and how they can complicate treatment, read Dr Sharman's latest post where he "tries to make sense of a topic that a lot of patients want to know more about".


There's lots to digest here on the continuum from natural to non-natural medicines along with valuable information on potential side effects, interactions and the potential impact on drug trials of concurrently taking supplements.

Take particular note of his warning: "if they (alternative care providers) are both recommending and selling the product - and it costs a lot - ask them where else you can buy it - and how the other products compare to theirs. If the answer is “nowhere” or “the others are not as good” I would be concerned."


13 Replies

I am the wife of cll patient, I have just qualified as a naturopathic nutritionist, I agree with a lot the issues this Dr Sharman has highlighted in this article, regarding drug nutrient interactions, you need to be informed. Any nutritionist/alternative therapist who doesn't give a food as the alternative to expensive supplement, or doesn't tell you to source them yourself to get the cheapest deal is not being totally ethical. My only concern is that the medical profession does not give good lifestyle/diet advice to patients. Patients with chronic or life threatening disease are not being tested for nutrient deficiencies at the time of diagnosis, so that any underlying deficiencies can be rectified. All nutritional deficiencies have a disease process. Most people in the western world eat a diet which is very deficient in nutrients, people with ill health have greater requirement for nutrients than healthy people, 5 a day is misleading, 10 - 20 portions of mostly veg and no more than 5 portions of fruit a day is what most people should be aiming for. Patients can take some control by just improving their diets, optimizing nutrients through diet is the best way to increase vitamins and minerals. He never mentioned that some common drugs deplete nutrients, one widely used drug is the oral contraceptive drug which i'm sure most of you know some young woman who is taking, this drug deletes 12 essential nutrients ,most of which are co factors to serotonin production and that why a good number of women on this contraceptive have depression, all pharmaceuticals deplete or block some function essential to optimal physiological function of our bodies, why doesn't he speak about the damage statin are having on health, that evidence is emerging that they are actually causing more damage that good. It is easy for the medical world to knock alternative treatments, that most natural remedies have not had clinical trials, well clinical trials are not always reliable. They can and are distorted and manipulated in favour of the pharmaceutical industry. Ben Goldacre has written an amazing book called Bad Pharma about clinical trails. The health industry is all about money, Dr Sharman is not working for free is he, he is also making money out of sick people, he is probably sponsored by some pharmaceutical company, to prescribe their drugs or to enlist people onto clinical trials. Education is what is needed, are medics concerned that if by eating a healthy diet or taking some natural remedy that they will be out of a job, then that is also perverse, we should all be working together in the best interest of the patients and we should not be guided by ignorance, the medical professional should educate themselves to be more aware of nutrients and how deficiencies can be a cause of disease.


Hi nakimghum

I so agree with a lot of your views. I was diagnosed about 8 months ago and told by the haematologist to just go on doing as I was doing

because the blood counts were very low and disease was low grade. No mention whatsoever of vitamin deficiencies or talk of improving diet, exercise Nothing!! And since then whenever I've asked any GP on their thoughts of anything other than what is included in a pharmacology manual, I have met with dismissive to downright rude responses! Very disappointed in the medical professionals overall!

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At last years CLL UK support meeting, we were told people with CLL should all be taking a VitaminD3 in oil supplement and have a lack of sunlight as we have to cover up to protect against skin cancer. Since taking this supplement every day I have noticed a gradual but noticeable improvement in my fatigue levels. I think we need all the help we can get to support our struggling immune systems.

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Hi I have been supplementing my husband with d3 for the last 2 years, I am a nutritionist, i'm glad at last that they are recognizing the need to supplement when levels are low, I wonder what level of supplement you are taking, did you have a blood test to determine your Vit D level before taking a supplement ?. I have started using a Vitamin D lamp for my husband now, because vitamin D is created but UVB rays on the skin, a supplement is not going to achieve all the bio-physiological processes that UVB on the skin will. By bypassing all these functions that take place during the conversion we might be missing the crucial link, the other reason for doing it this way is that it is difficult to overdose when the Vitamin D is achieved through the natural process.

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As Chris recently posted, there is now a Mayo Clinic study under way to give us some long needed answers on whether or not supplementing Vitamin D3 is beneficial for us.


A few years ago, after reading a Mayo Clinic paper that identified a correlation of vitamin D serum levels with prognosis, I asked my rather dubious haematologist to check if my Vitamin D levels were low and they were. Like mollyfletcher, I also found a subsequent noticeable improvement in my fatigue levels and hence a significantly improved quality of life after taking a vitamin D3 supplement. I've also had subsequent vitamin D serum level checks to ensure my levels remain in the healthy range and I lower my supplement intake during summer.

Until we get answers from the Mayo study, we really don't know if boosting our vitamin D levels is on balance good or bad. Perhaps our vitamin D levels are low because the growing CLL is depleting them and boosting our serum levels is just boosting the CLL? On balance, I believe I made the right decision for me, but I could still be proven wrong. It may come down to each individual's particular CLL genetic subtype - frustratingly we just don't know yet!


Somewhat related to supplements: Are red wine, chocolate, coffee and tea really good for you?

"You've justified your Christmas binge on chocolate, red wine and other treats with the defence that science says they're good for you.

To test the strength of this alibi we put so called healthy treats to the tipping point test to find out if you can have too much of a good thing."

A selection of expert opinions on the above:



Here's a related article to nutritional supplements; ‘Superfoods’ - another battleground between marketing and common sense:


In this article, Michael Vagg, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine and Pain Specialist at Barwon Health raises the misleading and fatuous nature of the information provided by some nutritionists in the mass media, explains that the science of food and nutrition is dietetics and looks at the dangers associated with society's infatuation with 'superfoods'.



That herbal supplement may not be what you think it is, scientists find...

One might ask, what is in that bottle beside profits?

'Herbal products available to consumers in the marketplace may be contaminated or substituted with alternative plant species and fillers that are not listed on the labels.

According to the World Health Organization, the adulteration of herbal products is a threat to consumer safety.

Our research aimed to investigate herbal product integrity and authenticity with the goal of protecting consumers from health risks associated with product substitution and contamination.'



Full Paper...


Heal the Herbs Webpage... read the reports...



And here is an overview of an investigation into a sample of 121 herbal medicines in Australia - scary stuff.


There's obviously vast differences in how various countries attempt to regulate this market.

"In Australia herbal remedies which make therapeutic claims are treated as medicines, unlike some other countries, such as the USA, where they are treated as food supplements.

The findings:

"We found that in a survey of 121 herbal remedies advertised and sold on the internet from Australian sites that 18%, nearly one in five, were not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. Of the ones that were on the ARTG, overall 60% had active ingredients listed on their labels that did not match the active ingredients that permitted under their ARTG license. There was significant variation in concentrations of contents, or substitution of contents, or addition of active ingredients, or a combination of the above."

and further...

"The study's findings echoed those of a "small survey of complementary medicines in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. This found that 90% of the randomly surveyed medicines were non-compliant with one or more of the regulations, and 71% had manufacturing or quality issues. Our larger survey focused exclusively on herbal medicines in specific therapeutic categories, but the general trend is similar.

It is also consistent with yet unpublished work we have done.

This is also consistent with a study of herbal medicines in Canada, which has a moderately similar regulatory regime."



Here is the link to the Canadian study from the University of Guelph biomedcentral.com/content/p...


Recent research hints that taking Antioxidants such as Vitamins A, E, and C, could actually Spur Tumors by Acting on Cancer Gene:


"Many people take vitamins such as A, E, and C thinking that their antioxidant properties will ward off cancer...

Swedish researchers have showed that relatively low doses of antioxidants spur the growth of early lung tumors in cancer-prone mice, perhaps by hindering a well-known tumor suppressor gene. "


Australians may find these sites helpful when looking for an unbiased presentation of the value of supplements:

Medline Plus herbs and supplements




Health Direct


(From the Australian Leukaemia Foundation article in last November's CLL/SLL News "Be informed with Complementary Medicine article by Dr Lynne Weekes.)


About Herbs is an excellent APP on iplatforms...

About Herbs by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center


Computer Website... for bookmarking