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  • Karl Thunemann

On Being a Sultan of Supplements

Today I examine my passion for dietary supplements. Their roots seem to lie with my father. When I was a child, I would go to any length to avoid identifying with him. And yet today, preparing to cross a summit in the matter of self-care, I sense my father hovering nearby, grasping a copy of Prevention magazine more firmly than he ever clutched the Bible. He subscribed to Prevention for many years and—even though he had his sickly moments—was a paragon of fitness.

I am preparing for my first meeting with a new primary care doctor, a geriatrician. I am changing largely because the internist I have been seeing for a few years refused to engage with my focus on supplements. See a naturopath, she said with an implied wave of her hand. I did see a naturopath, who was also a friend. All I had wanted to know was whether ashwagandha, a plant in the nightshade family used in Indian medicine, would work for me. But in the course of making a long workup, she never addressed this particular question. * I went ahead and started using the treatment, based on my brother’s enthusiasm. I know we’re not the same, but we so frequently echo each other.

ashwagandha berries

My new doctor wants me to bring the actual bottles of all the medications, vitamins, and other supplements to our first meeting. A mere list will not do! I buy most of my supplements from a company called Research Verified, which has been anointed in more than one review as the No. 1 purveyor of supplements.

I do not exactly know how many pills and treatments I ingest every day. Well, fool, get up and go count them, an inner voice chides. But that would not be—well, sporting is not the right word. Let’s just say it wouldn’t respect my process. This is my process: I try to arrange all the pills and capsules in groups of three, five, and six on the bathroom counter. I take three capsules that look identical. I have a much better chance of taking all three if I down them all in quick succession. Any distraction might lead to losing my place, I might take two of one and leave one out. Really, my shoddy memory is that bad—I can forget in two seconds whether I have done something I consider vital.

And just in this moment, pondering whether to go count my staples, I realize that I haven’t even considered bringing the container of Metamucil to the show-and tell session with the new doctor. I should—it’s essential to my gastro-intestinal program, which is still slightly off target. Well. My G-I surgeon recommended it, and it is a supplement, right?

Some time ago during a paroxysm of self-analysis, I tallied up the existence of fifteen comorbidities in this body I call myself. Is it possible that I have amassed supplements or remedies for every one? Well, certainly not. A few of the co-morbs were flat-out whimsical. If they have a treatment, it ought to be behavioral, not obliterated by supplement. Other co-morbs were self-diagnosed, without the aid of a physician—and hard to take seriously. Though the American Tinnitus Association begs to differ. Tinnitus could kill you, but mine isn’t that bad yet. It seems as if it’s always there.

Do I sound like a hypochondriac? I had such tendencies in my twenties and thirties (more about that on a later occasion), but this is different. Except for a birth defect, my co-morbs are associated with aging and I am treating them with actual products. So I am a person beset by afflictions commonly associated with growing old. I don’t expect to live forever. But it seems reasonable to seek the best available care I can afford.

As sultanates go, mine is small and virtually unpopulated. I picture it as an island in the midst of a temperate ocean. I could never rule in a tropical climate, no matter how many loyal subjects I had.

Because I visit so many supplement-related sites on the internet, I am somewhat bombarded by marketing emails. Typically, they try to cajole you into watching a lengthy video introducing their product, along with an injunction to watch through to the very end to take advantage of a limited opportunity. Once I bought of bottle of Antarctic krill. One bottle. The pitchman swore it was far better than mere fish oil.

I took krill caplets for two days, and immediately noticed increased difficulty with dizziness. At the end of the second day, I was standing in the foyer of our apartment when I collapsed without warning. Fortunately, I hadn’t tossed my fish oil. My wife set the just-opened bottle out on the “sharing table” our co-op keeps for discarded items. It disappeared almost immediately, hopefully snatched up by someone who is not unduly sensitive to krill.

And now I have listened to another pitch hawking a new herbal product that promises the impossible: vanquishing the heartbreak of tinnitus. I have vowed not to order it before meeting my new doctor. Is it worth a try? And what about buying supplements from Costco and other mass retailers? I’m taking some of those. I’m grateful for this chance to change. I’m curious to know what this doctor will say, but I doubt I will be shuttering my sultanate very soon.


Rather than attempting to recap the benefits, let me refer you to an informed source:


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