Are endogenous nutritional supplements better?

Are endogenous nutritional supplements better?

Just a muse.

Endogenous substances are those that are already contained within our bodies. They are part of basic human equipment.

Exogenous substances are those that come from outside of our bodies. This includes various substances in foods, drugs (most, though not all), and pesticides.

I often mull over all of the tools we use in the Track Your Plaque program to achieve control over this thing called coronary plaque. It struck me that just about all the supplements we use that seem to provide outsized benefits are all endogenous substances themselves:

--Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil
--Vitamin D
--Niacin (vitamin B3)

Many of the other substances, though not directly relevant to our plaque-control efforts, but are among the most effective nutritional supplements, also supplement endogenous levels: calcium pyruvate, creatine, acetylcarnitine, DHEA, testosterone, progesterone, growth hormone, pregnenolone, phenylalanine, tyrosine, melatonin, etc.

Curiously, most drugs are not meant to directly supplement endogenous levels, but are designed either to enhance or block an enzyme (e.g., acetylcholinesterase inhibitors that block breakdown of acetylcholine; HMG CoA reductase inhibitors to block cholesterol synthesis; angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors to reduce blood pressure), to exert toxic effects on an organism (antibiotics, antivirals), or to exert an entirely unique effect that does not ordinarily occur in the human body (some anti-cancer drugs, for instance). (This is an admitted, vast over-simplification.)

That's not to say that any endogenous substance is desirable or safe when supplemented. Cortisol, thyroid hormone, and estrogens are three examples of endogenous substances that have downsides when administered at slightly more than physiologic concentrations.

Nonetheless, it makes me wonder if the world of endogenous substance supplementation has not been fully explored. Are there other endogenous substances that are as potent and wonderful, for instance, as vitamin D but not yet fully appreciated? I'm sure there are.

Comments (6) -

  • Anonymous

    5/3/2008 11:20:00 PM |

    I don't know if this would qualify as an endogenous substance, but I've recently added the herb turmeric to my supplementation list. I take a capsule or two a day.  I'm on an e-mail list for supplement studies and marketing going on in health food circles, and it seems tumeric is receiving good press for its ability to help strengthen bones. Figure with the connection between brittle bones and heart disease, it's worth taking a little.

  • Jenny

    5/4/2008 12:43:00 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    You mentioned that estrogen is a natural substance that causes problems if administered at higher than physiological levels.

    You do know, I hope, that all the data showing supposed problems from estrogen supplementation is from research studies where women were given MUCH too high doses. I've been using a dose of non-horse origen estrogen about 1/4 of what they used the studies and it makes a huge positive difference in my blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight with no negative effects on my endometrium (which my doctor has me get measured with ultra sound every so often.

    I'm very grateful that I have a good gynecologist who didn't react mindlessly to the research showing negative outcomes from estrogen.

    It appears to be protective against macular degeneration (which made my dad blind in his 90s) and for me it makes blood sugar control much, much easier.

    But the usual dose given women is much, much too high, and it isn't adjusted for body weight or titrated by observing symptoms. And hence the whole idea of supplementation has been nixed.

  • Anne

    5/4/2008 9:37:00 PM |

    That is interesting about the bones and tumeric. I recently added curcumin because my fibrinogen level was elevated. Maybe it will help with my bone loss too. That would be great.

    What is the difference between tumeric and cucurmin? Does it matter which I take? I could not find tumeric but I did find cucurmin 500mg.

  • Anonymous

    5/5/2008 1:57:00 PM |

    Hi Anne,

    I guess it is the curcumin found in the spice turmeric that is receiving positive press.  As mentioned I've seen some on bone health studies but have also seen heart health and diabetes write-ups too.  I'll post below a recent small rodent research paper on diabetes benefits of curumin:

    Curcumin may offer diabetes benefits: study
    By Stephen Daniells


        * Phytochemicals, plant extracts

        * Diabetes


        * curcumin
        * diabetes
        * cardiovascular health

    All market reports

    30-Apr-2008 - Curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow colour, could have benefits for diabetics, suggests a joint Korean-American study.
    A mouse model of diabetes was used to test the effects of curcumin on various variables and significant improvements were reported for insulin resistance and glucose tolerance, report the scientists from Sunchon National University and Kyungpook National University in Korea, and Columbia University in the US.

    Curcumin has increasingly come under the scientific spotlight in recent years, with studies investigating its potential benefits for reducing cholesterol levels, improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of Alzheimer's, and potential protection against cancer.

    If results of the new study, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, can be repeated in humans, it may suggest potential for the spice for diabetes management or prevention.

    Promising results for diabetic mice

    The researchers, led by Mi-Kyung Lee, used diabetic mice, so-called db/db mice, and non-diabetic controls, named db/+. The animals were fed diets with or without added curcumin (0.02 per cent) for six weeks.

    They report that the diabetic mice supplemented with curcumin experienced lower blood glucose levels, than the controls. The animals also lost less weight.

    Activity of the glucokinase enzyme in the liver was higher in the diabetic mice following the curcumin-supplemented diet than in the diabetic control group. This enzyme plays a key role in the conversion of glucose into glycogen, the body's main carbohydrate stores. This would blunt the glucose rise following the meal.

    The spice was also linked to reduced activity for other enzymes associated with the production of markers of cardiovascular health, such as free fatty acids, cholesterol, and triglyceride were also significantly lower following curcumin supplementation in the diabetic animals.

    Importantly, no effects were observed on blood glucose, plasma insulin, and glucose regulating enzyme activities in the non-diabetic animals, stated the researchers.

    "These results suggest that curcumin seemed to be a potential glucose-lowering agent and antioxidant in type 2 diabetic db/db mice, but had no affect in non-diabetic db/+ mice," they concluded.

    Potential market opportunities

    Significant additional research needs to be performed before anyone can contemplate recommending curcumin for diabetics, but if further studies support these preliminary positive findings, this may offer help for the estimated 19 million people affected by diabetes in the EU 25, equal to four per cent of the total population. This figure is projected to increase to 26 million by 2030.

    In the US, there are over 20 million people with diabetes, equal to seven per cent of the population. The total costs are thought to be as much as $132 billion, with $92 billion being direct costs from medication, according to 2002 American Diabetes Association figures.

    Source: Molecular Nutrition & Food Research
    Published online ahead of print 8 April 2008, doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200700184
    "Effect of curcumin supplementation on blood glucose, plasma insulin, and glucose homeostasis related enzyme activities in diabetic db/db mice (p NA)"
    Authors: K.-I. Seo, M.-S. Choi, U.J. Jung, H.-J. Kim, J. Yeo, S.-M. Jeon, M.-K. Lee

  • Richard A.

    5/6/2008 6:57:00 PM |

    Turmeric is about 4% curcumin. Turmeric and curcumin need fat like Vitamin d to be best absorbed. Lecithin also improves absorption.

  • Physical Therapy Supplies

    6/13/2011 7:46:31 AM |

    As much I know the large doses of cretin monohydrate are widely taken, particularly by athletes, as an endrogenic supplement; cretin supplements are also taken by patients suffering from gyrate atrophy, muscular dystrophy, and neurodegenerative diseases.
    Physical Therapy Supplies