Vitamins, Supplements and Spectracell Testing
June 16, 2019 11:01 PM   Subscribe

I’m concerned that I’m not getting the proper nutrition and would like to start taking vitamins. One of my doctor’s suggested I get a Spectracell test. Does anyone have experience with Spectracell, and if not, can you tell me how you came to terms with a vitamin/supplement regime that works for you?

The doctor told me that the Spectracell test (as well as having my hair tested for heavy metals) is the only way for me to truly know what my body is missing and able to absorb. I contacted Spectracell and got a list of providers in my area. I have an appt. to meet with an immunologist/allergy specialist in July. I will not hesitate to cancel if there's a better (and more economical) answer out there.
posted by htm to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
I was under the strong impression due to interactions with my own doctors that spectracell is a scam. I will be interested in other peoples answers on this one.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:21 PM on June 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Fire your doctor, yesterday.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:25 PM on June 16, 2019 [7 favorites]

No experience with Spectracell, but I've used MyMedLab to monitor my vitamin D and iron levels. Their Twitter feed has a Spring promo code (which, as of last night) was still working.
posted by invisible ink at 11:35 PM on June 16, 2019

Thank you, Homo neanderthalensis and Violet. I, too, am interested in the feedback I hope to get from this group. Metafilter has always come through!
posted by htm at 11:39 PM on June 16, 2019

Thank you, invisible ink!
posted by htm at 11:40 PM on June 16, 2019

For the second part of your question, my supplement regimen first consists of avoiding supplements as much as possible. Any vitamin in a whole food is accompanied by hundreds of phytonutrients. Taking one out and ingesting it separately in large amounts can result in unanticipated consequences. The most well-known example is a beta carotene study. Beta carotene in food is great for you, but they had to stop this particular study because the people taking beta carotene supplements had an increase in lung cancer. Not all studies have shown this problem with beta carotene, but whole, unprocessed foods, unlike supplements, are going to be safe.

I guess I would ask you why you’re concerned about your nutrition. Do you feel there’s a problem with your diet? Are you not feeling well? There are some supplements I do take based on reading about nutrition and my diet and health issues, but they may not be right for you. For instance, I take B12 because I’m vegan and that’s the one vitamin that doesn’t come in plant foods. I take vitamin D because I live in Michigan and it’s hard to get enough sun here (your body makes vitamin D with sufficient exposure to sunlight). My regular doctor can test my blood for both of these.

In addition, in the US, supplements are unregulated, and many just don’t contain what they say they do. There are ways to research supplements to be reasonably sure, but if you just buy whatever at the health food store, you may not be getting what’s on the label.

In general, if you’re concerned about your diet, you’re way better off thinking about how to improve that rather than taking supplements.
posted by FencingGal at 6:19 AM on June 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

What about seeing a dietician if you're concerned about your dietary intake of nutrients? I'd recommend a dietician over a nutritionist because RDs have had extensive training. Just about anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.

I take a multivitamin, B12, Calcium, Iron and D. I take them because I had bariatric surgery and that affects how I absorb nutrients. I also have mild anemia. My understanding is that a person who is eating a varied diet doesn't need supplements.

You can talk to your PCP/GP and ask for blood work involving things like Iron, D, B12, etc.
posted by kathrynm at 7:18 AM on June 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

[Heya, htm, no harm in wanting to express thanks but for future reference the general expectation with Ask MetaFilter is that folks don't make frequent replies to their own posts; if you need to clarify or add something occasionally to help folks answer, that's fine, but otherwise generally just wait till the thread has run its course before tagging on a thanks etc. if you want to.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:17 AM on June 17, 2019

Testing hair for heavy metals is also largely quackery:

In 1999, researchers from the California Department of Health located nine laboratories and sent identical samples to six of them. The reported mineral levels, the alleged significance of the findings, and the recommendations made in the reports differed widely from one to another. The researchers concluded that the procedure is still unreliable and recommended that government agencies act vigorously to protect consumers [11]. An editorial accompanying this report in JAMA provided additional information about why hair analysis cannot provide a reliable basis for "nutritional counseling." [12]

Even if you were concerned about heavy metal poisoning for some specific reason (are you being poisoned?), blood or urine is the way to go.

The doctor told me that the Spectracell test (as well as having my hair tested for heavy metals) is the only way for me to truly know what my body is missing and able to absorb.

Whenever someone says something like this -- that some specific product is the only way to truly know The Truth -- they are almost certainly trying to sell you something.
posted by basalganglia at 9:16 AM on June 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

One other link (this specifically references Spectracell tests, among others):

“Functional medicine” is a form of quackery that combines the worst aspects of conventional medicine and alternative medicine. Specifically, it combines massive over-testing with a lack of science and a “make it up as you go along” ethic, all purportedly in the service of the “biochemical individuality” of each patient. Don’t believe the hype. It’s mostly quackery.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:26 AM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

From Spectracell's website, it seems like the big deal with their micronutrient testing is that they test white blood cells whereas the current standard for most things is testing serum. Is this kind of testing accurate? Maybe. Is it more accurate than testing serum? Maaaaybe for certain things, who knows. Is it the only way? Nope. And if your doctor has reason to believe you're anemic or B12-deficient, it would seem irresponsible not to just order a simple, fast, generally-covered-by-insurance blood test for those things.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:52 AM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

If your doctor insists on a private testing for anything rather than a standard lab- he’s getting a kickback from the private lab.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2019

Let me provide some clarification about the doctor who recommended Spectracell (doctor A). He isn’t a medical doctor; he’s a PhD psychologist I have been seeing for counseling for the last two years. His long-time business partner, a D.O., (doctor B) administers and interprets the Spectracell test. Dr. A. gets them done every 3 years, has the utmost faith in Dr. B, and seems to know a lot about nutrition himself. I’m sure he gets a discount from Dr. B., but I’m almost positive he doesn’t get a kickback for promoting it. I trust his integrity and he gives sound advice on most things, but not all. I have consulted with Dr. B. before and I do not feel comfortable with him.
posted by htm at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2019

If A and B are business partners, then A benefits monetarily from work done by B, according to whatever the terms are of their partnership. Looks like a duck to me.

This is not medical advice, but ... I would strongly urge you to get a second opinion from Doctor C who is not affiliated with A or B, or better yet, Registered Dietitian D (not a "nutritionist") who would have the best knowledge of diet, supplements, and micronutrients.
posted by basalganglia at 4:16 PM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hi basalganglia, I was hoping I could edit my last post but I see it's too late. I believe I mispoke when I called Drs. A and B "business partners", although I do not know for sure that they are NOT. Dr. A (my doctor) went to medical school with Dr. B. and he rents office space from him. They are long time friends and colleagues. Dr. A and his wife and children are patients of Dr. B's and they have the utmost trust in him; I, on the other hand, do not. Yes, I agree. I searched online and found RD's that take my insurance. However, here's the thing, and it's a big thing. I do "intermittent fasting", and have for years. That works for me. It's one of the reasons I'm concerned about nutrition. I don't make the healthiest choices food-wise, and I'm not willing to make any radical changes to my diet at this time. So I would like to compensate with vitamins. I imagine it will be hard to find an RD who supports the IF lifestyle and who knows whether or not Spectracell is a scam. It's not like I can interview the RD on the phone prior to the office visit.
posted by htm at 5:14 PM on June 17, 2019

Anybody who would recommend hair testing for heavy metals is not to be trusted on medical or scientific topics.
posted by lakeroon at 4:34 AM on June 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

I mean, Spectracell and heavy metal hair testing are both pretty clearly a scam (see numerous links above) so that part of your question is easy to answer. The harder part is what, if any, supplements you would need in the context of your diet, and that's a question for a dietitian. Intermittent fasting is well known and studied, even in the nutritionally-unsavvy medical world, though I see your potential frustration if an RD is not on-board. From a quick google search, there are plenty of pro-IF blogs and articles written by RD's; I have no idea if that is representative of the attitude of the RD profession as a whole.

Also, if Dr. A has a PhD in psychology, he did not go to medical school, by definition; he went to graduate school for a research degree, and is not qualified to provide medical advice, which is what it sounds like he's doing. I work really closely with PhD's in psychology and PsyD's (doctorate in psychology, similar to PhD but less research/more clinical counseling and therapy), and if any of them misrepresented their credentials and scope of practice like this, they would be in big trouble with our administration and possibly their licensing boards.

Sorry if it seems like I'm harping on this, but quackery really pisses me off because it takes advantage of the totally opaque nature of medical training and practice (a whole 'nother topic) and contributes to the growing distrust of the medical profession as a whole.
posted by basalganglia at 12:48 PM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you, basalganglia! It doesn't surprise me that you noticed the error I made regarding medical school. It dawned me today even before I read your response, "Psychologists don't go to medical school! What was I thinking?" (When I see him tomorrow night, I will ask him for the sake of curiosity what school he attended with his D.O. colleague). I so appreciate all of your feedback and will give it serious consideration. I certainly don't want to spend $400.00 or more on tests I don't need. I messaged an online support group on nutrition and got a response from an R.D. who is familiar with IF and asked me to send him a PM with specific questions! Several other people in that group provided links to nutrition websites they thought would be helpful. So I'm on the right path. Thank you again!
posted by htm at 10:49 PM on June 18, 2019

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