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Tuesday, 24 May 2011 19:35

Testing Your Supplements

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It is a well known fact in the health care industry that the herbal supplement and vitamin market are multi-billion dollar industries. In the stressful environments and circumstances of modern living, we need some extra support than nature can provide from highly concentrated nutrients. Pollution, over-crowding, demanding work lives, economic concerns, family responsibilities, and compromised, depleted food supplies all contribute in varying degrees to depressed immune systems, stress-related disease, and chronic conditions that are so costly to health, happiness, productivity, and prosperity, that the American government finds itself embroiled in a debate over what clearly is a health care crisis.

Sadly, the debate centers mostly around how to bring administrative costs down to make the very limited arsenal of high-cost allopathic medicines and services more affordable to more people. Prevention is not even at the table – even though the American public is demonstrating by their spending habits that they want to stay healthy, not just be helped when they get sick. And, supplementation is a very crucial component of preventive health (rather than sickness) centered medical care.
But, even if we step out of the political fray, the tradition of Ayurveda teaches that after the age of 45, most of us benefit from supplementation. According to Ayurveda, the most active part of our lives, from about age 8 to 50 years, is a pitta stage of life. Our hormones are cooking, our metabolic processes are as strong as they are ever going to be during our lives. And then slowly, we begin to cool down and dry up, entering a vata stage of life. Our metabolism begins to slow down and our organ and muscular-skeletal systems begin to show more of the strains of living. Even if we have not been living in the fast lane, our dietary and lifestyle needs require us to adjust our nutritional intake. Adding supplements that spark digestion, promote detoxification, and assist in slowing down other signs of aging ensure that we are more able to live a quality, vital life.
But, then comes the big question. Which supplements and how many? This is not just question for individuals. This is very much a spa question; a question that is asked to spa therapists by their clients, a question that also concerns spa managers and owners as they consider and offer (as many do) supplements for their clients. Supplements generate revenue. But, the question then becomes even more tricky. It becomes a medical and ethical issue. Certainly, you can make a disclaimer that says that you offer these to your clients as a service, but as you are not prescribing them, you do not make claims as to their effectiveness, and so on – hence accept no liability. But still, in the interest of client satisfaction, most of you will want to offer what you think is the very best for your clients.
There are thousands – if not millions – of books, magazines, Internet articles, and websites devoted to telling you which supplements you should be taking. And, there are thousands of companies offering millions of supplements – each with their own claim of having the best, most effective, most organic, most digestible, synergistic, etc… How do you choose? There are so many variables to consider. For although it would be nice to say that what is most organic and unprocessed is best, these (usually more pricey) brands are not always any more effective than cheaper, inorganic, highly processed compounds.
When it comes to supplements, Ayurveda teaches that it is herbs, minerals, and other substances in combination that are most effective; that it is a synergy that best works with the complexities of our human bodies. Consequently, just oregano, or vitamin A by themselves – for example – would never be considered balanced for the body to properly assimilate. Most Ayurvedic supplements have a minimum of five different ingredients, all working to make it absorbed with absolutely no side effects. Side effects are considered a sign that the medicine or supplement is the wrong one. This is especially true with more curative pharmaceuticals. So, there is no such thing as the PDR (Physicians’ Desk Reference) in Ayurveda. An Ayurvedic physician should be sufficiently trained to know the constitution and condition of their client to ensure that all medicines and supplements ingested do exactly what they are supposed to do and nothing more.
But, with that said, the simple fact is that we do hear and read about supplements and choose them by ourselves – or with a little guidance from various professionals. Without the skill of an Ayurvedic physician, what can you do to ensure that what you take will work for you?
In the Tibetan Ayurvedic tradition, there is a simple test that can be done by oneself at home. Some spas may wish to offer this test on site, but more than likely, what you will elect to do is to provide the following information to your clients so they can do the test themselves. For it involves the testing of one’s urine to determine the absorbability of the supplement. It is a technique that has been around for thousands of years and yet, I know of Tibetan physicians that have used this in modern hospitals to sort out the best medicine for their clients. But, as the technique is quite simple to do, anyone can master it and get great results. The results we are speaking of are being able to effectively select the supplements that work best for you.
This technique will only work with substances that are powderable including foods, herbs, vitamins, and medicines, be they allopathic, herbal, etc.. This test will not work with gel capsules, oils, or liquids. It can be that you are already taking such substances, or you are considering or being advised to take something new. In this regard, if you sell supplements to your clients, you may wish to break open a few sample bottles of supplements so your clients can take a few home to test them.
Tibetan Urine Testing for Supplements and Medicines
Upon rising, use a clean jar to collect the mid-stream of your first morning urine. This means that you allow the first part and last part of your urine to be dispensed with. These have the most amount of toxins and waste products. The mid-stream has semi-metabolized substances from foods, vitamins, etc. and is considered the cleanest stream of the urine. For a woman, it is best that this test is not done while in menstruation. To do this supplement and medicine testing, you will need the following:

  1. a small pot for heating the urine
  2. shallow white or un-patterned clean bowls in which the urine will be poured
  3. a mortar and pestle, useful for substances that need crushing (capsules and powders will, of course, not need further crushing.)


  1. Take each supplement to be tested and crush with pestle in the mortar if necessary. Do each supplement or substance separately and place the powder on a piece of clean paper in front of one of the bowls. Be sure to label the powder so that you know which substance you are testing in a given bowl. Wash mortar and pestle in between substances to avoid mixing.
  2. Pour the urine from your jar into the pot and heat slowly on the stove until the urine just begins to show steam – a bit higher than body temperature.
  3. For the number of bowls and substances, equally pour the urine from the pot into the bowls so that it is about three quarters of an inch of depth. Obviously this means that you can only test as many supplements/foods/vitamins/medicines as the amount of your urine supply will accommodate.
  4. Now take a pinch of the substance before one bowl and drop it into the center of the urine in the bowl.
  5. Observe the rate of dispersion and whether part of the powder sinks or not. A supplement or substance is good for your body if, when you drop the powder on the surface of the urine, it spreads rapidly across the entire sample and none of it sinks. A supplement or substance is not useful for your body if, when you drop it on the surface of the urine, it sits in the middle without spreading and/or starts to sink. A supplement or substance is neither good, nor bad if it starts to spread, but does so slowly, does not spread out over the whole sample, but stays more contained and then some of it sinks. In this case such a substance may be good at some times and other times, not. It deserves re-testing at a later date, but at present, it is doing little to benefit your body. There are also cases in herbal compound or combinations that some of the powder spreads very fast and part of it sink. This indicates that you may need to take each one of the mixture’s ingredients and test them separately.
  6. Repeat this test for each powder in front of their respective individual bowls.

If you are planning on taking them for a prolonged period of time, it is best to test supplements and other substances about every three weeks to see how your body is handling them, as this test depends on your current state of health. It can be that as your condition changes, supplements or substances you are taking no longer need to be taken and your continued taking them may have adverse effects. It can also be that in accordance with how your body changes in relation to seasons, climate, etc., that your needs for such will change. Hence, the practicality of this test.
This test is very objective. It is a useful method to use at home when pulse diagnosis is not available. To my mind, it is more objective than kinesiology, although with oil-based substances, gel capsules, and liquids, kinesiology may be the next best low-tech or home method to employ. Such a method also eliminates our subjective desire to see certain supplements and substances work more than others. Sometimes we think that natural or herbal substances are better than processed, allopathic medicines. I have seen many clients shocked to find out that their allopathic medicines were better for them than some of their herbal supplements. The body knows what it needs and its natural intelligence is generally more open and accepting than our mental concepts. In that way, Tibetan urine testing is very holistic.
By offering this information to your clients, you will be providing an invaluable service. You will empower them in making them more responsible and informed over their own health care choices. You will also help them to reduce the costs of their supplements as there are many people who take more medicines and supplements than they need and/or can absorb. And lastly, as they see greater effectiveness in what they take for their daily wellbeing, you will prove yourself or your spa as a thoughtful and effective provider of complimentary health and wellness care.

With a educational background and training that is as conventional as it is ‘alternative,’ Robert Sachs is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a licensed massage therapist, yoga instructor, and has been a student of Indian and Tibetan spiritual and healing traditions since the early 70s. Along with his wife, Melanie, Robert runs Diamond Way Ayurveda, the foremost promoters of Ayurveda in the spa and beauty industries. Robert and Melanie live in San Luis Obispo, Calif. They have three children, Kai Ling, Harriet Christina, and Jabeth David-Francis. 866-303-3321


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