Article #5: Do We Need To Take Vitamins?
By Alan M. Immerman, D.C.
A few months ago I picked up a copy of a promotional magazine in a health food store. This magazine, Better Nutrition, contained an article entitled "The Care and Feeding of Vitamins," which addressed itself to the need for taking daily vitamin supplements. Since this is a subject about which I get many questions, I thought I would discuss this issue. The article on vitamins was in a question and answer form; I will give an alternative opinion in the same form.
I eat a good diet, why should I lake vitamins or other supplements?
ANSWER: The Better Nutrition article (to be referred to as BN) stated that "your idea of a 'good diet' may not include all the essential nutrients" and that with pollution, stress, chronic illness, drugs and food of low nutritional value (presumably from conventional farming methods), it is reasonable that "a number of distinguished nutrition experts" believe that we should take supplements.
MY ANSWER: It is no doubt true that many peoples' idea of a "good diet" is inadequate. The nutritional orthodoxy believes that enriched flour is entirely adequate even though many nutrients are removed by processing and only a few are replaced by enriching. But this does not mean that supplements should be taken, but rather that proper foods should be chosen! Also, there is no proof that pollution and stress increase vitamin needs. If drugs increase vitamin need, the obvious answer is to discontinue their use if at all possible. Drugs have many harmful side effects besides increasing vitamin needs.
Also, the mention of nutritional values of foods grown with today's conventional farming methods brings up an important point. Plants synthesize all the vitamins they need from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. Therefore, foods grown conventionally will have the same amounts of vitamins as those grown organically.
Finally, in all respect for the "distinguished nutrition experts" who believe that supplements are needed, it would be far preferable to choose the proper foods; many equally distinguished experts support this position.
How much do I need of vitamins and minerals?
ANSWER: (BN) Official recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) ... are for perfectly healthy 22-year-old men and women ... anyone not perfectly healthy and not 22 years of age may need more.
MY ANSWER: This statement in BN poorly reflects the intent of the National Research Council in establishing the RDAs. The RDAs are for the vast majority of people, not for a small group. In setting these figures, the National Research Council estimated the requirements of the nutrients and then established recommended intakes in excess of requirements so as to "exceed the requirements of most individuals." The RDAs have even been criticized as too ligh in some cases! In any case, it is quite easy on a properly chosen diet to far exceed the recommended intake of vitamins. There is no need for nutrients in pill form.
Isn’t it possible to get too much of vitamins or minerals?
ANSWER: (BN) Not if you take reasonable amounts ... there is no record of any damage from large amounts of vitamin E. Vitamin C and the B vitamins, being water soluble, are excreted harmlessly if you happen to take more than you need.
MY ANSWER: False again. Although there probably is no direct harm from taking small amounts of vitamins, there is indirect harm. For one, many who take supplements tend to be less cautious with their diet because they feel protected by the pills. This is false security, as there are many substances needed by humans which are not yet in vitamin/mineral tablets. Some substances known at the present time include vanadium, nickel, tin and silicon; also, as any research biochemist will admit, there are probably many vitamin-like substances which will be discovered to be essential as the years go by, and they are not yet in supplements, even the supposedly "natural" supplements from food sources. So the threat of deficiency remains unless care is exercised in choice of foods.
Also, to state that there is no danger from large doses of vitamins E, C and the B complex is to display ignorance of present scientific knowledge. Megadoses of niacin (B3) may damage the liver, raise the blood sugar and uric-acid levels and cause other problems. Megadoses of vitamin C may cause: irritation (leading to diarrhea), kidney stones, problems with mineral metabolism (iron, copper, calcium and phosphorus), and possibly infertility and fetal death. Large doses of vitamin E may elevate the blood fats (high blood fat levels are associated with heart disease), interfere with vitamin A and iron metabolism, interfere with thyroid gland function and cause severe fatigue, perhaps due to muscle damage.
I have heard that some vitamins are incompatible with others and will cancel out their good effects, so they should not be taken together.
ANSWER: (BN) Basically, take your supplements and don't worry about it.
MY ANSWER: When one tries to provide proper nutrition by extracting nutrients from food and taking them in various proportions and quantities, there is indeed a risk of creating imbalances. The best way to supply vitamins to the body is to eat them as nature provided them: in foods.
Should old people and children take vitamins?
ANSWER: (BN) "To produce strong bones, teeth, muscles and perfectly functioning organs," children should take vitamins. "Old age is stress ... so taking supplements is even more important."
MY ANSWER: Both groups definitely need vitamins. But is it too old-fashioned to suggest that they get their vitamins from food at 1/1000 the cost and in a preferable
To conclude, then, a proper diet, consisting of mainly raw fruits and vegetables, will supply amounts of vitamins far in excess of the recommended daily allowances. Pollution and stress should be avoided, but their effects are not compensated for by taking supplements. Fruits and vegetables available in the supermarket have enough vitamins to support health in its highest state.
Also, there are many possible sources of harm from megadoses of vitamins, even the water soluble ones such as vitamin C and the B complex. Therefore, avoid these.
> Lesson 9 - Vitamins: The Metabolic Wizards Of Life Processes
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