Recently, a study claimed that taking vitamins has no merit. It’s not new news: pharmaceutical-funded studies have been claiming this for some time (because vitamins can’t be patented and if you take them, you might not need their drugs.) While the study says vitamins in isolation don’t work (I agree), it also claims that multivitamins have no merit (I disagree: synthetic multivitamins have no merit, but whole food multi-vitamins have been shown to have health benefits.)
The debate isn’t new. One of the most vehement arguments came a few years ago when Reader’s Digest called vitamins “a scam” and said that taking them is a waste of money. It cited a study of 160,000 mid-life women that showed no difference in health with respect to the big diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke, from taking a multivitamin. But as with all studies, you need to dig deeper—in this case because not all vitamins are created equal. (I am always suspect when a magazine whose advertising is largely from pharmaceutical companies says vitamins are worthless.)
The article challenges the benefits of certain individual supplements, such as vitamins A or E taken by themselves. I agree these vitamins will have little, if any, effect when taken in isolation because they require proper co-factors for absorption. The article and the recent study both recommend one standalone vitamin that should be taken by everyone: vitamin D. (I’ve discussed the importance of vitamin D previously and I will be writing more about it soon as I believe it is so important.)
There is a rampant vitamin D deficiency among children and adults today, so I couldn’t agree more. Vitamin D3 can stand on its own and I take 5000 mg daily as part of my multivitamin and more in addition during the winter. (Do not take a prescription vitamin D as you will receive vitamin D2 which is not as absorpable or effective as vitamin D3 which you can buy inexpensively over the counter, though natural sunlight is still best.)
But most other vitamins need to be taken together as part of a complete nutritional package and won’t have much if any impact if taken alone.
Many people say that if we eat well, we don’t need a multivitamin. Eating a whole food and plant-based diet will go a long way toward staying healthy and I strongly recommend we do that. We cannot eat too many dark leafy green vegetables and we should be eating the rainbow (fruits and vegetables that cover every spectrum of color from white to orange, red, green and purple.) But I also take a whole food multivitamin and a whole food raw green superfood powder, because the truth is, it is very difficult to get the nutrients we need from our modern food supply.
These days, to offset the bad fats and processed food sugars we consume and to restore balance within our bodies, we need more vegetables than ever. (New standards raise fruits and vegetables up to 9-13 servings a day!) We are not just eating to fuel our bodies, we are eating to heal our bodies from the inflammation and oxidation of our processed diets. It’s getting harder to get the nutrients we need because in addition to the packaged and prepared foods in our diets, our fresh food supply is not as vitamin rich as it used to be. Soil has been depleted of nutrients, food is sprayed with chemicals and pesticides or is genetically modified to grow bigger or to resist disease, and then it is transported hundreds or thousands of miles to get to our tables.
If you go to a farm or a market and buy fresh produce, you know that after a few days on your counter, it will begin to go bad. Now think about the grapes or tomatoes you are buying from the opposite coast or from South America. They were picked, packaged and then shipped (sometimes by barge) to the U.S., sent out by truck across the country to your local market, displayed on the shelf for several days (or weeks) and then finally taken home.
For the produce to survive that trip looking fresh and beautiful and without bruising, it is heavily sprayed with chemicals, and picked before it is ripe and allowed to mature along the way. Once the fruit leaves the vine, it doesn’t get the sun and the nutrients any longer, it doesn’t fully develop the enzymes and phytonutrients that are usually present in mature fresh picked local produce.
(I talk a lot more about organic versus local and making better fruit and vegetable choices in the articles on produce, but you should also know that many chemicals and pesticides banned in the U.S. are still used freely in the foreign countries from which we buy produce.)
Studies estimate more than 50% of nutrient value is lost in the journey from farm to table. That’s’ very conservative. So even if you are doing your best to eat a lot of good fruits and veggies, unless you have access to a local farm, and even then, it is hard to get food with the nutritional profile you need for health. Plus, you’d have to eat a lot of it, and how many of us can sit down and eat a basket full of kale?
If you still think you can go it alone without, you may recall in one of my articles I shared that to get the same level of nutrients that you could get from two peaches back in the 1950’s, today you would have to eat 53! Who is doing that?
While I fantasize about growing my own food, here in New England, with a long, cold winter and a busy life with two kids and work, it’s not possible at the moment. I do my best to shop at local farmers’ markets for fresh produce, and I buy flash frozen organic produce (never canned) when I can’t. Despite my best efforts, I do not believe that I can get the nutrition I need without taking a multivitamin and my kids take one too.
But there is a big difference among multivitamins. There are natural organic whole food based products that when manufactured correctly leave the integrity of the whole food intact. And then there are cheap synthetic forms that you can buy in drugstores or big box stores which are the vitamins the studies are talking about.
When looking for a good whole food supplement, keep in mind that whole foods are just that: whole foods. Look for ingredients such as carrots, spinach, wheat grass, spirulina, kale, celery etc. There will be vitamins listed as well but their sources will also be present: The original foods from which they were derived. When the ingredient list reads more like a science report than a grocery list, and there are no food sources included just isolated chemicals, it’s typically comprised of man-made synthetic compounds.
Because synthetic vitamins are created in a lab to simulate the real thing, they are not identical in the way they interact with or are absorbed by the body. They are often missing minerals, nutrients and other requisite co-factors for assimilation. In addition, they often contain cheap fillers and binders from ingredients like sand and titanium dioxide, dibasic calcium phosphate and microcrystalline cellulose (refined wood pulp); they are ingredients that our bodies cannot absorb and that may even be harmful to us. Many common over-the-counter vitamins are passed through the stool whole and intact.
Taking a multivitamin that includes a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and nutrients can make a difference, but only if it is bioavailable and bioabsorpable; in other words your body can actually break down and absorb the nutrients. That is not possible with synthetic vitamins. I prefer a whole food-based product that is as close to what I should be eating as possible, and made from the real thing, not created to imitate it.
Interestingly the Readers Digest article’s main argument against taking multivitamins said, “These days, you’re extremely unlikely to be deficient if you eat an average America diet, if only because many packaged foods are vitamin enriched.”
Think about that for a moment.
Food manufacturers strip out all the vitamins that exist in the food during the manufacturing process. Then they “enrich” them, by adding back cheap lab-created imitations. They want us to believe that these created versions are the same as the original, but research shows they are not: you cannot duplicate naturally occurring nutrients from synthetic ingredients. In addition, they will be missing enzymes and cofactors required for assimilation. When I see “enriched” on a food label, I know to stay away.
The truth is that enriched foods do not add vital nutrients to our bodies, nor will synthetic vitamin pills. The best way to get what we need is from the whole food source. Nature intended us to eat vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and phytonutrients together as they work synergistically. When whole food supplements are made the right way, they maintain a multitude of the plants original components and the integrity of the food source.
So eat as much good stuff as you can. Buy local when you can, organic if possible. But given the nutrient levels in today’s soil and ultimately, food supply, along with the long transit times and warehouse distribution processes, even if you eat really well, you probably won’t get all the nutrients you need from food. Most — if not all — of us will still need to supplement with a whole food-based supplement to bridge the gap for long-term health and wellness.
To your wellness and health: your true wealth!
Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.