Should you take your vitamins?

| 05 Jan 2018 | 02:58

    Enough with the pills

    About one in three Americans takes a multivitamin. Is that helpful, harmful, or just a waste of money?

    In 2011, the Iowa Women’s Health Study reported that multivitamin use was associated with a higher risk of total mortality–meaning women who took a multivitamin appeared to be paying to live shorter lives.

    But this was an observational study, meaning they didn’t split them up into two groups, put half on a multivitamin and see who lived longer. They just followed a large population of women and found that those who happened to be taking multivitamins were more likely to die.

    Maybe they were taking multivitamins because they were sick? Eh, the researchers didn’t find any evidence of that, but ideally what we’d have is a randomized, double-blind super controlled trial with thousands of people followed for over a decade, half given a multivitamin and half a placebo.

    That’s what we got the following year, the Harvard Physician Study II. And after a decade? No effect on heart attack, stroke, or mortality. The researchers concluded that multivitamins are a distraction. The message needs to remain simple and focused: heart disease can be largely prevented by healthy lifestyle changes.

    They did, however, find that for men with a history of cancer the multivitamin appeared to be protective against getting cancer again. That’s pretty exciting – but it is just one study. Ideally we’d have, like, 20 of these placebo-controlled trials, and compile all the results.

    That’s what we got in 2013. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, 21 of them covering more than 90,000 individuals and.... no influence on mortality either way. Some found more cancer mortality, some found less; all in all, it was a wash. That was heralded as good news. I mean, after the Iowa Women’s Health Study we were worried multivitamins could be harming millions of people. Instead they don’t appear to have much effect at all.

    Why, though? Aren’t vitamins and minerals good for us? One explanation could be that our bodies are so complex that supplementing a few components is ineffective or actually does harm.

    Maybe we should get our nutrients the way nature intended. Americans spend billions on vitamin and mineral supplements. This is not the aisle we should be getting our nutrients from. With the money we save on pills we can invest in more fruits and vegetables, the best multivitamins on Earth.

    Dr. Michael Greger is the author of the 2015 bestseller How Not to Die

    A new generation of vitamins

    All vitamins are not created equal. It’s important to let that point digest. Our body requires vitamins from whole foods in order to process the information adequately.

    What does that mean exactly?

    Our bodies have an innate ability to process vitamins coming in from kale, alfalfa, blueberries and pomegranates. That’s because most vitamins need other vitamins in order to be absorbed properly. For example, magnesium converts vitamin D-3 into its active form, which then helps the proper absorption of calcium. In whole foods, the symbiotic vitamins that need each other to become active are all there.

    But in the modern paradigm of nutritional supplements, we have taken vitamins out of context and synthesized them as isolates. In this kind of lab synthesized multivitamin, each vitamin – albeit wrapped up in one pill – is isolated from its natural cofactors. When we take these pharmacological multivitamins, our body does not know what to do with the information coming into our system. Since most vitamins are also water soluble, we’re basically flushing money down the toilet.

    The thing is, in today’s age, eating organic is not enough; we do need our vitamins. With ever increasing air pollution, chemicals in our water supply, and soils depleted from mono-cropping, we need to supplement our nutrition to maintain a healthy, vibrant – and long life. For example, vitamin D-3, which my children and I refer to it as the “sun vitamin,” is essential for a strong immune system and has been shown to support the function of the brain and nervous system. It also helps the body’s response to cancer cells and is powerful and is quite necessary in having a healthy pregnancy, healthy children, a reduced risk of diabetes, and the list goes on.

    The good news is, a few companies have begun using whole foods to create vitamins: Garden of Life, Mega Foods and New Chapter, for instance, start with real foods that are often organic or wild crafted, and they use fair trade and good business standards – and they’re affordable. Their products can be found at Whole Foods or your local health food store.

    Getting a quality supplement is important to our health and longevity. Make sure the products you’re taking are clean and free of fillers and come from whole foods. Just ask for help at your local health food store and you’ll find exactly what you need.

    Gabrielle Brick is a certified nutrition specialist & empowerment coach.