Vitamin Supplements: Are They Ruining Your Health?
If there’s one thing I’ve spent a lot of money on, it’s supplements. One of the key aspects of a healthy life is a cabinet full of vitamins, right?
Today, more than 50% of the American population take a daily multi-vitamin or other supplement, allowing the supplement industry to rake in over $26 billion!
But what if I told you that staking your health on traditional supplements, even organic ones, wasn’t really a part of the journey to vitality?
That you could let them all go and still feel great? Maybe even better?!
At the end of the day, do we really know what we’re getting when we down that horse-pill known as our multi-vitamin?
When I first began to research this post, I had no idea the crash course in chemistry that lay ahead of me. There is so much to learn about the world of vitamins!
I had lots of questions, too. Like why Vitamins are named “A”… “B”… “C”…? Has anybody seen vitamins F-J? They seem to be missing! And how many vitamins are there anyway?
If you’ve ever wondered the same, then this post is for you!
For starters, it’s helpful to know:
What is a vitamin?
A vitamin is one of 13 primary groups of organic chemical compounds that are considered essential nutrients* for supporting human life and vitality.
Should any compound contained within the groups be missing from the body, disease will strike.
This is known as having a vitamin deficiency. If such a deficiency is left unchecked, life will end. They’re just that important.
A vitamin is made up of several chemical compounds known as “vitamers”.
Each recognized vitamin contains a certain number of vitamers, which basically give the vitamin it’s structural identity. The groups of vitamers bear names familiar to us, like: Vitamin A, B, C, etc.
The key is to really understand vitamins and how they work to facilitate health in your body.
Unfortunately, most of us consider vitamins to be composed of only one vitamer, rather than several. For instance, we recognize “Vitamin C” to be the chemical “ascorbic acid”. However, “Vitamin C” is actually made up of several vitamers: ascorbic acid, rutin, hesperidin and multiple bioflavanoids.
Why the names?
The Polish chemist, Casimir Funk, is responsible for coining the term “vitamins” back in the early 1900s, which originally stood for “vita-” the Latin for “life” and “-amines”, the nutrient family discovered at the time to be essential for healing a group of people ill with Beriberi (a deficiency disease).
Since 1912 chemists have discovered additional vitamins which were assigned to groups in alphabetical order since at the time no one knew the proper scientific name of the chemical structure. In later years, vitamins F-U were found to actually be derivatives of Vitamin B and thus were reassigned, or were found to be non-essential and dismissed. You can read more about vitamin reclassification here.
Why do we need vitamins?
Vitamins are needed for a wide range of physiological functions, including regulation of metabolism, cell and tissue growth, and the destruction of free radicals, just to name a few.
Symptoms of vitamin deficiencies run the gamut and can include fatigue, depression, skin disorders, insomnia, and susceptibility to illness from a weakened immune system. Other more unique ailments can include eye problems, nerve damage, enlarged heart, anemia, nervousness and muscle weakness.
Should I take a vitamin supplement?
It seems that if we eat a superb well-balanced diet filled with real food, ensure we get plenty of fresh air and sunshine and lead a stress-free lifestyle then we would be acquiring and maintaining all the vitamins we need, right?
Sadly, this is not reality for most of us.
Even following a real food menu plan is not enough. Today, we’re experiencing low levels of vital nutrients… and the problem has come from the ground up.
We’re dirt poor, friends.
Our food is testing significantly lower in nutrients than it did 40+ years ago, which is the result of nutrient-deficient soil.
A recent study of 43 different foods showed noticeable declines in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. (You can read more about soil depletion and it’s cause here. And you can read the entire USDA study on soil depletion performed by the University of Texas, here.)
Furthermore, our methods of processing, preserving and preparing our food remove more and more of these nutrients vital for life. And leave our bodies hungry for more.
As if these things weren’t enough, Americans are taking more and more OTC and prescription drugs these days which significantly impairs the body’s ability to assimilate and store vitamins. As Dr. Eric Mindell states in his book, The New Vitamin Bible:
What people don’t realize is that a lot of these medications… are taking as much as they’re giving, at least nutritionally. All too often the drugs either stop the absorption of nutrients or interfere with the body’s ability to use them.
Consequently, we need some nutritional help!
Supplements: The good, the bad and the ugly
The vast assortment of vitamin supplements available is a bit…
overwhelming ridiculous, really. Spurred by the growing awareness of soil depletion, producers for vitamin supplements continue to grow leaps and bounds. Every size, shape, color, flavor, and ingredient list imaginable is available.
However, not all supplements are made alike.
And some are downright dangerous.
Vitamins acquired through whole food supplements offer significant benefits above and beyond their incomplete synthetic counterparts. For instance, unless you’re ingesting a whole food form of Vitamin C, chances are your supplement only contains one of the many vitamers: ascorbic acid.
These fractionated synthetic vitamins are cheaper to produce and thus purchase, but their incomplete non-natural structure leaves the body unable to fully utilize even the single chemical – ascorbic acid, for instance – that’s being ingested. Ascorbic acid is best absorbed when paired with it’s fellow Vitamin C vitamers, like bioflavonoids and other co-factors.
This is nature’s way, with all the compounds working together in a synergistic relationship to promote optimal health and vitality.
When ingesting fractionated vitamins there are only two possible outcomes:
Best case scenario, you end up with expensive pee.
Worst case scenario, you tax your liver and other organs with unusable substances and in the process actually cause your body further nutritional deficiencies.
Furthermore, supplements are not federally regulated like drugs are, which means the supplement industry does not have to prove their safety or effectiveness. I don’t know about you, but this makes me a bit uncomfortable.
How do we know a supplement is going to promote our health and vitality and not just be a waste of precious money? Which supplements are derived from whole foods and not just the local lab? And are traditional supplements the only way to acquire the nutrient boost our bodies need?
Click here to find out if your multi-vitamin is synthetic!
Or better yet, learn how to make your own multi-vitamin!
*Other essential nutrients for life include protein, carbohydrates, fats, water and minerals.
Mindell, Earl & Mundis, Hester. New Vitamin Bible. 2011 (rev. edition)
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