Vitamins: Hype or Health?


More than 1/3 of the American population takes a daily vitamin supplement-are you one of them? If so, why did you decide this was a good thing for you and how did you choose your potion? It's interesting to note that close to $40 billion is the prediction for how much consumers in the US will spend in 2016 on multi-vitamins. Interesting because a large percentage of this same group feasts regularly upon fast and processed food-due to low cost and convenience-and then looks to their supplement to undo poor diet choices. The epitome of throwing good money after bad. Study after study has shown that MVS's (multi-vitamin supplements) don't cure diseases (or keep us from getting them), make us thinner, sexier or extend our life expectancy. Most of these studies get swept under the rug and the main reason? The FDA is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Pharma, and they protect the interests of Big Pharma. While the FDA was created primarily to protect consumers, tasked with differentiating between what is genuine and what is snake oil, only about 1% of the nearly 70,000 supplements on the market are spot-tested. Another little factoid is that supplements are regulated as food, not as drugs, so the FDA doesn't regulate the quality or assess their effects on the body. The FTC is the marketing watchdog, on the look-out for false and unsubstantiated claims yet supplement makers regularly push the limits. When a product shows adverse effects, the FDA can pull it though years later, these same products often end up back on the shelf-still containing the same banned substances!

This does not mean that the product pictured above has banned substances. Not saying that it doesn't either. Even when we know better than to believe slick marketing campaigns (I purposely removed the lean, sexy model holding the tray just as an example of how it's not nearly as effective in luring you in without her. And, does she even use the product? Probably not...), when one comes along advertising something we want (great health, fine body, youthful appearance, etc.), we tend to rationalize and buy into it. This doesn't mean that all MVS's are a waste but don't expect them to deliver a cure-all or to fill in the gaps of a crappy diet automatically. Your best approach to good health is still to eat a balanced diet though most people have no idea what that is...

No don't fellas! You were on the right track! Oh, geez...To assist in this seemingly ultra-complicated undertaking, the USDA devised the nutritional guide known as the Food Pyramid, which BTW, has its 100-year anniversary in 2017. It has also been revised time-after-time and now is round and called My Plate. Round plate or pyramid shape, I don't think it makes much difference as no one seems to be paying attention because the reality of the average American diet is this pyramid:

And, when you raise your children on this pyramid and then they enter the school system and see what the pyramid is supposed to consist of, they still see this:

Which in time, only leads to this...

Is this something an MVS can fix? Obesity issues aside, most Americans do manage to consume the RDA of vitamins, nutrients and minerals though unfortunately, a lot of really bad stuff along with this. Yet there are some common vitamin deficiencies: B12, B6, iron, vitamin D and K, calcium and magnesium. While the percentage of the population suffering vitamin inadequacies is quite low, if you fall into one of the following categories, you may want to evaluate the nutritional status of your daily diet:

  • pregnant or lactating

  • low-calorie diet

  • strict vegetarian/vegan

  • picky eater

  • food allergies

  • excess alcohol/drug consumption

  • certain medications

  • certain disease states

  • people who always eat out

  • your food comes primarily out of a box, can or window

  • people over 50 (watch B12 in particular) and the elderly

  • very low income bracket

There are several fairly easy ways to assess the quality of your daily intake. Keep a journal for one week minimum of what you eat, including quantities and note everything in the side bar including: calories, fat/protein/carb/fiber grams per serving as well as sodium. If there is more info on vitamin content, take note of that. At the end of one week, do more detailed research on a good site, such as the Nutrient Data Lab (https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/), where you can find all the information on most everything you're likely to eat. For excellent information on dietary supplements, check out this link: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/. If you find that your diet falls short of the RDA based on what you've tracked for one week, please don't rush out and load up on pills. See what you can do to improve your food intake first, as food provides many other things that pills cannot-including chemical interactions that work together to provide the best nutrition for you. Also, keep in mind that many supplements have a short biological half-life, requiring you to take it several times a day. If you don't remember to do this, the benefit may be minimal to zero and most will still require you to take WITH food for any appreciable benefit. Many supplements have also been found to be contaminated though these are usually of the herbal sort promoted as weight-loss aids, or sexual and athletic performance. And finally, there are vitamins that when taken in mega doses (the fat solubles A,D,E and K as well as certain minerals), can build up to toxic levels in your body, wreaking havoc with health and vigor, presenting you with a plethora of pitfalls-including death! So, know what you're doing, why, and how much is truly necessary based first and foremost on data gathered after thoroughly evaluating your diet.

Another important point to keep in mind: very few supplements have human trials. A highly-touted supplement, RESVERTROL, is a perfect case in point. This is a polyphenol, thought to have (not proven to have) antioxidant properties and found in the skin of red grapes, peanuts and berries, though most Resvertrol sold in the US contains extracts from Japanese and Chinese knotweed plant. Resvertrol IS NOT regulated by the FDA so consumers can't be sure what they're getting. The average Resvertrol supplement contains 250-500 mgs which is FAR below what clinical trials on animals contained. You would need to take 5 times the amount to achieve the equivalent dosage of an animal trial. Since there are no human studies, doctors and scientists can't confirm any benefits, specify dosage requirements, or attest to the safety of it-especially long term.

There are some good sources to check for studies that companies marketing these products site, documenting the effectiveness of supplements:

  • International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism

  • Medicine and Science In Sports And Exercise

Bottom line: Supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry, one that is loosely regulated and where the consumer cannot be certain that they are getting what they're paying for. Meaning, not only could the ingredients not be what the label says, the consumer may also be buying into false claims about what a supplement can provide. When we go and buy a car, a home or other large purchase, most of us will do a ton of research and come to the bargaining table fully armed with a treasury of information and the words Caveat Emptor emblazoned in our minds. I appeal to you to do the same kind of research on the things that you take so trustfully on a daily basis in the name of health, longevity, vitality and youthfulness. Human behavior is extremely contradictory on many levels and this is one of them.

Do I take supplements? Yes and they are as follows:

Cosamine-for joint health. For me, it has alleviated pain in my knees from 11+ hour shifts of standing on concrete. Would I have been rid of the pain without it? No way of knowing. I had pain, I did research on effective supplements for joint pain and this came highly recommended. Started taking it after 2 weeks of non-stop pain and it was gone in 3 days. Perhaps I am being fooled.

Calcium 600 mg with vitamin D 400 IU-because I am a menopausal female, over 55, and it was recommended by OB-GYN.

Multi-vitamin for women over 50-this is NOT a mega dose supplement, it does not contain 100% of the RDA and comes in 4-capsule dosage. I take one with breakfast and 1 with dinner.

I try to get what I need from a healthy, balanced diet and besides, food tastes way better than supplements, LOL! For anyone struggling to find a quick GUIDE to a balanced diet (and this is not for special diets like vegan, etc., though the guide is easy enough to adapt), perhaps this chart will prove useful:

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