Over the past years, a number of studies were published, stating that “vitamins don’t work” or “vitamins are dangerous”.
I get asked about this often enough for me to make a quick remark on this topic.
Firstly, the studies are all flawed. Studying the effects of vitamins on health requires a long-term study enrolling thousands of subjects. It also requires a study design where people have to remember what they did in the recent past.
Almost nobody remembers what s/he ate for lunch three days ago. This is a confounding factor in this type of research.
Also, “vitamins” is a blanket term used to mean “multivitamins” or just “single vitamins” or anything in-between. I don’t know any two people taking exactly the same combination of supplements for any length of time. That also confounds matters.
And, let’s be honest, multivitamins are used as a sort of health insurance. People don’t use multivitamins for a specific purpose. So the dosing is often too low to have specific effects.
There are some components found in nearly all multivitamins that are known to be potentially harmful: Remember that multivitamin companies are industrial complexes, just like the pharmaceutical industrial complex. In order to save costs, they use the cheapest ingredients.
Vitamin E: The synthetic version included in multivitamins is known to increase heart failure risk if taken in excess.
Vitamin D: There are at least two version of Vitamin D that are routinely used in multivitamins. Vitamin D2 is a synthetic version, which needs to be converted into Vitamin D3 (the natural version) before it can be active in the body. This renders Vit D2 supplementation as good as useless. Vitamin D3 is the only useful form.
Beta-carotene: The industrial version used in multivitamins can increase lung cancer risk, specifically in smokers.
Vitamin A: The industrial version is linked to loss of bone density, even at physiologic doses.
Folic Acid: The terms “folic acid” and “folate” are used interchangeably, but they are miles apart in how they affect the body. Folic acid is a synthetic product not usually found in nature, but found in almost every multivitamin. Certain people, lacking the ability to turn folic acid into folate, can see an increase in some kinds of cancer.
Selenium: If used in excess, the non-organic form present in most supplements can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
Copper: This should not be taken as a supplement, unless you are taking high doses of zinc (which inhibits copper absorption). Copper excess is linked to increased risk of dementia, cancer and overall mortality.
Iron: This should only be taken if there is a known deficiency, and then preferably in a natural format and not in a non-organic format. Excess iron is linked to an increased risk of cancer, dementia, Parkinsons and heart disease. Raisins are an excellent natural source of iron, which is easily absorbed.
So why do I recommend and prescribe vitamins (often in high doses) if they are so useless or dangerous?
Vitamins are, per definition, essential for the normal working of the body. The problem with supplementation is not that it is wrong or bad in PRINCIPLE, but that, like all good things, it is less than useful, or even harmful, if done in the wrong way.
“Irrational supplementation” is what I call the thoughtless taking of a multivitamin, stuffed full of synthetic versions of the real thing.
“Rational supplementation” is the thoughtful process of giving the body what it needs, when it needs it, in the dosages that are needed.
I often prescribe vitamins in dosages up to 500 times the daily recommended intake. And my patients don’t keel over. In fact, they blossom and flourish. But once we achieve the desired outcome, the dosages are adjusted downward again.
I also take great effort in getting the best version at the best price. Sometimes, the natural version is just too expensive for most folks when given as a supplement. So, in the case of folate, I recommend spirulina , which contains the real deal, courtesy of Mother Nature, in a very affordable format.
The bottom line: Never pop anything into your mouth without thinking about it. What all those scathing scientific articles about multivitamins neglected to tell you, was that prescription medicines kill millions of people annually. Yes, millions. That statistic makes the harmful effects of thoughtless multivitamin therapy look like a Sunday school picnic.
And, to extend this one step further, mindless eating of food, without understanding its origin or processing, is likewise indirectly killing tens of millions of people every year.
Multivitamins are not the problem. Mindless consumption is the problem.
So what’s a pretty girl gotta do?
Sadly, there is no quick fix. In our family, it took us about three years of experimentation to find a “low tox” lifestyle that we could live with.
You can’t live 100% free from poisons, but you can do your best to limit them. To avoid overwhelm, begin with one toxin at a time. I recommend sugar as the first toxin to be eliminated. That will take you a year or more, but will get rid of about half the danger lurking in your kitchen / plate. Once you’ve got sugar out of your life, you can start tackling the smaller monsters.
You want a list? Just ask Dr Google which foods and food additives to avoid. Pick one, get rid of it. Pick another one, get rid of it. Rinse and repeat.
In the process, you will find yourself eating healthier and getting healthier. Your doctor may even be able to stop prescribing pills altogether.