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Are Vitamins Necessary?

This is the typical title of an article I see in the newspaper or a magazine about once every 3 - 4 months.  The general conclusion is that "vitamins can cause more harm than good."  Since this is the field I've been working in for 35 years, it's a bit frustrating to read articles that promote sweeping generalizations with no accounting for the discrepancies that exist in this field of science.

Every single article I've read for the past 15 years re-hashes the old studies done on Vitamin A and synthetic Vitamin E alpha tocopherol.  The famous vitamin A study showed that cancer was actually more common in cigarette smokers who took Vit A than those who didn't. This makes sense, scientifically, because smokers process vit A in a different (inefficient) way than non-smokers.  And of all the vitamins that exist in nature, Vit A is the one people shouldn't fool with in supplement form with large doses.  We know that large doses can be toxic but a small amount is safe and always included in a multi or a pre-natal.

How about Vit E?  We've known for many years that the synthetic isolated form of alpha-tocopherol doesn't work well and can actually be harmful - however that is the form used in the studies!  But, the mixed ("whole") tocopherols form of Vit E can be quite effective in combatting many health issues, esp those connected to the heart and oxidative stress.  Whenever we isolate a certain vitamin or factor from its whole form, it's not as effective or maybe not effective at all.  For instance, the 6 mg of vitamin C found in an apple renders 1500 mgworth of oxidation protection that would come from a synthetic Vit C supplement.  WHOLE foods are better!  (remember "synergy" of plants?)

And I quite agree that a regular "mulit-vitamin-mineral" pill of the type sold at drugstores, Costco, Walmart, etc, are pretty worthless.  Many of them pass right through the system, undigested. (food-grade shellac gives them long shelf life)  We generally don't have a "vitamin deficiency" in this country:  we have a whole fooddeficiency.  Eating the whole food that "looks like itself" is better than something in a package.  ie, eat the potato, not the chip.

And, finally, there is a certain amount of irresponsibility in these types of articles because they fail to mention the actual deficiencies Americans dohave.  We know that 50% of Americans over the age of 50 have a B12 deficiency.  Is this because they are all vegetarians - who generally DO have B12 deficiencies?  No, it's because the digestive capacity declines with age and about half of our senior citizens experience this loss of digestive capacity.  They might still be eating meat but not absorbing the Vit B12.  This information is available in many geriatric medical journals.  The HANES study of 50,000 people demonstrated that 75% of Americans are deficient in magnesium - a hugely important mineral for combatting stress, keeping the heart beating regularly, and keeping us, well, "regular."  There are also many, many studies showing that cataracts can be slowed down by regular consumption of certain phytonutrients.  Many opthamologists recommend one or more of these phytonutrients to their patients.  And how about the more than 100,000 studies verifying the positive effects of consuming purified, esterified fish oils?  Yet the media seems to hear about the one poorly designed study that shows fish oil does no good.  On and on.

Instead of popping cheap multi-vitamins, one should work with someone knowledgeable in the field and find out exactly which nutrients you might be missing or have in short supply.  Different health issues require different nutrients.  We are biochemical individuals and have different requirements.  The one-size-fits all "daily vitamin" is just simply a waste of money.  A well designed nutritional program, including individualized supplements, is not a waste of money.

In the meantime, everyone needs lots of vegetables and some fruits every day, as well as wholesome clean sources of protein (wild fish, grass-fed animals, non GMO soy, etc) and probably magnesium as well as Vit D.  Most Americans test on the very low end of Vit D and the 400 iu of VitD that can keep one from getting rickets is not enough to keep the immune system functioning at top-notch levels.  The best "core program" a person can do, without specific consultation for individual needs is:  1.  JuicePlus+ for the raw phytonutrients found in plants.  2. Vit D (usually 2000 - 5000 iu per day.  3. magnesium (250 - 800 mg per day)  4. purified, esterified fish oil with high DHA amounts, unless you consume wild salmon 2 - 3x per week.

So, yes, skip the drugstore multi-vitamins and find out exactly whatyou need to be healthier.

Mary Anne Robinson, MS Bio-Nutrition
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