I was recently made aware of a NY Times article entitled, “Should We Toss Our Vitamins?” and asked my opinion. The article is filled with vague statements such as “taking vitamins does not extend life” and [there is] “limited evidence that vitamin and mineral supplementation could prevent cancer or cardiovascular disease”. One physician, speaking on a study she was involved with, concluded, “I do think there’s room for more research.” First, let’s consider the true clinical significance of these statements. In the field of medical research, data should be completely objective, yet there are several points which definitely add subjectivity:
– Types of and quality of products tested – cheaply made multivitamins contain forms of nutrients which are known to be poorly absorbed or utilized
-Lack of uniformity in subjects being tested – variables such as diet, exercise and metabolic genetic tendencies are often not controlled
-Broad goals being measured – longevity, cancer (often without attempt to narrow down aspecific form), and cardiovascular health either connote a variety of parameters which would need to be addressed, or may be unrealistic to expect from a supplement, especially when lifestyle parameters are not accounted for
Given the unreliable and very difficult-to-translate data, it might help to look at a review published in November, 2013, by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (CLICK HERE FOR FULL TEXT). After taking into account all of the challenging variables , their end statement was: “ Based upon the available scientific evidence to date, supplementation with MVMs does not appear to increase all-cause mortality, cancer incidence or mortality, or CVD incidence or mortality and may provide a modest protective benefit.”
I did not used to feel multivitamins were necessary for the average person, but I’m beginning to change my mind a bit. It is a true challenge to take in all the basic nutrients our bodies need, even if we are the most vigilant foodies. Data reported in the Journal of American College of Nutrition states: “They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century.” Reports of similar findings are easy to find, including a report by the Nutrition Security Council, which cites a decline from 400 mg to 55 mg in the sum of minerals (calcium, magnesium, and iron) found in cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, and spinach. That means our produce now is less than 15% as nutritious as it used to be! We really need to eat a lot more spinach!! But make sure it’s organic, or you may well offset all the extra minerals by taking on a large load of pesticides.
The high proportion of processed, grain-containing foods in the average person’s diet usually means that percentage of their diet is going to be low in nutrients, despite the fact that those foods are often “fortified”. The nutrients which are used to fortify foods (folic acid, for example) are often not a high-quality form usable by the body.
And don’t forget about fats…the human body ideally wants a high ratio of omega 3:6, but again the high levels of omega 6’s found in processed foods make an adequate amount of omega 3 almost unattainable without taking in inordinate amounts of fish, which raises the risk of inadvertently taking in heavy metals or PCB’s.
In the end, although I feel nutrients from foods are the best form, getting enough from our diets has become increasingly difficult, even for the most disciplined eater. The time involved in sourcing, purchasing, and preparing the most nutrient-dense foods can be overwhelming for many who already struggle to get all of their tasks taken care of. Adding a multivitamin to help cover some of the bases can help ease the stress of trying to get the best nutrition.
From an economic standpoint, I believe the best way to achieve optimal nutrition is to
Eat whole, clean foods
Produce – organic is sometimes more expensive than conventional, so reserve it for the produce highest in pesticides – For a great guide, CLICK HERE.
Grains – use whole grains which are not commonly produced using GMO technology (spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, etc.)
Eat clean meats and dairy products – again, somewhat more expensive, so reduce serving sizes
Maintain good digestive health – make sure you are absorbing the nutrients from all the goodfood you are eating with proper stomach acidity, digestive enzymes, and a healthy intestinal lining
Take a quality multivitamin – this will set you back $20-$25/month, but provide very significant levels of minerals, trace minerals, and vitamins needed by the millions of different enzyme pathways in our bodies
Popping a multivitamin (especially a poorly formulated one) may not guarantee prevention of cancer, heart disease, or early death from any cause, particularly if it is not coupled with a healthy lifestyle. However, I have experienced overwhelming response from clients who have realized significant improvement in everything from digestive health to renewed energy and vitality when using a well-thought-out supplement regimen, especially when coupled with positive lifestyle changes. Some of these improvements are purely subjective, as in “I feel so much better!” or “my abdominal pain is relieved”. However, some are completely objective, as in homocysteine levels (a pro-inflammatory risk factor for heart disease and other issues, easily measured by blood test), which come down with a small combination of nutrients.
An optimal supplement regimen for you may or may not include a multivitamin, but it is far from accurate to proclaim quality nutrient products a “waste of money”. A large body of research on individual nutrients, which can be found by CLICKING HERE, supports the judicious use of supplements for optimal health.