Americans are now spending more than $17 billion a year on supplements for health and wellness. Strangely enough, the rates of many forms of chronic disease have not changed, while the rates of many others have actually increased. Why is that? Well, of course there are many factors involved, but a major contributing factor is that despite daily vitamin supplementation, most people are still seriously deficient in the critical vitamins and minerals that their bodies require on a daily basis and one thing is fairly clear, their supplements aren’t helping very much.
Here’s the basic problem: all vitamin supplements are NOT created equal. Don’t be fooled by nutrient claims on the labels or inflated costs- this information is often totally misleading. You could not only be wasting your time and hard-earned money, but despite your best intentions, you may not be effectively supporting your health either.
The vast majority of vitamin supplements, yes- even the expensive brands- typically use synthetic vitamin isolates rather than the vitamin in it’s whole, natural state. Real, complete vitamin complexes are derived from whole-food sources; i.e.- something living, and as such, impart life to your body. The synthetic, fractionated chemical copies of vitamins which are used in most supplements are manufactured in a lab. They never grew in the ground, never saw the light of day, were never alive or part of anything living. In your body they’re basically just another drug.
If that’s not compelling enough for you, it’s important to understand the real problem with this scenario: Synthetic isolates are only a fraction of the whole vitamin complex. They’re a cheap copy of a part of the dynamic nutrient complex that your body actually requires in order to support your health. Furthermore, another unfortunate flaw in modern nutritional research and manufacturing procedures is that they fail to take into account the simple fact that all nutrients operate in a complex system of interrelationships in the body, and requirements will vary greatly from person to person. Instead, these complex variables are generally ignored and nutrients are studied and manufactured in relative isolation, compartmentalizing what is never compartmentalized in nature.
Unfortunately, the marketing geniuses of vitamin supplement companies have successfully created the myth that we can still derive total benefit from taking synthetic isolated vitamins. Nothing could be farther from the truth. To fully understand this, you’ve got to understand what a vitamin actually is.
What Is A Vitamin?
“A vitamin is a working process consisting of essential nutrients, enzymes, co-enzymes, antioxidants, and essential trace mineral activators.” – Royal Lee, pioneer researcher in whole-food nutrition, 1956
In other words, natural vitamins are not simply solitary molecular compounds. Vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other natural biochemicals are meant to come as a package deal, then work closely together to achieve nutritional efficacy in your body. If one part is missing, or in the wrong form or the wrong amount, entire chains of metabolic processes can’t proceed normally. This is almost always the case with synthetic isolate vitamins. The result? A gradual downward spiraling of your health despite your best intentions.
The bottom line is that vitamins can’t be isolated from their complexes and still effectively perform their specific functions within the cells of your body.
Ascorbic acid is not the same as vitamin C. The Ascorbic acid in the vast majority of vitamin supplements is just a laboratory-synthesized copy of naturally occurring ascorbic acid, which itself is merely the “antioxidant wrapper” portion of natural vitamin C that acts as a natural preservative. It basically just serves to protect the functional parts of the vitamin from breaking down. To say that Vitamin C is the same as Ascorbic Acid is like saying that a wheel is the same as an automobile, where obviously it is just a small part of the automobile.
Whole Vitamin C, on the other hand, includes ascorbic acid plus the P factors rutin and bioflavonoids which maintain vascular integrity; K factors which promote healthy clotting; J factors which help transport oxygen to the tissues; important enzymes such as Tyrosinase; and a host of other components.
If any of these parts are missing, vitamin C activity becomes limited and your body cannot utilize most of what you’ve tried to give it. Odds are you might as well just flush the ‘vitamin C’ supplement in your medicine cabinet down the toilet, since that’s where it’s going to end up in the long run anyways.
The same story applies to Alpha tocopherol not being the same as vitamin E. Retinoic acid not being the same as vitamin A, and so on.
Why is it important to take quality Multivitamins?
Most vitamins cannot be made by the body. They must be taken in as food. In an ideal world, our best sources would obviously be fresh, organic, whole foods, rich in vitamins and minerals. However, accessing and eating high quality whole foods regularly may be a personal challenge for you and your family. Your busy schedule and financial concerns may make it difficult to commit to cooking high-quality organic, healthy foods as often as you know you should.
For those of you who are able to eat only the most pristine diet, another factor involves the actual food supply itself. As a result of conventional farming methods, soil depletion, pesticides, air pollution, and erosion, the foods now grown in American soil have only a fraction of the nutrient value that they did 50 years ago. That means a fraction of the vitamins and minerals necessary for normal human cell function. Some sources say even up to 50% less! So even if you’re eating a really healthy diet with all the right foods, the nutritional bankruptcy of those foods usually means that it’s still necessary to take high-quality supplements.
As if that’s not enough, most cooking methods also deplete the nutrients in your food and seriously impair its nutritional value.
So, realizing that you cannot always obtain the organic, whole, unprocessed foods you need, and knowing how easy it is for valuable nutrients to be destroyed, you now know why I believe adding a good multivitamin to complement your diet is a sound move.
What Are The Best Supplements?
Many people have no idea if they should be taking something, what they should be taking, why the should taking it, or whether or not those supplements are actually doing anything for them. It’s total pill-popping confusion out there! Check out my Top 5 Recommended Supplements for info on the most important things most people should be taking.
Regarding quality, the best vitamin supplements out there are called whole-food supplements. Of the over 110 companies who sell vitamins in the US, only a handful of them use whole-food vitamins. The reason is simple: whole food vitamins are expensive to make. Instead of paying to produce quality, whole-food vitamins, a handful of the largest pharmaceutical firms in the world are paid to mass produce synthetic vitamins for the majority of these 110 vitamin companies, who then slap their own label on them and claim theirs is the best. Clever…
Quality whole-food vitamins, on the other hand, are obtained by taking a vitamin-rich plant, removing the water and the fiber in a cold vacuum process, free of chemicals, and then packaging for stability. The entire vitamin complex in this way can be captured intact, retaining its functional and nutritional integrity, and upon ingestion, the body is not required to draw on its own reserves in order to complete any missing elements from the vitamin complex.
Most of these whole-food supplements will have nutrient facts on the labels that might look unfamiliar to you. You’re used to seeing labels with lots of big, pharmaceutical-sounding words that don’t resemble foods that you recognize. Whole food supplements will list the food the vitamin was extracted from either on other labels next to each nutrient included or in the “Ingredients” section you’ll see a list of the dozens of vegetables and fruits that the vitamins came from.
Red Flags To Watch Out For…
What is the marketing philosophy behind the synthetic vitamins available in the supermarket and chain vitamin stores? Profit, of course! Marketing is the art of persuading by suspending logic and twisting data into junk science. For example, do you know the actual difference between Wheaties and Total, two cereals put out by the same company? Total is advertised as being more nutrient-rich than Wheaties. Look at the labels. What justifies the extra $1.30 for a box of Total? Answer: 1.5¢ worth of synthetic vitamins sprayed over the Wheaties. That’s it! That’s what “vitamin enriched” always means. The other trick word is “fortified.” Generally, if you see either of those terms, it means that the food itself is basically devoid of nutrients value, so they tried to pump it up with a few “vitamins.” Cheap, fake, dead vitamins.
Another thing to watch out for is the recommended daily dosage. If you’re currently taking a multivitamin with a recommended serving size of one pill a day, you’re pretty much wasting your time. It’s very unlikely that any single pill can pack enough vitamins and minerals to truly make any real impact on your health. There are a few legitimate ways to compress natural nutrients, but not to the extreme that a single tablet provides you all the vitamin and mineral levels you need.
It’s also vitally important to know when to take your multivitamins. You should take a few multi tablets first thing in the morning and with lunch, or with an early dinner to help optimize your nutrient absorption, the better chance you’ll have of truly fortifying your diet.
In addition to adhering to a smart lifestyle with a healthy diet, exercise, adequate sunshine and good sleep, adding whole-food multivitamins to your routine can help maintain and boost your overall health and is one of the best things you can do for your body. For more information on my personal favorite brands, feel free to contact me personally.
This information brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Austin Acupuncturist, Melanie Irvine, L.Ac., MAOM, owner Turning Point Wellness. For more info about how Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, and natural nutrition can help you achieve vibrant health and well-being. Feel free to visit my website, www.TurningPointAcupuncture.net for more details and direct contact information.
Sources & References:
The Doctor Within, “Natural Whole Food Vitamins: Ascorbic Acid Is Not Vitamin C,” http://www.thedoctorwithin.com/vitaminc/ascorbic-acid-is-not-vitamin-c/
Somer, The Nutrition Report, “Vitamin C: A Lesson in Keeping An Open Mind,” p. 58
Price, Weston — Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Keats Publ. 1997
CDC –National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 47, no.19, June 1999.
Somer, Elizabeth— “Vitamin C: A Lesson in Keeping An Open Mind” The Nutrition Report