Supplements: Are They Necessary & Are They Safe?
It's what Ponce de Leon searched for in his pursuit of the fountain of youth. It's what Job in the Bible needed. It's what would have prevented the Black Plague. It's what maintains eyesight, keeps the heart pumping, fights disease-causing organisms, lengthens the life span, repairs DNA, helps red blood cells carry oxygen, normalizes hormone levels, and facilitates normal brain function. It's vitamins.
Not discovered till the late 1800s, when researchers became aware that certain as-yet-unknown factors in food were preventing disease, vitamins have yet to achieve their full potential in the maintenance of human health. The limes on board ships prevented scurvy, but doctors didn't know why, till Svent Gyorgi, a Romanian researcher, discovered vitamin C in the 1930s. Gyorgi's discovery has not been fully applied to the maintenance of human health, and even in this new millennium, a survey shows 42 percent of Americans still do not consume enough vitamin C to prevent signs of scurvy (easy skin bruising, bleeding gums, fluid on the lungs, bleeding and swelling at the back of the eyes). Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, Nobel-prize winner Linus Pauling showed that vitamin C lengthened the lifespan of cancer patients, something that has yet to accomplished with conventional anti-cancer therapy. Dr. Pauling's work was discredited in favor of drugs.
The consumption of 300 milligrams of vitamin C per day would reduce the risk of sight-threatening cataracts by 77-83 percent. But most people are told they will get all the vitamin C they need from a good diet. You would have to consume 6 oranges a day to get 300 milligrams of vitamin C. Vitamin C tablets are called for here. Another recent study shows that 500 milligrams of vitamin C will reduce blood pressure equally as well as anti-hypertensive drugs, without the side effects and costs. When this was announced, the drug companies manipulated the news media and got a researcher to write a misleadingly report that vitamin C thickened the carotid arteries in the neck, as if vitamin C were creating a blockage of some sort. In fact, vitamin C was building collagen and strengthening the blood vessel wall, preventing a bulging we call aneurysms. How much vitamin C should you take on a daily basis? 500 milligrams at a minimum, and maybe 2000 milligrams for optimal nutrition.
Casimir Funk, a Polish-born researcher, went on to coin the term "vitamins," and described B vitamins in the 1930s. His work revealed remarkable, even magic-like effects, from the use of B vitamins in animals. In his 1922 book, The Vitamines, he shows the picture of chicks at 7 weeks of age, about the size of a man's fist, who were fed a normal diet. Pictured next to them were chicks fed a normal diet plus B vitamins ---- they were huge, about the size of a bastketball! These vitamins could control growth. They were removed from foods when man began to polish rice and produce white flour. Mankind had to suffer epidemics of pellagra, beri beri, and pernicious anemia before foods were fortified with B vitamins. Still today, a third of American older adults suffer shortages of vitamin B12, and many needlessly suffer with symptoms of short-term memory loss, sore tongue, and numb, tingling or burning feet. Many fertile women experience shortages of folic acid, a B vitamin, and give birth to mal-formed babies. All of this is preventable, if the public were told the true story about vitamins.
Pharmaceutical companies continue to promote their statin drugs to reduce cholesterol, but none yet work as well and as cheaply as niacin, vitamin B3. Doctors continually hear from patients who complain of chronic fatigue, but few physicians recommend vitamin B5, pantothenic acid, along with vitamin C, which boost adrenal gland function. Royal jelly from the honey bee is rich in vitamin B5 and is known to boost energy levels and immunity.
Lifesavers or a deadly menace?
Based on an article by Dr John BriffaShould we always stick to Recommended Daily Allowances?
Not necessarily. The RDAs, established more than 50 years ago, represent the level of nutrients needed to prevent deficiency diseases. For instance, 60 mg of vitamin C (the RDA) is deemed to be the amount of this nutrient we need to consume each day to keep us from getting scurvy. In practice, RDAs are of little relevance for many reasons.
To begin with, the RDAs take no account of individual circumstances. The fact is, nutritional needs vary enormously. Requirements for nutrients can vary according to genetic make-up, sex, age, levels of stress, activity levels, alcohol consumption, pollution, smoking, the use of prescription medications, pregnancy and menopause. The RDAs make no provision for the special requirements individuals may have for nutrients.
The other major failing of RDAs is that they are based only on the levels of nutrients necessary to prevent deficiency. However, we know that vitamins and minerals have a crucial role to play in the prevention of illness and mainenance of optimum health. Generally, the levels of nutrients required to achieve these important health-giving effects are way in excess of the pitifully low RDAs.
Isn't it true that the whole supplements industry is all about money?
The manufacturers of nutrient supplements are no doubt in the business of making money. However, I do not believe that the motivation for the industry as a whole is entirely financial. It is clear that the nutritional supplements industry provides products to the public which often have very significant health-giving properties.
Natural remedies are generally very safe and often help where conventional medicine has failed. I feel that the supplements industry is generally proud of the fact that through its efforts, more individuals have the opportunity to improve their health.
Wouldn't we be better off simply eating a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is the cornerstone of any nutritional approach to health. However, intensive farming methods and food processing have stripped our food of much of iits vital nutritional content. Many of the foods we eat today are nutritionally lacking. Even if we eat a 'healthy diet' it is virtually impossible to get the amounts of nutrients across the board that we need for optimal health.
Another reason why supplements may be advised is when it is not practical to obtain a nutrient from the diet at the levels required to produce a particular effect. An example of this is vitamin E in the prevention of heart disease. Studies have shown that taking 100-200 IU of vitamin E each day reduces the risk of heart disease by about 40 percent. It is, however, virtually impossible to consume this amount of vitamin E through diet alone.
Another example is folic acid, which is recommended by doctors at a dose of 400 mcg per day for pregnant women. To get this quantity of folic acid via the diet is impractical, which is why the medical profession recommends supplementation in this instance.
I am often asked whether people need to take supplements. The answer is that no one needs to take supplements. However, if an individual is interested in preventing illness and optimising their health, supplements can have a useful role to play.
Is there any evidence that people live longer or are any healthier taking handfuls of supplements every day?
Yes. The evidence linking vitamin E to prevention of heart disease is a case in point. Vitamin E has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack in people with existing heart disease. There is also good evidence that selenium can reduce the risk of cancer. And the list goes on.
Numerous scientific studies demonstrate that nutrients can be effective in treating a wide range of conditions. It is important to remember that while we know people do not get sick because of lack of a prescription medication, nutrient deficiencies are quite often an important factor in disease.
Don't most vitamins just pass through the body, in effect throwing money down the drain?
The body will generally dispense with what it doesn't need and nutrients are no different in this respect. Excess nutrients are removed from the body, often through the urine. Yet a significant proportion of nutrients that are consumed are retained by the body - according to individual needs - and go on to play a vital part in all bodily processes. Even the nutrients that are expelled will exert some influence as they pass through the body. It is possible to take too much of certain vitamins and minerals, especially those that are not water-soluble, but such toxic amounts are way in excess of normal supplementary recommendations.
Point by point, how do you answer charges that:
- Too much vitamin A causes birth defects, dry skin, scaly skin, headaches, fatigue, painful bones and loss of appetite?
Vitamin A in excess may give rise to all the symptoms listed here, just as a deficiency of the vitamin also gives rise to unhealthy symptoms. However, the smallest daily supplement generally considered to generate any risk of birth defects is 25,000 IU per day. To be on the safe side, it is recommended that pregnant women should take no more than 10,000 IU per day. Packaging of products containing vitamin A now carry a warning to this effect.
With regard to the other problems associated with vitamin A usage, the scientific literature shows that vitamin a is safe in adult men and post-menopausal women at a dose of 30,000 IU per day. This is about several times the dose of vitamin A found in multivitamin supplements.
- Too much vitamin D leads to high blood calcium, headaches and appetite loss?
Vitamin D plays an essential role in the absorption of calcium from the gut and may therefore help prevent osteoporosis and other conditions. Recent tests showed that the majority of elderly people are deficient in vitamin D. The toxic effects of vitamin D have been found only at doses which exceed 2,000 IU per day in adults. This is many times the dose found in mutivitamin supplements. The danger occurs when an over-zealous person misguidedly takes prolonged mega doses of the individual vitamin, without having a severe deficiency proven by tests (mega doses of vitamins are sometimes appropriate to deal with deficiency symptoms but this is best administered with the guidance of a nutrition consultant or doctor).
- Too much vitamin E can thin the blood and may be dangerous for those on certain medications?
Vitamin E is a natural blood thinner, which in part accounts for its beneficial effect in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Certain medications, notably warfarin, also thin the blood and this effect may be enhanced too far by the additional taking of vitamin E. For this reason it is generally advised that individuals on warfarin or other anti-coagulant medication do not take vitamin E. If you are receiving medication for any health problem you should always check with your doctor before taking nutritional supplements (or any other dietary change) in case there is such a contra-indication.
- Too much folic acid can disguise a deficiency in B12 with potentially serious neurological consequences?
It is true that folic acid supplements may mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. Nerve damage can result, which may not be responsive to further B12 supplementation. For this reason, it is an established natural health practice that folic acid is given either with B12 or as part of a B Complex supplement containing B12. It is actually conventional doctors who tend to prescribe use of folic acid on its own.
The same is true for other nutrients: just as each can have a beneficial preventative or healing effect, if taken over-zealously, in isolation, in excess amounts over a long period, or if taken inappropriately, then harm can result. But don't be scared off from using supplementation by such stories of what can happen if they are used misguidedly. They are safe if used sensibly, and more than that, they can help you lead a healthier, longer life!
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