Since the dawn of my memories, I can remember taking those brightly colored Flintstones vitamins before bed. After all, the thinking at the time was that kids needed supplements to grow up healthy. That upbringing, and those yummy colored chewables, has produced an adult culture obsessed with vitamin therapy.
Can Great Health Come in a Pill?
However, can great health really be packaged in pill form? The vitamin companies would like you to think so, if nothing more than to continue the $20 billion in yearly profits consumers are offering them. Most stores carry a large inventory of vitamins from every letter of the alphabet. Yet, now that a generation has been taking supplements their entire lives, and has participated in studies, what does the current research say?
You may be surprised to learn that recent scientific studies show no benefits to healthy adults taking these supplements. In some cases, the research shows these pills may cause more harm than good.
Yet, no sooner do you read this information when another survivor comes on the television talking about how vitamin therapy cured their disease. No wonder everyone is confused! There is so much conflicting information out there!
Everyone knows that vitamins are important for your body to function properly. Like most American thinking… “If some is good, more must be better.” While we know vitamins are found in our food, it seems harmless to go to the next level of health and cover all of our basis.
What Science is Saying?
In a 2013 “American’s Take on Vitamins,” it was revealed that 64% of Americans take vitamins. Another startling fact to come from this survey was that 82% of Americans don’t eat three balanced meals per day, and an alarming 35% said that they had gone one week or longer without eating a single fresh vegetable. In this fast-paced world where people feel that cooking takes up too much time, it’s just so much easier to pop a pill than worry about proper nutrition.
The survey also found that American’s are losing their knowledge of healthy eating. Sadly, one in four people between the ages of 18-34 will know the names of the Kardasian sisters, but not remember the five basic food groups.
Recent scientific studies suggest that this approach to pre-packaged health from a bottle may not be the best idea. There have been several studies concluding that vitamins showed no noticeable benefits long term for healthy adults. More concerning, there have been additional studies which show a slightly higher risk of death among women taking multivitamins, B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, cooper, and iron. This study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, further raises doubts on the supplement industry’s health claims. While not all people were sure of the benefits of taking vitamins, no one thought they could cause harm.
Jaako Mursu, the leading author of the study, concluded that these findings simply add to a large amount of research showing that people popping pills may not be getting any health benefits for their money or trouble.
“I would conclude that supplements are not protective against chronic diseases,” Mursu stated. “In some cases they may be harmful, especially if used for a long time.”
Yet, on the other side of the debate, some doctors have used vitamin therapy for years to treat many different conditions not related to deficiencies. To further muddy the waters, you find heath experts and patients hailing the benefits of vitamin therapy to cure everything from cancer to depression to acne. Dr. Klenner claims to use aggressive Vitamin C therapy to treat over 30 diseases. He says it is safe to use in megadoses, despite the National Institute of Health clearly stating that “large amounts of vitamin C can increase the chance of getting kidney stones.” Dr. Klenner is quoted as saying, “The ascorbic acid/kidney stone story is a myth.”
In an article in Forbes, Vitamin C was one of five vitamins people shouldn’t take because the scientific research just doesn’t back up the benefits promised, and in some cases could cause more harm than good. It’s no wonder consumers are confused.
Nature’s Nutrition Still Best
However, the worst outcome from this conflicting information comes when people think that taking multivitamins will take the place of actual nutrition found in healthy foods. Experts on both sides of this debate can agree that this is not the desired outcome, and that vitamins should only supplement, not replace, a healthy diet. Unlike the mixed research on vitamin therapy, the findings continue to substantiate that eating healthy, nutritious food makes a big difference in reducing disease risk while improving quality and length of life.
So, how do you know you are getting the vitamins you need from your food? One simple way is to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Take only the slogan, not the product, from Skittles candy commercials and taste the rainbow in the real fruit and vegetable realm. If your plate is multicolored, you are probably getting a good variety of vitamins. Different colors signal foods rich in different vitamins. If you eat a wide variety of colors from fresh food sources, you will easily be able to obtain the proper amount of nutrition.
Lists of foods rich in specific vitamins are also readily available online. It’s fairly easy to make sure you are getting the required amount of vitamins from your food. It’s also helpful to remember that certain vitamins are fat soluble (A, D, E, and K), and are absorbed better when eaten with food containing fat or oil. To be certain you are getting the biggest nutrition bang for your bite, also include super foods in your diet. These foods are packed with more than their fair share of vitamins and minerals. One easy way to include a large amount of super foods in one meal is to make fresh smoothies for breakfast, packed with fruits, berries, and kale.
It really isn’t difficult to get all of your vitamins and minerals from your diet. While vitamin therapy is certainly needed for people who are diagnosed with deficiencies, the reviews are still mixed on whether there is truly a need for supplementation among healthy people.
Where I’ve Landed
So, am I personally opposed to vitamin therapy? No. It is certainly needed for people who are medically deficient. Also, I would not begrudge people looking for cures to chronic disease the opportunity to follow some of the more alternative vitamin therapies out there. I also admit to happily using zinc supplements to ward off a cold when I’m feeling sick. Vitamins have their place. However, for daily, long-term use, I would like to see more research showing me the benefits before spending additional dollars at the supplement shop. I mean, if we are just creating expensive urine, is it really worth the ongoing investment?
Also, if this decision to take vitamins makes us too lazy to get proper nutrition from real foods, we are in a lot of trouble. I think some people think you can eat a regular diet of burgers and fries every day, take a multivitamin to fill in the gaps, and be the picture of health. This is not the way it works. Ketchup and fries should not count as your fruit and vegetable servings for the day.
However, the benefits of a balanced, healthy diet are not up for debate. For now, I prefer to get my nutrition from real food, not pre-packaged pills. So next time you’re feeling the need for some vitamin therapy, throw together a big kale salad, whip up a berry smoothie, cook a sweet potato with broccoli, or eat some nuts. You will certainly save money on supplements and give your body a much better tasting, and healthy, nutritional boost than you could ever get from a bottle!
Now, if only we could get the vitamin companies to donate some of their profits to educating the public about proper nutrition instead of following the Kardasians!