Millions of people take vitamin pills daily but do they really need to? Are they just wasting their money?
In my case I take vitamin C every day along with some herbs and minerals… How about you?
I was triggered into this healthy habit by suffering a spell of asthma in my 30s. I knew by long experience that "the Doctors" had nothing to help me and so I went looking for answers elsewhere.
And I found them and after finding them asthma never again entered my life. In fact I was so impressed by the natural health boosting methods that I found and used for my own health that 5 years later I was training first to be a Clinical Nutritionist and after that as a Naturopath.
Excuse me, Do You Have Expensive Urine?
Most Doctors, if asked about vitamin or mineral supplements will dismiss them as useless. Their narrative is along the lines of… …we get vitamins from our food and that's all we need. In fact if we take more than we need we will simply pee those extra vitamins we bought down the toilet.
And that's how you can get expensive urine!
Naturally those of us who have boosted our health by taking vitamins or other natural remedies would disagree with this attitude. You read above how I fixed my asthma problems with supplements and that I then enrolled to learn nutrition.
Well something that trainee nutritionists learn early in their training is how easy it is to treat Pre Menstrual Syndrome, PMS. It is appalling that millions of women suffer pain and misery monthly when it can usually be treated successfully by taking a combo of B vitamins, magnesium and Evening Primrose oil.
Usually dealt with easily even by a trainee nutritionist!
Clearly the prospect of giving all these women expensive urine is so traumatic to the poor Doctors that they consider it best that their female patients can just go on suffering "the curse".
And if a handful of health supplements can banish such a nasty complaint as PMS who knows what else vitamins and minerals can do? Perhaps the real curse is the lack of nutritional knowledge and understanding in these (usually male) Doctors?
Enough of my sarcasm – let's look at what Vitamins are and why they are so important and effective.
Vitamins were discovered by experimenting on and processing foods in different ways and noticing the effects on the health of the people or animals concerned.
"In 1905, Englishman William Fletcher determined that if special factors (vitamins) were removed from food disease ensued"
And why would they be removed? Well scientists may do so to see what happens and modern food companies do so as they process the food they sell.
One example of this is the widespread existence of a neurological disorder in the Far East where eating white rice was common. The disease was called "BeriBeri" and did not occur when eating wholemeal or Brown rice as a staple food because as we now know, it has greater vitamin content, but did occur when eating processed or white rice which has some of its vitamin content removed.
Why would anyone remove the vitamins?
Well, to make the food last longer. But in this case what was good for the shelf life was bad for the human life! At one stage scientists thought that all vitamins were amines – like Ammonia, so they were called "Vital Amines" or vitamins. The name switched to vitamin when this was understood to be a mistake!
Vitamins do not have any particular structure, they are not "amines" or minerals or essential fatty acids. But they are vital and they must be in our diets or we will be suffer a "vitamin deficiency disease" as we see in the next paragraph.
Simply put, without adequate vitamins we lose our health and ultimately die. The body cares not whether we get our daily supply from whole foods or from a food supplement but get them we must.
Who Takes Vitamins?
According to the US National Institutes of Health, "The majority of adults in the United States take one or more dietary supplements either every day or occasionally". It's similar in the UK too where research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2008 , shows that nearly a third of people in the UK take some vitamin, mineral or dietary supplement on most days.
You can see that large numbers of people are using vitamin pills and other supplements in different ways. Some use a multivitamin as a health insurance way – just in case their diet does not supply all they need they get a little boost from their supplement; others are using specific supplements to deal with a particular health issue. I've mentioned PMS above.
Many people find that taking a capsule of Evening Primrose Oil makes their periods much more manageable; others like myself take zinc and vitamin B6 to deal with the symptoms of Pyroluria.
Pyroluria is a condition which affects about 10% of the population and if untreated can produce anxiety, brain fog, poor dream recall and a whole host of other symptoms which can usually be banished with the correct dose of zinc, vitamin B6 and other nutrients with the doses chosen according to your individual needs.
Staying in the Pink
Finding out how much of a vitamin you need to stay healthy and happy can be done by experience. Sometimes I forget to take my daily zinc tablet for a while and notice symptoms of Pyroluria surfacing after a while which reminds me to take my zinc and get back "in the pink." Other vitamins like B12 or K2 are harder to spot symptoms so for them you just need to decide to take them daily.
Step Forward the "RDA"
Governments do seem to like to regulate things and people and make recommendations so it was only a matter of time after the discovery of vitamins before governments around the world were making "Official" recommendations about how much of each of the vitamins we should or should not take.
Around 1942 the US government as part of its war effort published its Recommended Daily Allowances which were the amounts of vitamins and minerals we need every day to stay healthy. Other countries did so as well. So all round the world each country has its own RDA.
I'll show you one example of a problem that arose with these official recommendations… The US government thinks we need 90 mg of vitamin C but as for the UK government "Adults need 40 mg of vitamin C a day."
So if I am in America I need 90 mg of vitamin C but if I am in the UK I only need 40 mg?
This is a wonderful example of the fantasy land that government advisors live in. I am not going to bore you or me by going through a whole slew of vitamins and minerals and showing you the differences… The differences are real and they are big!
This is not one example cherry picked to prove a point. This is the case for each country around the world. There is a complete chaos of different "recommended" values which you supposedly need.
What is clear is that these numbers do not come from science but from bureaucracy and politics. Scientists left to themselves would work together to produce a consensus report in which the amounts of the nutrients we need are the same from country to country for our age, weight and gender.
The good intentions behind Recommended Daily Allowance produce such a confusion of numbers I say that RDA stands for Ridiculous Dietary Advice. Also the RDA is just a population average – it cannot be used for individual cases but still comes up short because it is only designed to be the minimum amount that we need to avoid obvious disease and is not the amount we need to be in our best health.
The RDA for vitamin C is the amount which for most people will keep them from getting scurvy! Scurvy!? Our governments are basing their recommendations to us on the apparent assumption that we are 19th Century sailors or soldiers who were quite likely to get scurvy. It only takes the consumption of an orange or a lime to keep you out of scurvy – around 80 mg and the official recommendations for vitamin C seem to have been based on this one consideration of avoiding scurvy!
Let's give you something to compare that with.
The amount of vitamin C for daily consumption that I recommend to my patients is 1 gram – that's the minimum – 1000 grams.
It is perfectly correct and good that the official advice should save us the dreaded disease of scurvy but how about keeping us clear of other vitamin C deficiency diseases too?
Adequate amounts of vitamin C are crucial to forming strong bones and fighting off viral illness, not to mention its crucial role in cardiovascular health.
What we need is not minimum health but optimum health and the RDA is woefully deficient at that.
The Myth of the Balanced Diet
Of course we all know that if we would eat a balanced diet we would get all the nutrients we need and we could ignore worries about the RDA! I was reminded of this persistent myth when I bumped into a patient who during our chat told me that her "Doctor/GP" had told her not to bother with her nutrition programme, giving her the priceless and sage advice to "eat a balanced diet".
I was thunderstruck by the sheer stupidity of this advice so let's just unpick it a little. The diet we should follow should be one that works for us whether male or female and at our age and lifestyle. It should also vary with the seasons.
The notion that it should be "Balanced" is odd.
I have no idea what it means really- does it mean we eat junk in the morning and healthy food in the afternoon? What is it precisely that we should be balancing? Or perhaps it is an echo of the story of Goldilocks where she tastes porridge from 3 bowls before she found one that was "Just Right" for her!
The real science here is that we all have individual needs for nutrition – not just according to our gender but according to our genes too. This is called our Biochemical Individuality and is complex and hard to sort out even in these days of consumers getting their own genetic print out. For most of us the RDA or some version of that may be a useful first stop but not a recommendation to stick with.
Careful and informed experimentation and working with a Nutritionist or Naturopath is needed to get the best selection of nutrients for your optimum health. As well as adapting our food supplements to our diet.
Some of us find getting a particular nutrient difficult, Vitamin K2 is an example and B12 is another. Providing those in a high quality supplement is essential. There is no lazy and complacent idea of so called "Balance" here , we need what we need and if our diet does not or cannot provide it we must turn to a well-chosen vitamin. Unless that is, we are prepared to go through our lives with the same poor health that millions of people all around us have.
Nor for me! I want the very best health and to be able to sleep well and be able to live my life with the energy I need without any hindrance from bugs and viruses and illnesses which routinely affect and infect so many.
What's your choice?
Do you choose to live with optimum health? If so you must take a no nonsense approach to any health issues you face. You can beat them, but you may need a lot of determination and time to upgrade your diet and find and fine tune a good supplement program but there is always a way forward and the results may be life changing For me it was Yoga exercises that got me going and helped me put poor health behind me and it was learning nutrition years later that sealed the deal. Taking vitamins daily has helped me and my patients a lot and can help you too.