New Scientist, 30th August 2014, carries an article From A To Zinc which claims to sift the evidence about taking extra vitamins and minerals. As usual, it claimed that for most people, there is no point in taking extra vitamins or minerals since we get enough from our food. Which nicely explains why everybody is bursting with health and vitality and doctor’s surgeries are twiddling their thumbs for lack of patients. Or maybe not. The only exception to taking supplementation seemed to be fish oils for those who disliked oily fish. I have three points to make about the article, the first about the nutritional content of our food, the second about supplementation itself and the third about research into supplementation.
Our nutritional needs are met by the foods we eat.
- April 2011 New Scientists’ American version, Scientific American, carried an article called ‘Dirt Poor. Have fruits and vegetables become less nutritious?’ 1 To which the answer was a resounding yes, due principally to soil depletion of nutrients by modern agro-chemicals. This insult compounded by the development of new varieties of vegetables that are pest and disease resistant and grow much more quickly, but do not uptake nutrients as well as older varieties. In the blog Do we need to take supplements? 2 I cite a Channel 5 programme that told us we need to eat 30 cabbages today to get the nutrition contained in 1 cabbage in 1914. A gut blowing piece of information.
- We do need to eat plenty of organic or home grown vegetables everyday of as much variety as possible. Those vegetables need to be fresh, harvested in their prime and not whilst underripe – or grown using hydroponics. This quality is just not available in the supermarket. For those of us without time or space to grow our own, then organic veggie boxes are the best alternative.
- And we need to eat as high quality meat as we can lay hands on. If the animal was reared eating the food its designed to eat – grass, for instance – and not some growth promoting cattle feed or whatever, the meat will be as nutritious as possible. Most minerals are best sourced from animals, not vegetables.
- For our food to be nutritious, we need to cook fresh produce ourselves from scratch. Many people do not have the time or energy to do this, so rely on ready meals and take aways. Yet still we are told our food is nutritious enough.
Not all supplements are made equal.
- In the article, New Scientist makes no mention of the type of supplement. For instance, when discussing magnesium they quite rightly point out that taking too much mag can cause the squits. Absolutely right when that magnesium is magnesium citrate. Magnesium citrate can indeed cause a rapid trot to the loo in the middle of the night, has a very poor uptake in the gut, so has a very small positive effect, unless, of course, the main problem is constipation. For a magnesium supplement to work, it has to be combined with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, for example the excellent Poliquin Ubermag3. Or the article says taking vitamin C on a regular basis is pointless, giving Linus Pauling a good kicking as it goes. Again, it comes down to what the vitamin is blended with. A decent supplement, such as the Poliquin one, is combined in such a way as it sticks in the body. I suppose a simple way of explaining it is comparing the uptake of vitamin C from a blueberry and and orange. Although the orange contains much more C, we get a much greater uptake from a blueberry, so our body actually GETS more C from the blueberry than from the orange. And so it is with high quality supplements as opposed to the ones found on the shelves of chemists and supermarkets.
- A good supplement is not cheap. A cheap and easily available supplement can indeed be harmful to health. The article quite rightly warns about taking Vitamin E – but makes no mention of the difference between man made vitamin E, a natural vitamin E and the highest quality vitamin E, which will be high in gamma tocopherol.4
When talking about the growth hormone, DHEA, the article says of research to see if it works,
It is naturally produced by the body and therefore cannot be patented, so big pharma has little interest in funding trials.
And thereby hangs a tale of woes. Trials on supplements are frequently small – a large, double blind clinical trial is very expensive to run. In order to be of real value, highly bioavailable supplements should be used, adding further to the cost – and running the huge risk that they may actually work better than a pharmaceutical equivalent – whoops.
On the subject of DHEA, this is the growth hormone and highly desirable. We make it when we sleep. But only if that sleep is good. Poor sleep is a classic sign of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is deficient in the soil, and so we go down and down. And, like CoQ10, our production of DHEA goes down with age.
Ultimately, to be really sure of our nutritional status, we all need to take regular blood tests of the vitamin and mineral levels in the body so we can work out what supplements we may need. We need to re take the blood tests regularly to find out how well we are improving our nutritional status. This article looks at the 20 most popular supplements, so that would be 20 different blood tests. And we also need to know how much of each nutrient we need in our blood to be truly healthy – as opposed to not dead. The RDA – recommended daily allowance – is based on preventing death, which is very different to promoting optimal health. And recommended blood levels of the various nutrients can vary from country to country. Its all an expensive minefield.
What I find best in both my practice and for myself is that taking high quality basic supplements makes us all happier, healthier, less prone to colds and illnesses. This, combined with a stonking diet and a good dose of Z health leads to feeling on top of the world. Daily.
- link to the article Dirt Poor: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/ [↩]
- Link to the blog: http://www.clareharding.com/do-we-need-to-take-supplements-wont-our-five-a-day-do/ [↩]
- Link to blog about Ubermag: http://www.clareharding.com/ubermag-the-best-form-of-magnesium-helps-sleep-add-weightlossheart-health-cramps/ [↩]
- Here is a link to one of the blogs I have written about vitamin E http://www.clareharding.com/vitamin-e-and-skin-care-anti-wrinkles-protects-against-sun-damage-helps-prevent-stretch-marks/ [↩]