An article in the current Journal of the American Dietetic Association (June 2002;102:818-825) suggests that individuals frequently exceed safe nutrient levels when they take vitamin supplements.
An earlier study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that popping a pill can't erase the health effects of a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. The researchers found substantial data to suggest that higher intakes of folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and vitamin D will benefit many people, and a multi-vitamin will ensure an adequate intake of other vitamins for which the evidence of benefit is indirect.
There is no question that supplements can compensate for some of the damage that we do to ourselves. However, my experience is that many, if not most, people use the supplements to justify their poor choice of foods.
About half the country takes nutritional supplements, and I suspect the percentage is considerably higher in the readers of this newsletter.
That makes about as much sense as building a boat with rotten wood and using the best screws in the world to fasten them together. The boat may hold together, but it will still leak. The boards in the boat are like the macronutrients in our body, in other words, the protein, carbohydrates and fats we consume. If we make poor choices here, it really doesn't matter what types of screws we use - the boat won't work very well.
Most vitamins serve as catalysts to reactions occuring in our body. While we certainly need catalysts, it is more important to obtain good fuel for the reactions to properly occur. A funny thing happens when you start out with good fuel (raw organic food): it has most of the vitamins and minerals you need packed right in there in the perfect balance - at no extra charge.
Most of the new patients I see are spending more than $100 a month on supplements, many of them spend several times that.
Don't fool yourself.
Supplements will not fully compensate for not eating properly. Use food as your supplement and you will be much healthier.
Having said that, there are certain clinical conditions that clearly warrant, and more than justify, the use of nutrients and supplements as drug alternatives. I think this is more than reasonable, and I use this approach frequently. One just needs to remember to minimize the long-term use of supplements. If a person is health, I really don't think he/she should be taking more than five supplements a day.
Having cast my aspersions on taking to many supplements, I want to make it very clear that I do not classify fish oil as a supplement. I consider it a food alternative to fish. I am almost brought to tears when I reflect on the fact that our culture has managed to pollute the world so much that we essentially eliminated an entire class of food!
While the fat content in fish would keep us healthy, the mercury, PCBs and DDT have a significantly negative influence on our health and appear to be present in nearly all fish. I had previously listed fish that were thought to be less contaminated, but I have seen many patients consuming even these "safe" fish and come back with elevated levels of mercury in their system.
Most fish oil is molecularly distilled so the mercury is extracted and one is able to obtain the many benefits I have previously documented in past newsletters.
I also advise probiotics for most new patients to optimize their gut flora. Many people seem to benefit from using this product periodically, but I don't believe you need to remain on it indefinitely.
The other supplement that is critical for individuals who choose not to eat animal protein is vitamin B12. Vegetarism is not a very wise choice in my opinion, but nevertheless a common approach, even among many readers of this newsletter. Fortunately, the human body is quite forgiving and can tolerate this abuse for about 7 years with liver reserves of B12. But, after that time, the B12 deficiency frequently causes irreversible brain damage.