By Dr. Mercola
There's been much controversy surrounding the question of whether or not you need to take supplements. Critics claim that vitamin supplements are a waste of money, as you can get all the nutrients you need from your diet. They also claim that most people are not, in fact, nutritionally deficient, thanks to all the fortified foods on the market.
Alas, there are a number of problems with such assertions. First of all, I believe we have to acknowledge that there is a problem with our food supply—it's simply NOT providing you with the same nutrition as it did in generations past.
This is largely related to industrial based modern methods, which include reliance on synthetic fertilizers that radically decreases nutrient density, including valuable micronutrients that have long ago largely vanished from most of these soils.
Furthermore, toxic agricultural chemicals, used in ever-increasing amounts, end up on and in your food. I believe a strong case can be made that many people—especially if you do not eat a diet of unprocessed, organically-raised foods—are suffering from nutritional deficiencies of varying kinds and to varying degrees.
To suggest the general population of Americans consume a nutrient dense diet is complete nonsense and shows extreme ignorance of the facts.
General Population Does Not Eat Enough Fruits or Veggies
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,1 dated September 10, 2010, highlights one of the core problems encountered by most Americans, and that is lack of access, availability, and affordability of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC:
"A diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk for many leading causes of death and can play an important role in weight management.
Healthy People 2010 objectives for fruits and vegetables include targets of increasing to 75 percent the proportion of persons aged ≥2 years who consume two or more servings of fruit daily and to 50 percent those who consume three or more servings of vegetables daily."
Americans fall far short of such targets. According to the CDC's report, a mere 32.5 percent of adults consumed fruit two or more times per day in 2009, and just over 26 percent ate vegetables three or more times per day. Overall, no significant changes in vegetable consumption were noted from 2000 to 2009, while fruit consumption actually fell a couple of percentage points... According to the report:
"These findings underscore the need for interventions at national, state, and community levels, across multiple settings (e.g., worksites, community venues, and restaurants) to improve fruit and vegetable access, availability, and affordability..."
Many Do Not Get Sufficient Amounts of Heart-Healthy Omega-3 from Their Diet
Similarly, a recent article in Scientific American2 underscores the nutritional deficiencies caused by declining fish consumption. Recent research published in The Annals of Internal Medicine3 suggests that eating oily fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, once or twice a week can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and arrhythmia and helps decrease all-cause mortality.
Most Americans are not getting the nutrition they need from their diet. According to Scientific American:
"Approximately 69 percent of U.S. individuals were found to be usual fish consumers – meaning they had eaten fish once in the month before being surveyed – according to a review article4 published in 2013. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans5 (DGA) estimate that the average American eats 3.5 ounces of seafood per week, which is around half a fillet of cooked salmon."
Meanwhile, DGA recommendations call for eating twice this amount, or two 4-ounce servings of fish per week. In light of the well-known health benefits of nutrients such as omega-3 fats, it's foolhardy in the extreme to assert that eating processed foods and fortified junk foods is enough to maintain your health. Yet, this is exactly what the food industry wants you to believe!
This is NOT a good use of multivitamins, but that's what the food industry is doing—they're adding synthetic vitamins and nutrients back into all manner of highly processed foods in order to "ensure" their processed and hence sorely denatured junk does not cause you to be nutrient deficient...
What they're ignoring is the fact that synthetic vitamins and minerals are not identical to natural ones, and typically cannot be properly or efficiently utilized by your body.
Between processed denatured food being fortified with junk vitamins, and whole food being grown in nutritionally deficient soils, and most people simply not eating enough whole foods to begin with, there's little doubt that many if not most people are lacking in vital nutrition...
The food and chemical ag industries' vehement opposition to vitamin supplements probably hinges on the fact that to admit people need supplements is to admit that there's something really fundamentally wrong with the way they conduct their business. They are great at producing high volume relatively cheap crops, but they fail miserably in producing nutrient-dense, environmentally sustainable foods.
'The Battlefront for Better Nutrition'
"Yes, there is a battle going on between those who are trying to promote better nutrition, and the food manufacturers who insist on making products 'worse so that they can be sold for less,' thereby eliminating the competition of more honest and self-respecting producers who would prefer to apply in business the Golden Rule."
So begins an article titled "The Battlefront for Better Nutrition,"6 written in 1950. It clearly shows that these problems are not new, because although it was penned more than 60 years ago, the information is as applicable today as it was back then. In fact, besides changes in names of the key characters, the storyline is one we're all too familiar with. Consider this excerpt:
"These commercial interests have the United States Government on their side, ever since they ousted Dr. Harvey W. Wiley from his job as head of the Food & Drug Administration in 1912. The present head of the Food & Drug Division of Nutrition, Dr. Elmer M. Nelson in a special Constitutional Court in Washington... testified that:
'It is wholly unscientific to state that a well fed body is more able to resist disease than a less well-fed body. My overall opinion is that there hasn't been enough experimentation to prove dietary deficiencies make one more susceptible to disease.' (Washington Post, October 26, 1949.)
This is nothing new for Dr. Nelson. Ten years ago he, with his group of experts, testified in a similar court, that neither degenerative disease, infectious disease, nor functional disease could result from any nutritional deficiency.
For all these years, he has battled for the maker of devitalized foods, tried to stem the tide of public opinion against the use of white flour, refined sugar, pasteurized milk and imitation butter by vigorous prosecution of any maker of any dietary supplement designed to abate the consequences of using such devitalized food, basing his arguments on the thesis that there were no such things as deficiency diseases.
Truly, as Dr. Wiley sadly remarked in his book The History of a Crime Against the Pure Food Law (1930), the makers of unfit foods have taken possession of Food & Drug enforcement, and have reversed the effect of the law, protecting the criminals that adulterate foods, instead of protecting the public health."
Fascinating, isn't it, how this corrupted system was already well-recognized 60 years ago, yet has been allowed to continue to flourish and grow through the decades! Already, in 1950, they had nailed the problem. Keep in mind that the food industry works hand in hand with the pharmaceutical industry, at least if you consider how the two industries support each other. One destroys your health while proclaiming to feed you, while the other sells you expensive remedies that never cure the ailment—they can't really, because that's what food is for! I highly recommend reading through this old gem of an article. It's quite an eye-opening experience.
Most Clinical Studies on Vitamins Use Flawed Methodology
More recently, an analysis published in the journal Nutrients,7, 8 asserts that most large, clinical studies of vitamin supplements that have reached negative conclusions use flawed methodology that "renders them largely useless in determining the real value of these micronutrients." The problem, they say, is that researchers are studying the effects of nutrients in the same way you'd evaluate the effects of a powerful prescription drug.
Another problem is that most large studies on vitamins have been carried out on well-educated and more affluent people, such as doctors and nurses, who typically tend to have among the best dietary habits simply because they're better informed and can afford better food. As stated by Balz Frei, professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and co-author of the analysis:
"It's fine to tell people to eat better, but it's foolish to suggest that a multivitamin which costs a nickel a day is a bad idea."
According to the authors, these methodological flaws lead to conclusions that have little scientific meaning, let alone bearing on reality. And, in fact, many such trials defy both other available evidence and common sense. For example, as I wrote about last October, one analysis concluded that making better use of supplements could save the American healthcare system BILLIONS of dollars each year. It stands to reason that a nutritional supplement would benefit you more if you have a nutritionally deficient diet or suffer from a particular vitamin deficiency. But most clinical studies do not identify baseline nutritional inadequacies, or whether supplementation actually remedies a deficiency, and what the subsequent health effects of such remediation might be. Without this data, any clinical conclusion becomes more or less meaningless.
As reported by Medical News Today:9
"These flawed findings will persist until the approach to studying micronutrients is changed... Such changes are needed to provide better, more scientifically valid information to consumers around the world who often have poor diets, do not meet intake recommendations for many vitamins and minerals, and might greatly benefit from something as simple as a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement. Needed are new methodologies that accurately measure baseline nutrient levels, provide supplements or dietary changes only to subjects who clearly are inadequate or deficient, and then study the resulting changes in their health."
The Threat of Worldwide Famine Is Quite Real
We also cannot discuss the state of our nutrition without addressing the now very clear fact that declining soil quality is having a major impact on the nutritional status of our food. Worse yet, mismanagement of soils, worldwide, courtesy of modern farming methods, could lead to massive food shortages. In a November 2013 article, The Telegraph10 discussed the growing threat of worldwide hunger caused by decades of flawed agricultural land management:
"American scientists have made an unsettling discovery. Crop farming across the Prairies since the late 19th Century has caused a collapse of the soil microbia that holds the ecosystem together... Entitled 'Dust to Dust,' the paper argues that the erosion of soil fertility has been masked by a 'soup of nutrients' poured over crop lands, giving us a false sense of security... Chemicals can keep crop yields high for a while but the complex ecology beneath is being abused further... The paper calls for a complete change of course as the 'only viable route to feeding the world and keeping it habitable.'"
The article goes on to discuss examples of how governments make matters worse by "sacrificing their future to stop their people from starving today." While many of the examples revolve around deforestation and destruction of fertile lands in third-world countries, the same argument can be made for the Western world. Here, corporate-dictated malfeasance at our federal agencies has resulted in food and agriculture systems that are knowingly killing people and the earth we live on.
Corporations Are Not Capable of Creating Policy That Protects and Benefits Citizens
Pesticide producers and junk food manufacturers have been allowed to create terrifyingly ignorant policies for health, in exchange for a rather lucrative business model that benefits their own bottom lines. This has been going on for decades, and once a lie begins, it must be defended. Reputations (not to mention continued profits) are at stake.
Just look at the history of trans fats, which we've long known to be a primary cause of heart disease killing millions of Americans. It took some 60 years before action was finally taken, this past November, by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove this harmful substance from the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list.
The Big Tobacco model also parallels the current food and agricultural model—Kill people slowly and there's no liability... Sad but true, private corporations dictate food, environmental, and health policy in the US and in many other areas of the world, and this is in large part how we got into our current mess.
All in all, we seem to have a problem understanding and appreciating the importance of diversity when it interferes with a business model, which is why we always end up with an industrialized monoculture-type model that decimates the environment and ultimately threatens the very future of mankind. For example, in 2013 alone, some 1.6 million acres of land (an area equal to the state of Delaware) was removed from the American federal Conservation Reserve Program,11 which pays farmers to keep their land swathed in native grasses and/or trees. This precious land is now being turned into more corn and wheat fields. As reported by NPR:12
"There's a growing demand for more food and biofuel... and farmers are responding to that demand. Most of them also want to protect soil, streams and wildlife... Yet it can be difficult to do both."
Revolving Doors Between Industry and Government Must Be Sealed Shut
As stated by Veerle Vanderweerde, the environment chief of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD):13 "They can't just come in, take the resources, and then walk away. The big companies need to change their behavior and they won't do it unless they are made to."
The problem is, there's no one telling these companies they have to be better stewards—of sea, air, land, soil, and yes, even microbes—as the same companies doing and reaping immediate profits from the harm are in essence running policy from within our government agencies... The revolving doors between industry and government bodies charged with their oversight must be addressed, and shut. As stated by The Telegraph:14
"We are becoming complacent again. The blunt truth is that the world cannot afford to lose one hectare of land a year, let alone 12m hectares. The added discovery that we doing even more damage than feared to the soil microbia should bring us to our senses... The global land crisis is almost entirely our own doing. It is closing in on us right now. It can be reversed if world leaders choose to reverse it."
Improve Your Nutrition by Updating Your Shopping Habits
A strong case can be made that most people are struggling with getting enough high quality, bioavailable nutrients from their diet. I would go so far as to say it may be virtually impossible to do so if your diet consists primarily of processed foods and no fresh vegetables.
I'm quite prudent in my recommendations of nutritional supplements, urging people to get their nutritional needs met by the foods they eat. But the bottom line is that you have a problem with your food supply, and most likely simply not getting enough high-quality whole foods. Certain nutrients also tend to be scarce overall, even in organic foods. In such cases, taking a high-quality nutritional supplement is most likely going to do far more good than harm.
One of the best options you can implement is to grow your own food. You can put your toe in the water by growing sunflower sprouts as you don't need much space and can even do this in a studio apartment or college dorm room. The next step is to grow the vegetables you like in optimized soil, highly amended with Biochar and rock dust powder like basalt and Azomite, which are phenomenal sources of trace minerals. Greenhouses can be added to radically extend your growing season. Remember that prior to World War 2, 40 percent of the vegetables grown in America were grown by urban farmers in their front or backyard.
Buying your food from a local organic source is another way to ensure that it's both fresh and high-quality. I strongly advise you to avoid wilted vegetables of any kind, because when vegetables wilt, they lose much of their nutritional value. In fact, wilted organic vegetables may actually be less healthful than fresh conventionally farmed vegetables. (For tips on cleaning your fruits and veggies, please see my previous article: "7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables.") Regardless of whether you're shopping at a supermarket or a farmer's market, here are the signs of a high-quality, healthy food:
Grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods) Not genetically modified Contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs Does not contain any artificial ingredients, including chemical preservatives Fresh (keep in mind that if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may be the better option) Did not come from a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) Grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free access to the outdoors) Grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)