Vitamin Supplements- Do They Work?

Over the last few weeks, several of my clients have asked me about what vitamin supplements to take. Some clients are seeking weight loss, some better energy and some want plain old better health. Since this seems to be the time of year when we think about improving our health, I thought I would give you a short summary of what I know and what I believe is right when it comes to supplements.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for all of the cellular and metabolic activities of our bodies. Everything from blood, to skin, to disease prevention, to immune system function, to overall health, to exercise metabolism, depends on adequate vitamins and minerals. These things are so vital to our health, that if we are lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, disease and aging can and will occur. There is no debating that adequate vitamins and minerals are essential for healthy living and disease prevention, but the debate occurs when we consider how we should get these vitamins and minerals.

To get the recommended dietary allowance of adequate minerals and vitamins, it is recommended that all of us get 9-14 servings of fruit and veggies each day. This is way up from the old standard of 5-8 servings (which very few of us got anyway!). This is partly because our soil is very depleted, and vegetables and fruits no longer contain the high amounts of vitamins and minerals they used to contain, but this is also partly due to how horrible most of us eat. We need a lot more fruits and veggies to counteract McDonald’s! (Research has shown that one high fat meal can cause coronary artery spasm and inflammation, and is often the cause of sudden heart attacks post gorgeing). Since so few of us take in enough fruits and veggies, and clearly, rarely approach the 9-14 servings recommended, many of us reach for vitamin supplements to help us get the daily requirements our bodies need to function well. The question is: do they work? Are we wasting our money? My feeling is yes, we are wasting our money. And worse, Big Food Inc. and supplement manufacturers are benefiting from our ignorance. Why have I concluded that multivitamins are a waste of money? Research and science.

Recent significant, large, research studies have shown that many synthetic vitamins do not offer the disease protection we thought they did. In one study, participants who took large doses of antioxidants had a greater risk of early death, and in another study, a greater risk of lung cancer. In a recently published study, 10,000 women taking multi vitamins were followed for 10 years. They had a 19% greater chance of getting breast cancer than women who were not taking multivitamins. Here, the exact reason is unknown, but scary none the less. In another recent study, research was conducted as part of the Women’s Health Initiative Clinical Trials and the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study. This study included data from 161,808 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79. Of that group, 41.5 percent used multivitamins over 15 study years. This latest study found no overall associations between multivitamin use and breast, colorectal, endometrial, kidney, bladder, stomach, ovary, or lung cancer. Researchers also found no association between multivitamin use and cardiovascular disease and death. These startling studies have really rocked the medical world and have made us all think twice about vitamin pills!

It is believed that synthetic vitamins do not work because they are not contained or derived from the foods from which they originated- foods which contain phytonutrients, enzymes and other natural chemicals which are what make the vitamins work in the first place. In addition, many of the synthetic vitamins may not contain the amounts of the ingredients that the manufacturers claim and, worse, they often contain additional ingredients that may be hazardous to our health. Beware of supplements that make outrageous claims such as rapid weight loss, increased muscle, or increased energy. Vitamin and mineral supplements do not speed up weight loss by themselves. Nor do they provide “energy”; only foods with calories provide energy. Particularly stay away from any supplement which includes herbs or other chemicals that claim to “speed up metabolism” or “give you more energy”. These often contain dangerous ingredients which have been associated with stroke, cardiac arrhythmias and even sudden death. The FDA can not keep up with the myriad of supplements and “diet and health” products on the market, so we need to be smarter consumers and not rely on the FDA to catch all of these ridiculous claims. Being a smart consumer means getting back to basics.

Ideally, it is best to get our vitamins and minerals from whole food. As mentioned, all vitamins and minerals work best, and in some cases, only work, when they are in and come from the foods we eat. You must take in the “whole” food- any way you can. Many health conscious people choose to juice fruits and veggies with a juicer (this is fabulous if you have the time); some may choose “superfoods” like wheat grass and green algae which contain tremendous amounts of vitamins and minerals. There is a product on the market called Monavie- which is juice from the Acai Berry- rich in vitamins and antioxidants. This can be a good choice for some, but it is pasteurized, which kills many of the naturally occurring enzymes, and, it is also high in calories (it is a very concentrated juice which means concentrated fructose=sugar) and may not be appropriate for everyone.

Now, here is where my opinion comes in- and it is a biased one, I admit! There is also on the market a pill form whole food supplement called Juice Plus. It also comes in chewables for children and adults. I have been taking it for quite some time- and many of you may not know that I do, as I do not want to push this product on you. However, as so many of you have been asking about vitamins, I thought it was time to share this with you.

Juice Plus is 17 assorted fruits and vegetables, desiccated- sugar and water taken out- and put into pill form. For me, this is the easiest way to supplement my diet. Again, ideally, whole food is best- but clearly, a product like this is second best. Since taking Juice Plus, the most remarkable thing I notice is how infrequently I get sick. And, when I do get sick, the duration is usually 3 -4 days, compared to others who get the same type of cold for weeks on end. Since I am self-employed, being sick costs me money. Staying well makes me money!

So, as we think about our overall health and preventing diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables must be an important part of our diet. If you are not getting the recommended servings of fruits and veggies, consider a whole food supplement. Not a synthetic vitamin, as you may be wasting your money! And, if any of you want more information about Juice Plus, please contact me. It is the only whole food supplement backed by years of medical research, and it is the ONLY thing I recommend!