by Henri Roca, MD, Clinical Functional Medicine Specialist
Several recently published articles question the usefulness of taking vitamins and supplements.
One reports that taking a daily multivitamin has no effect and may even cause harm. Another suggests that there is no utility for fish oil supplements in addressing cardiovascular disease. Another suggests that excessive ingestion of vegetables in the broccoli family can cause hypothyroidism. This, however, is not the whole story.
While each of these studies suffers from some methodological challenges, and the statistics used are not the correct ones to draw the above conclusions, it is reasonable to consider if there is some hidden truth. It seems to me there is.
Here are some of my take-home messages:
- Health isn’t found in a bottle – not a bottle of medications, not a bottle of botanicals, supplements, minerals, or vitamins. Very often, bottled natural products are difficult to digest. The pills are compressed and the components are synthetic. They often do not contain enough of any component for those with significant issues, and may be too much for those who are already nutritionally well-balanced.
- Health is found in a well-balanced diet. If additional vitamins are taken, then they are best derived from liquid-chelated or freeze-dried vegetables and fruits. There will never be a mechanism to give you more than a diet rich in multicolored vegetables gives you.
- A healthy diet should be rotated so that no food is ingested every day. Rotation diets are best if specific foods are eaten only two to three times a week.
- Most often, tests exist to identify the need for additional nutrients. Some tests measure the absolute value of the molecule in the blood or urine or serum. Some tests measure how that molecule may function. You can see what kinds of nutrients you may need. If you are deficient, then consider supplementing.
- If your medication depletes key vitamins or minerals, then it is reasonable to test your levels or to take moderate levels of additional nutritional products or to increase your intake of foods high in those nutrients.
- The same holds for people with genetic inefficiencies or with disease processes that indicate the chance of a deficiency.
- Very often the key mechanism that transforms vegetables into positive health effects (excluding repleting actual or functional deficiencies) is called hormesis. In hormesis, small amounts of substances can trigger our genetic repair mechanisms.
There are some nutrients that are helpful to take on a daily basis:
- Fish oil for those who have inflammatory diseases or who do not eat fish. (EPA/DHA 720)
- Magnesium for those who do not eat many seeds or nuts or for those who have gastrointestinal or cardiometabolic disorders. Use as magnesium glycinate or magnesium citrate.
- Vitamin B12 especially for those who are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. Use as methylcobalamin.