Or Snake Oil?
(This is part one of a two part series on nutritional supplements.)
If you’ve ever walked into one of the vitamin store chains, you’ve seen dozens of shelves filled with thousands of bottles or packages of nutritional supplements from hundreds of manufacturers. Aside from things like protein bars or meal-replacement bars, these supplements come in three forms. Pills, powders, or liquids.
The first thought which may have crossed your mind is do I need ALL this to be healthy and strong? The answer is YES, and NO. No one pill can supply all the nutrients found in wholesome foods.
Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on dietary supplements — vitamins, minerals and herbal products, among others — many of which are unnecessary or of doubtful benefit to those taking them.
Let’s be logical about this. If you REALLY needed a bottle of everything sold in the health store, you would not be able to afford to buy a bottle of everything sold, and even IF you actually could buy a bottle of everything , taking that many pills at once would either make you very sick, or very dead. So what DO you really need?
Every human being requires seven essential nutrients to ensure life and long-term health.
Depending on your body type, age, and sex, you will need different quantities of the seven nutrients at different times of the day, in differing amounts. Eating too much of the wrong foods at the wrong times will have disastrous health implications. The same can be said of not getting enough of the right nutrients in your diet.
These seven nutrients are:
Water, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids (fats), vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
To simplify it even further nutrition = food = fuel. All food is composed of one or more of these seven nutrients. It’s that simple. The proper balance is the tricky part. Some foods are higher in nutritional value, while others are really bad for the body. A candy bar may have the same amount of calories as a piece of fruit, but the fruit is better even if the candy tastes sweeter. We only NEED ‘nutritional supplements’ when the food we are eating fails to supply what is actually needed. This is when some people turn to vitamins and other pills to meet their needs.
What may REALLY surprise you is that vitamins as we know then have only been discovered just over a hundred years ago. The word for them didn’t even exist until 1914. Here’s a little history.
In 1912 scientist Gowland Hopkins presented the first evidence that lack of certain nutrients in a person’s diet could be harmful. He discovered the existence of what came to be known as ‘Vitamin A’, which is essential for good eyesight. A year prior in 1911, fellow scientist Casimir Funk had isolated a previously unknown nutrient from rice polishings. This unknown nutrient became known as ‘Vitamin B’ The term ‘Vitamin’ itself was coined by Casimir Funk as a contraction of the words vital and amine. Amines are organic compounds derived from ammonia when hydrogen atoms are replaced by hydrocarbons or other radicals.
The first person to formulate vitamins in the US was Dr. Forrest C. Shaklee. Shaklee introduced a product he dubbed “Shaklee’s Vitalized Minerals” in 1915 which he sold until adopting the now ubiquitous term “vitamin” in 1929.
In 1940 One A Day multivitamins were first sold.
In 1968 Flintstones Chewable Vitamins were introduced to encourage children to get their essential vitamins.
In 1976 the now-defunct conglomerate American Cyanamid started manufacturing Centrum Multivitamins.
( The Centrum brand and its parent company went through several acquisitions until it ultimately became the property of Pfizer in 2009. Centrum was originally marketed as having 100% of the essential vitamins your body needed from A to Zinc. It is still the most sold multivitamin in the world.)
Your body DOES need vitamins, but you should be able to get those eating proper foods, not pills!
The 13 essential vitamins your body needs are vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyroxidine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12). The four fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K—are stored in the body’s fatty tissues.
What about massive doses?
Every one of those vitamin , mineral, or herbal pills sold in most health stores or direct from the manufacturer falls under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 which regulated the market, more or less. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a listing of the recommended daily allotments (RDA) which according to the government is exactly what we need. Whenever the government starts dictating how you live your life, it’s a bad thing. To err is human, but government intervention is the way to really screw things up. (Consider how many times they’ve re-designed the Food Pyramid Chart for one example.)
While you are free to buy whatever supplement you wish off the shelves, understand that many of these products do not have to go through the same screening process as actual medicine does. This is why you can buy vitamins and supplements that boast massive percentages that exceeded the recommended daily allowance. (The mega multi-vitamin I personally take vegetarian Natures Plus Source of Life lists it’s B12 as having 16,667% of the RDA.)
The supplement only needs to list the ingredients, the ratio percentage compared to the FDA’s daily recommendation, and the disclaimers that the product MAY help with this condition or symptom, but is NOT intended to treat, cure, or prevent any condition, symptom, or disease. So basically, you are experimenting on your body with questionable substances which may or may not work at all, and could turn out to be harmful in the long term. (Remember when the FDA banned the dietary supplement ephedra in 2004, AFTER 155 deaths, and most recently began issuing warnings about garcinia cambogia supplements.)
If you find a product that you use, and it really makes you feel better and it works, great! Continue using it, at your own risk. There are several supplements that I swear by because they work for me, and there are many others that I have tried and given up on as being of little benefit. Most of the time, you are wasting your hard earned money and you will never know in the short term if any of the supplements ever really helped at all. If you live to a ripe old age, maybe it was the because of the supplements, or maybe it was just good genes.
Chew over that and come back next week for part two CUTTING THE FAT! The Skinny on diet pills!
As always I wish you success and happiness!