A recent New York Times article suggests that taking vitamins is a waste of time and money. However, the research that this article responds to is itself in need of vigorous critique and clarification.
The medical community at large is not up to speed on using blood testing or neurotransmitter testing to check physiology to determine the need for specific support. In our clinic, we test, treat and then retest. This allows us to spot trends before they become a pathology and, very often, early enough to give the body the support it needs. Whenever budgets permit, we retest to make sure that nutritional supplements have the desired effect.
This seems like a simple concept, but that methodology is not what the research that inspires articles like the NYT piece we linked to above. On the contrary, these studies generally look at cheap, synthetic vitamins and then compare different disease rates over time. One recent study of a large number of men taking synthetic vitamin E found that the men taking synthetic Vitamin E had a higher rate of prostate cancer than those not taking that specific form of E. Their conclusion? That taking any type of Vitamin E supplement is contraindicated.
This study is typical in that what they were confirming is that synthetic E is toxic and can impact disease rates. They shouldn’t have made any connection whatsoever between the safety or health benefits of natural forms of vitamin E that have been shown to be beneficial in countless other studies. The conclusion should have been that synthetic E – a byproduct of industrial chemical processes – is dangerous and should not be certified for human consumption.
One other commonly quoted study of antioxidants used flatworms as the study subjects. According to research, flatworms actually did better without the addition of antioxidants to their environment. What can we learn from this for human physiology? Not much, if anything at all. Applying lessons from animal studies to humans has proven notoriously unsatisfying in many cases.
Any study of antioxidants should take into account some basic knowledge of how they work. The effectiveness of antioxidants is dependant on glutathione levels, so any study that doesn’t measure the subjects’ glutathione levels is bound to give inconsistent and disappointing results.
Let’s say we do a complete blood test and see signs that the liver is stressed, problems with red blood cell size and the amount of hemoglobin, and maybe some blood sugar control issues. The most common approach in medicine is to do nothing, wait until it becomes a more serious problem, and then prescribe the appropriate drug. This is the most common approach, in spite of the fact that at least 100,000 people die a year in the US from “properly” prescribed drugs.
We prefer to find signs of stress as mentioned above, apply supplement therapy to support the stressed pathways and then then retest to see if those lab values are coming back into range or not. This approach should seem like a mind-numbingly obvious path to better health.
In these blood tests, we can test two different supplements that are directly related to dietary intake, vitamin D and magnesium. Dietary levels of calcium cannot be correlated with a blood test, as the body has many mechanisms to stabilize blood levels regardless of how many mg you take per day.
Vitamin D levels in the blood are usually directly linked to the amount of D3 taken in supplement form. Sure, the body does produce vitamin D on the skin, but some studies indicate that most of that is used to minimize damage from the UV light itself.
When we test, we often see vitamin D levels closer to 20 than the 80 we like to see in a healthy person. It often takes supplementation of 10,000 IU’s per day or more to get past 40 or 50. The NIH recommends keeping blood levels above 50 and below 125. If you want to get your vitamin D from food, cod liver oil is your best bet. In our experience, most people would rather take a couple of small capsules than choke down the cod liver oil.
Magnesium is another critical component of diet, as obviously you aren’t going to make this in your body unless you have a star going supernova in there someplace. Again, we see a lot of people with a relatively healthy diet with lower than ideal levels of magnesium. Magnesium is used in about 300 different cell reactions every moment, so falling behind here will have consequences.
Therefore, saying that taking vitamins is a waste of time and money doesn’t take into account a person’s individual physiological needs. We can facilitate testing for very reasonable rates, so you can be sure that you are really getting the supplements that YOUR body requires to be its best.