Do I need to take vitamins and other nutrients? Which ones do I need? What doses? How do I choose them? These and other questions are often asked by patients, and the answers are important to fundamental good health and longevity. It is confusing because there are so many different supplements and so many voices with different messages. Who knows what to believe! Often in despair, it’s easier to ask the clerk at the vitamin counter than to come up with a real answer to best meet our own needs.
Why We Need Supplements
Modern day food does not contain all the essential nutrients. Soil is now depleted and the nutritional value of fresh vegetables and fruits declines dramatically even in a few hours after they are picked. Cold storage continues this destruction of nutrients. An example would be asparagus, which loses up to 90% of its vitamin C within one week of being picked. Cooking further destroys nutrients, leaving us with a poor remnant of what was once a healthy food choice. It is an established fact that many of the essential vitamins and minerals are no longer available in the foods that we eat, yet they remain essential to our health and longevity.
Because of these and other reasons, we have to look beyond what our food offers to get the needed amount of nutrients. Researchers stated in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “Suboptimal vitamin states are associated with many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis. It is important for physicians to identify patients with poor nutrition or other reasons for increased vitamin needs.” They went on to say that “Most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone…it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.”
For anyone saying there is lack of scientific evidence that vitamin and nutritional therapies work and are safe, they should know that more research studies have been published on nutrients than on medications!
Even if we eat nutrition-rich foods and take vitamins and minerals, it is not a guarantee that they are getting into our bodies to give the support we need. Their form must be bio-available so that they are absorbed and utilized by the body. Take orange juice – 40% of its vitamin C is biologically inactive.
There are also processes in the body that effect how much of the nutrients passing through the gut you actually absorb and use. In addition, our requirements for vitamins and minerals change as we get older. For example, our bodies make less vitamin D, alpha-lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q10 as we age.
Seventy-five percent of your health and life expectancy is based on life style, environment, and nutrition. Stress (including excessive physical activity) depletes the body of certain vitamins and minerals, as does drinking alcohol. In fact, as Dr. Leo Galland of the Institute for Functional Medicine has pointed out, “It depends as much upon the milieu (environment) in which a gene functions as it does upon the DNA sequence of the genome.” That means that even if you inherited a gene for a certain disease like Alzheimer’s, whether the disease manifests depends on your environment, the food you eat, the toxins you are exposed to, your stress level, and the nutrients your body receives.
Dosage and Testing
So how do you know if you are getting what your body really needs? The familiar RDA (recommended daily allowances) were developed to prevent diseases of vitamin deficiencies, like scurvy from low vitamin C intake. They were not designed to help people achieve optimal wellness, which I believe should be the goal. In addition, each person requires a different amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to fully promote his/her body’s health determined by his/her risk factors and specific needs. You cannot trust your friend’s plan to work for you.
I would suggest that you get a blood test called a micro-nutrient profile through one of our special Integrative Medicine labs. These tests are different than typical blood tests and are specific for evaluating all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that have been absorbed by your body and are actually doing their work (or not)! Additional tests are available to more thoroughly assess cardiovascular risks than just the regular lipid panel. These tests are covered by many insurance plans.
Cardiovascular disease claims 500,000 women each year, making it the No.1 killer of women in America. However, only 13% of women consider heart disease a risk. (AHA).
Research has shown that sub-clinical deficiencies in folate, B6, B12, magnesium, and related nutrients are important to the increased risk for cardiovascular disease and that all patients should be tested and treated for these deficiencies. (JAMA, June 19, 2002-Vol 287, No 23).
By doing this specific testing and addressing the exact imbalances in your body, you can take steps to detect incipient health problems, affect their progression, improve health outcomes of many diseases, and make rational decisions about where your health dollars should be spent!
You may remember that the FDA attempted in the early 90’s to make supplements unavailable to consumers in this country. People were alarmed and staged a massive revolt. In 1994, Congress then passed legislation ensuring the rights of Americans to purchase vitamins, minerals, and other herbs and nutrients freely without prescription. Recently, the FDA has issued a proposed mandate that would change the current system into a pre-approval system, thereby threatening again the availability of supplements to the general population in the US at affordable prices. This ruling would be in direct opposition to what the 1994 law (DSHEA) sought to do.
Though I always feel that quality and safety standards for products need to be in place, I do not believe that this new proposal is in the best interest of our health. It is interesting to note that in the 2001 report by the American Poison Control Center of the substances implicated in fatal poisonings that year, 84.6 % were pharmaceutical drugs compared to 0.8 % for all dietary supplements (including an illegal one, dinitrophenol, and Ephedra, not a recommended herb).
As citizens, we have the constitutional right to petition our representatives to address our grievances.
In this case, the FDA proposal poses a direct threat to our health and longevity. Please consider calling, faxing, or sending a certified letter – emails are easily dismissed. Won’t you join me in contacting our representatives by following this link:
Recently, Dr. Mercola suggested the following talking points on this issue:
- My name is [Name] and I am a constituent of [Congress Member’s name].
- I am very concerned about the new FDA draft guidance on dietary supplements and new dietary ingredients.
- I request that Congress hold hearings and take action to review the FDA’s draft guidance and stop their overreach of power.
- The FDA’s draft guidance flies in the face of the original congressional intent of the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act: The guidance turns what was meant to be a simple notification system for new dietary ingredients into a pre-approval scheme that Congress did not intend to create.
- Congress recognized that dietary supplements are natural ingredients and therefore inherently safer than drugs and chemical food ingredients. It did not intend that the FDA would have the power to approve or reject dietary supplements.
- The FDA’s draft guidance creates unnecessary regulations that limit my access to dietary supplements I rely on. The expensive and burdensome process will force between 20,000 and 42,000 dietary supplements to be removed from the market and will increase the cost of those supplements that remain.
- The draft guidance hurts our economy. Expert analyses show that this guidance will cause a total economic loss of $21.2 billion to $39.8 billion annually.
- Thank you for your time.
- Be courteous and respectful.
- Keep your comments brief and focused on the facts.
- Always thank the staff member for their time taking your call..
Thanks for staying with me in this rather long newsletter, but I hope you sense the importance of this topic as well as the need for us to act by October 3. And consider doing the testing! Just send Lizzie an e-mail to get it set up.
Have a wonderful Fall season, and you’ll hear from me next in November! Loving the weather!
Jane Kennedy, CFNP, MN, MPH