Why Vitamins Suck. Eat Real Food.

Posted on August 7, 2013

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  • QUESTION:

    Hey Pierre, what’s the deal with this article in The Atlantic, it makes some pretty extreme statements about vitamin supplement use including the following: “Whatever the reason, the data are clear: high doses of vitamins and supplements increase the risk of heart disease and cancer; for this reason, not a single national or international organization responsible for the public’s health recommends them.”

    My Response:  

    Its all true. Sort of.

    That’s why I don’t recommend chemical isolates very often. That’s why the form of each vitamin you take so important. That’s why I strongly discourage the use of commercial multivitamins. The studies trashing vitamins typically use the lowest quality form of nutrients, a sort of drug store standard, and we all know that we shouldn’t buy our vitamins at the drug store, don’t we? And let us not confuse “vitamins”, chemically isolated vitamins; with whole food, food concentrates, spices and medicinal herbs. (So why are plants better than drugs?)

    The drugstore vitamin rack, diet food industry, or internet pyramid marketing varietals of the nutritionISM industry in particular are, in general, not built on a true health and healing ethic, but rather on simply maximizing profits.

    Do we really need to discuss Linus Pauling? His vitamin C megadose theory is crusty old news. It does not cure cancer as a single isolated treatment. Nor is it completely ineffective “quackery”. It’s somewhere in between. Pauling actually never said it was a cure for all cancers, just that it had some effect improving outcomes. There is good evidence that vitamin C plays a strong preventive role for a number of cancers. Since it is well known as an essential nutrient, it also follows that adequate amounts might benefit people who are ill. Pauling’s claims on the life cancer curing effects of vitamin C megadoses, however, have been thoroughly falsified.

    Vitamin C-rich whole foods, however, with their vast nutrient array and whole food matrix, are now almost incontrovertibly accepted to reduce the risk of many cancers and play an important role in treatment and recovery.

    Here are a few example of popular “vitamins” and why we are now being told by the medical establishment they don’t work or actually may cause harm:

    Calcium Carbonate, the most widely used form of calcium supplement, the one so heavily marketed to women to prevent bone loss, is not well absorbed, and in fact dramatically impedes nutrient assimilation from food, and has been shown to damage the heart in the longterm.

    The correct forms of calcium, such as calcium citrate, co-factored with other nutrients like magnesium, does exactly what it is supposed to do and can improve overall health.The most common form of vitamin E is synthetic vitamin E. This form, based on recent studies, is harmful to our health, period. Food contains natural vitamin E (imagine that!), which is chemically different from the synthetic version. Its very good for you and can be found in supplement form as well, is still good for you, and needs to be taken with oil/fat to be absorbed well.Vitamin C is most commonly sold as ascorbic acid, which is not well absorbed unless taken with belly full of fruit and vegetables. This provides the proper co-factoring for the body to be able to use the ascorbic acid effectively. Taking large doses, or taking it will the wrong food (like say, the chips and Twinkies diet), can cause upper and lower GI tract irritation, diarrhea, and other problems. Taking ascorbic acid also depletes other nutrients like zinc and copper, nutrients we already tend to be deficient in. All this isn’t good for you! Certain other forms of vitamin C are better absorbed when used in moderation, but again are best used by the body when correctly co-factored, that is, eaten with fruits and vegetables. So if you are eating so many fruits and vegetables why are you still taking vitamin C?
    Companies, practitioners, and consumers in the know will only supplement vitamin C within a whole food matrix. That means if you are not eating the berries or rosehips or drinking hibiscus tea, you’re not taking advantage of the many concentrated natural sources of properly co-factored assimilable vitamin C.
    (The most responsible companies will grind these foods up and put it in a pill or smoothie for you.)

    Pure vitamin A as an isolated chemical becomes toxic at fairly low levels. It is only remotely interesting as a supplement for those who are extremely malnourished such as those in famine situations or third world prisons. Like if you live on just rice for years and years. (sounds like some vegans I know.)  The idea of megadosing vitamin A is deeply misguided and can cause serious health problems.

    Some clear exceptions exist. The current state of mainstream research suggesting that we should all be taking vitamin D is quite strong. Few will argue sensibly against the evidence at this time. That may change.
    We could always just eat a really solid sensible ancestral diet and get a bit of sun instead.

    And these examples are just a few off the top of my head. I could go on and on with these. The large scale studies are generally conceived and performed based on the typically myopic and gravely reductionist biomedical model, testing a single chemical nutrient like they would test a drug, following the lead of the ever failing, ever flailing, “NutritionISM” industry at large.
    (So why are plants better than drugs & chemical isolates?)
    Holistic nutrition and traditional medicine aficionados balk at these miserable endeavours. (And my advice, always be wary of grand ISM’s!)

    To think that even 10 years ago many mainstream health “authorities” still claimed that a diverse diet rich in nutrient dense plant sourced foods had no well established positive effect on broader health indicators. Some “experts” today would still argue this to exhaustion, because it doesn’t quite fit in a box. The analysis doesn’t have a lot of straight lines. This is “science” at its baffling, stunted, myopic best: nothing is true, or even likely, until it’s been published in The Lancet.

    Best advice, eat whole, natural, dark coloured, nutrient dense, organic foods as often as possible.  If that’s a challenge, use whole food supplements to compensate.

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