Do You Really Need Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Good Health or is it Just a Waste of Money?
As a fitness professional, I receive questions about vitamins all the time. Questions like…What kinds should I take? How much? Should I take a multi or just a couple of the important individual vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin E, or folic acid? Will they help me lose weight or build muscle?
So with all the talk and hype about vitamin and mineral supplements…..Are they really necessary for optimal health? After all, every single news report or health publication swears that a daily vitamin pill is absolutely essential to your health.
Well, the answer is a definitive….. NO! (but there's a stipulation)
That is, you don't need a daily vitamin pill if you're currently eating a perfectly balanced healthy diet.... and we all know that most people DON'T eat a perfectly balanced healthy diet.
Let's clarify… a vitamin and mineral supplement might be somewhat beneficial to you if you have a poor diet. However, if you're really serious about getting lean and truly healthy for good, why would your diet be poor? And to complicate matters even more, many vitamin and mineral supplements are made with synthetic forms of vitamins that aren't readily absorbed, or could actually be detrimental. In fact, I've seen some studies which indicate that artificial vitamin pills can have some negative effects on health as we'll explore below.
Let's take a step back and think about this for a second... Did humans thrive for tens of thousands of years to be the amazing creatures we are today by popping an artificially created vitamin pill? Of course not! Out of tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of years of human existence, vitamin pills have only been around for a couple of decades, yet the population is in worse health than ever before. Sure, maybe the human race is not in its worst health from a contagious disease perspective, but we definitely are from a degenerative disease perspective.
Now I admit that we do live longer these days compared to historically, but that is only because medical advances keep us alive longer even though we are (generally) in horrendous shape physically. People might live longer now, but they're simply living longer while being overweight, crippled with degenerated joints, plagued with heart disease and cancers, and on and on. You get the point.
So let us get right to some answers as to why I contend that vitamin and mineral supplements are sometimes more dangerous to health than beneficial, and if you eat in the absolute best way, are not necessary.
First and foremost, a healthy balanced diet consisting of a large variety of natural unprocessed foods -- from healthy meats raised in the correct way, raw grass-fed dairy (not pasteurized or homogenized commercial dairy), whole eggs , fruits, vegetables, a small amount of whole grains or sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc. -- provides a rich array of vitamins, minerals, and all of the other nutrients we need to thrive in perfect health.
The problem is that many people don't choose a healthy balanced diet full of variety and high quality foods. They claim they are too busy, or it's too inconvenient. Well, I hope that you take your body and the health of you and your family more seriously than these people that apparently don't care about the physical being that they are walking around in day in and day out.
Another problem with attempting to obtain your vitamins and minerals from a pill instead of natural foods is that your body does not absorb and utilize the nutrients from a pill as efficiently as those obtained from natural food. Whole foods naturally contain vitamins and minerals in natural combinations that are best assimilated and utlized by the body.
On the other hand, many vitamin and mineral supplements contain lots of vitamins (sometimes synthetic versions) and minerals that can interfere with each other. For example, zinc and copper taken at the same time interfere with each others absorption. Also, high doses of Vitamin E can interfere with absorption of beta carotene (a vitamin A precursor) and other fat soluble vitamins. Many other combinations interfere with each other as well.
Another problem with vitamin pills is possible excess consumption of fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). Keep in mind though that MOST of the population is deficient in vitamin D (due to lack of sun exposure, etc), so it's rare to overdose on that from a pill or food. Fat soluble vitamins accumulate in fatty tissue in our bodies, and therefore it is easier to overdose on these compared with water soluble vitamins (vitamin C and the various B vitamins). Excess fat soluble vitamin accumulation can cause various toxic effects within the body. It is much harder to take in excess quantities of fat soluble vitamins through natural foods.
For example, you would have to consume exorbitant quantities of liver and other organ meats to take in too much Vitamin A and D. It would be rare for someone to overeat on foods such as that. Also, it would be hard to over-consume a plant-based precursor to Vitamin A (beta carotene), found in sweet potatoes, carrots, etc., because your body simply would shut down the conversion to Vitamin A once it has obtained what it needs.
There are even some instances where mega-doses of water soluble vitamins can be toxic. Mega doses of some B vitamins can potentially cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even liver damage in excessively high doses. However, in most instances, you simply excrete excess water soluble vitamins in your urine. That is why many times, your urine will be a deep yellow color a couple of hours after taking a vitamin that has high doses of vitamins B and C. So, when you take a vitamin pill, most of the water soluble vitamins are simply flushed down the toilet.
Another problem with vitamin pills is that they often use synthetic versions of vitamins that can actually be unhealthy. For example, the forms of vitamin E that are found in pills can be either d-alpha tocopherol (a natural version) and dl-alpha tocopherol (a synthetic version). First of all, the bioavailability of synthetic vitamin E is much lower than natural vitamin E. In addition, I've seen many studies and articles that indicated that there could be potential health dangers with taking synthetic vitamin E.
Once again, we get back to the fact that natural is always better than something that has been heavily modified by man.
The bottom line is that as long as you eat a balanced diet full of a good variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, small amounts of whole grains or sprouted grains, legumes, healthy meats, grass-fed dairy, free-range eggs, etc., you will obtain all the nutrients your body needs to operate efficiently without the need for a man-made vitamin and mineral pill.
On this same topic, I also wrote an article that is a must-read about synthetic vs natural forms of vitamins:
If you think that your diet is not 100% optimal and balanced, don't rely on a vitamin and mineral supplement that might contain synthetic versions of vitamins. Look for a brand that clearly states that the sources are whole food based or completely natural instead of synthetic. One brand that I recommend is Prograde's VGF-25+ , which is a whole-foods based vitamin supplement based on 25+ veggies, greens, and fruits (hence the VGF name).
Exercise is obviously also very important for losing body fat and building a strong, lean body, but always remember that proper nutrition is even more important. A lousy diet means a flabby, unhealthy body, regardless of how often someone works out. For a fully comprehensive nutritional analysis of how to establish a truly healthy diet and a lean body for life, learn more in my book The Truth About Six Pack Abs .
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