Taking your vitamins has been a staple of the American routine for decades, but its benefits are a chimera.
Contrary to popular opinion, most vitamins provide very little health benefits and are often harmful.
When it comes to choosing a supplement, there’s a critical distinction you need to make:
Synthetic nutrients vs. whole food nutrients.
It makes all the difference in the world.
Why Synthetic Vitamins Are Bad For You
Synthetic vitamins and supplements are made possible by isolating some compound in nature that’s proven to be beneficial, creating a manufacturing process that pumps up its production, and then mass producing it and putting it in bottles.
For most people taking these types of supplements is not useful.
- Nutrients work synergistically with hundreds of other compounds to create observed health effects
- Many compounds have different forms in nature, and typically only a very few can actually be used by your body.
- The proportion of different nutrients is often just as important the gross amount your body receives
The last point is important to consider. The key principal to modern toxicology is that dosage is everything. And your body is typically very good at making due with very little, and nutritional excesses of a particular nutrient can cause imbalances that are just as egregious as not having enough.
Evidence That Vitamins Are Bad For You
In developed countries there are quite a few longitudional studies that have shown little to no observed health benefit from taking synthetic nutrients.
The most damning study was published in The Lancet in October 2004. It reviewed the existing field of literature linking synthetic vitamins and supplements to incidence rates for cancer, and found that in total, synthetic nutrients slightly increased your chances of developing lifestyle diseases.
And there’s a lot more than that.
There’s more if you look for it.
The Importance of Nutrient Balance
To understand why excessive nutrients are bad for you, think of your body as a symphony. Every component needs to be just right. Nothing more. Nothing less.
A squawking tuba player is just as damaging to the overall sound of the band as the complete absence of a woodwind section. It works the same way in your body.
For example, take a nutrient like beta-carotene. We all know that beta-carotene is good for us. However, what many people don’t know is that it’s just one of about 600 different compounds that are classified as carotenoids. Your body has receptors and metabolic mechanisms that can be sensitive to all of them. If you flood your body with beta-carotene it overwhelms your cellular receptors and makes them incapable of metabolizing other complimentary nutrients that it needs to put beta-carotene to good use.
This metaphor holds for practically all nutrients within the body.
Diseases of Deficiency vs. Diseases of Excess
Synthetic supplements were a godsend to the human race about 130 years ago. Back then the problem was not getting enough nutrients, and supplements were enough to prevent people from developing conditions that arise from deficiency.
That’s hardly the case now.
Today, the developed world has an opposite problem: overnutrition.
For this dilemma, supplements are not a useful intervention. It’s also why they’re still helpful in developing countries. Iodized salt has probably been responsible for saving millions of lives.
But ask yourself, how many people do you know that suffer from rickets or scurvy? Probably none.
What about cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes? Probably a lot.
The latter are all diseases that arise from having too much! Your multi-vitamin won’t help you much there.
A Better Alternative
An article devoted to the dangers of supplements might seem odd coming from a guy who makes a supplement himself.
If I think supplements are bad…..doesn’t that make me a fraud?
No. The key difference is a supplement made from isolated, synthetically derived chemicals and supplements that are derived from whole food sources.
In general I like the motto “plants not pills”, but the truth is it’s impossible to get all the nutrients you need for maximum functioning in your daily diet. Especially when you consider your increased exposure to radiation, pesticides, obesogens, and pathogenic materials in your day to day life. Under those circumstances it’s even more important to get a robust mixture of micronutrients. But you have to get them in their proper form.
For this reason whole foods based supplements are a good idea for many people.
Regular ol’ vitamins? Not so much.
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