Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Bitter Pill to Swallow...how vitamins may not actually be healthy

I have a different view than most on vitamins. I used to take them... loads of them from time to time. I also never watched what I ate. A couple things happened to change my views on whether taking vitamins is appropriate or not. 

The first was Nani getting diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She always took a lot of vitamins, and always pushed them on me regardless of how good or bad I was feeling.  If I was sick the first thing she asked me was "Did you take lots of vitamin C and zinc?". It was one of the dreaded topics of conversations I used to have with her (the others were my period and PMS, saving money, having safe sex, and dressing to stay warm- this continued until she died...I was 27 years old and very well at judging how to dress for my comfort level). She would have recommendations of what I should be taking- vitamin C, fish oil capsules, iron, zinc and echinacea were her usuals. A new one would creep in every once and a while; I assume after she got done reading the latest article about miracles in pills.  Anyway, I took many different kinds for years. I took selenium for my brain, vitamin E for my skin, iron for my energy,and a multi-vitamin among others.

Before Nani was diagnosed, I had thought she was relatively healthy and that she would be around for a long time. This came as a great shock to us all, especially considering we knew how fast the disease would take her. My world was blown, because I was under the impression that vitamins will make you and keep you healthy. As some of you may be aware, I put myself in charge of researching foods that would keep Nani strong and healthy through chemo. This is where I started to learn how foods have vitamins in them. I am laughing at this now, because it seems so ridiculous that I didn't think that before, but I really didn't give healthy foods any weight. This is also where I was introduced to the "fresh and raw" movement. 

The second thing that changed my view on taking vitamins was the addition of fruit and vegetable smoothies into my diet a few months ago. I literally never felt half as good when I was taking vitamins as I do now just eating a whole lot of whole fruits and vegetables. It seems absurd to me now, knowing what I know, that more people don't know that you don't need to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on vitamins and minerals if you eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans & legumes, and get a little sun. That's it! 

In my humble opinion, the only time a vitamin should be used is for a brief period to normalize your levels while you change your diet to incorporate more of those vitamin-rich foods. Your body absorbs vitamins and minerals from the food you give it! It is quite simple. We are literally machines for breaking down food into teeny tiny parts so that our bodies can use those parts to function properly. Did you know that every organ in your body is used for digestion? Every single one of them!

Enough preaching. Below is a brief article about the risk of taking unnecessary vitamins. I urge you to do some research and use a little common sense on this issue. The more fresh, raw, healthy, whole foods you incorporate into your diet, the more your body will pull out in the form of vitamins and minerals. 

Vitamins linked with higher death risk in older women By Michelle RobertsHealth reporter, BBC News (Link to Original Article)
When it comes to vitamins, it appears you could have too much of a good thing, say researchers who report a link between their use and higher death rates among older women.Experts have suspected for some time that supplements may only be beneficial if a person is deficient in a nutrient. 
And excess may even harm, as the study in Archives of Internal Medicine finds.All of the women, in their 50s and 60s, were generally well nourished yet many had decided to take supplements. 
Multivitamins, folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron in particular appeared to increase mortality risk.The researchers believe consumers are buying supplements with no evidence that they will provide any benefit. 
Harms v Gains 
They are quick to stress that their study relied on the 38,000 US women who took part in it recalling what vitamins and minerals they had taken over the previous two decades.And it is difficult to control for all other factors, like general physical health, that might have influenced the findings. 
But they say their findings suggest that supplements should only be used if there is a strong medically-based cause for doing so because of the potential to cause harm."Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements," Dr Jaakko Mursu of the University of Eastern Finland and his research colleagues said. 
Less is More 
Conversely, calcium supplements appeared to reduce death risk. However, the researchers say this finding needs more investigation and they do not recommend that people take calcium unless advised to by a doctor in order to treat a deficiency. 
In the study, iron tablets were strongly linked with a small (2.4%) increased death risk, as were many other supplements. The link with iron was dose-dependent, meaning the more of it the individual took, the higher their risk was.  
Drs Christian Gluud and Goran Bjelakovic, who review research for the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews to evaluate best evidence, said: "We think the paradigm 'The more the better' is wrong." 
They say dietary supplementation has shifted from preventing deficiency to trying to promote wellness and prevent diseases, and caution: "We believe that for all micronutrients, risks are associated with insufficient and too-large intake." 
Helen Bond of the British Dietetic Association said some people, like the elderly, might need to take certain supplements. For example, vitamin D is recommended for people over the age of 65. 
But she said that generally, people should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals they needed from a healthy, balanced diet. 
She said some took supplements as an insurance policy, wrongly assuming that they could do no harm. "But too much can be toxic and it is easy to inadvertently take more than the recommended daily amount." 
Link to Original Article

I thought it would be good to include a brief summary of which vitamins and minerals are in which foods. If you have any more questions on this, just email me at jessicageier@gmail..com and I can point you in the right direction, but as you can see from below, if you eat a variety of fresh, raw, healthy, and whole foods you will get all of your vitamins and minerals.
  • Vitamin A
    • whole eggs
    • dairy
    • beef liver (yum!)
    • dark green veggies
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin C
    • fruits, especially citrus, kiwi, strawberries, tomato, watermelon, bananas
    • vegetables- green peppers, broccoli, carrots, potatoes 
  • Vitamin D
    • sunlight
    • fatty fish
    • egg yolks
    • beef liver
  • Vitamin E
    • vegetable oils 
    • nuts
    • beans
    • whole grains
  • Vitamin K
    • dark green leafy veggies & cabbage
    • beef liver (AGAIN?)
    • the bacteria in our intestines can synthesize vitamin K when they are healthy
  • Calcium
    • dairy
    • dark green vegetables
    • seaweeds
    • sesame
    • soy (I would not recommend this as an option)
    • almonds
  • Fluoride
    • tea
    • seafood
    • also found in fluoridated water which should be considered toxic but is still forced on us
  • Iodine
    • seafood
    • iodized salt (use sea salt instead- it has all of its trace minerals still intact)
  • Iron (absorbed better when eaten with vitamin c rich foods)
    • red meat
    • organ meats
    • fish
    • poultry
    • eggs
    • beans
    • lentils
    • green leafy vegetables
    • dried fruits
  • Magnesium
    • green leafy vegetables
    • legumes
    • nuts
    • seeds
    • whole grains
  • Phosphorus
    • most foods including animal and plant
  • Potassium
    • most foods including animal and plant
  • Selenium
    • meat
    • chicken
    • fish & seafood
    • brazil nuts
    • whole grains
    • garlic
    • mushrooms
  • Sodium
    • sea salt
    • soy sauce
    • sea vegetables
  • Zinc
    • meat
    • poultry
    • seafood
    • eggs
    • dairy
    • whole grains
    • legumes
SIDE NOTE: Taking vitamins during pregnancy is a different story, and I probably will not write about it until I am forced to when I become pregnant and have to make the choice for myself (hopefully it will be a while...not there yet if you know what I mean). Until then it would be based on my beliefs now. I would think they might change a little if I have another human being growing inside of me. 

If you are pregnant and have had this dilemma yourselves I would love to hear about it. Please comment!

10/12/10 UPDATE
 As I was looking on Self Magazine's website (for other reasons) I found an article on their Healthy Self Blog on the dangers of vitamins. Read below: 

Study Points to Dangers of Vitamin Supplements

 By Healthy Self Blog

This study might make you think twice about popping a multi. A 19-year analysis of almost 39,000 women found that those who took dietary supplements including multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper were at a higher risk of death than women who did not.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Eastern Finland, who believe there's no reason for the average healthyperson to take dietary supplements.
"Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements," the authors wrote. "We recommend that they be used with strong medically based cause, such as symptomatic nutrient deficiency disease."
Participants were around age 62 at the start of the study in 1986. Among them, those who took supplements had about a 2.4 percent increased risk of dying over the course of the study, compared with women who didn't take supplements. Only the women who took calcium supplements had a reduced risk of dying.
Doctors Goran Bjelakovic of the University of Nis in Serbia and Christian Gluud of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark wrote in an accompanying commentary that the findings "add to the growing evidence demonstrating that certain antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin E, vitamin A and beta-carotene, can be harmful." But they added that vitamin D3 may be beneficial to some older women, and possibly older men.
Rania Batayneh, MPH, nutritionist and owner of Essential Nutrition For You, agreed that while getting nutrients through food is ideal, women may need to supplement their diets with additional calcium and vitamin D3.
50 and younger need 1,000 daily milligrams of calcium, but most of us can get there with few daily servings of dairy and veggies," she says. 
Batayneh also recommends folic acid for women in their childbearing years, which is found in prenatal supplements. And despite the study, she still thinks a good multivitamin is fine for most women and reduces the need for additional supplementing. 
But when possible, "Food really is medicine and there is nothing that compares with a healthy balanced diet," she says.
"Before you pop supplements, first tally how much calcium you get from your typical diet, and then use supplements to make up the difference of what you're missing from food."
it's better to get your nutrients from food.

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