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Folly of Synthetic, Mega-Dose Supplements
By Gary F. Zeolla
This two-part article is continued from Folly of Synthetic, Mega-Dose Supplements: Part One.
Claims of Mega-Dose Advocates
This second half of this article will first look at claims of those who advocate mega-doses supplements.
Most of us, including the health care professionals who advise us, believe food is the best source of nutrients, but the truth is that none of us eat an optimal diet all of the time (Josephs, p.21).
The claim here is that no one eats a healthy diet all of the time, so everyone needs to supplement their diet. But this sweeping statement simply is not true. I eat a healthy diet all of the time, and so do many other people. Moreover, as I write in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book, "In no way can supplements make up for an unhealthy diet" (p15).
If you don't eat fruits and vegetables, taking a 500 mg vitamin C pill won't replace them. An orange, for example, has not just vitamin C, but at least 5 percent of a day's worth of calcium, potassium, vitamin B-1, and vitamin A, and 10 percent of a day's folate, not to mention three grams of fiber and all sorts of phytochemicals that [a supplement company] hasn't figured out how to squeeze into a pill (Nutrition Action, p. 9).
Foods are complex blends of chemicals and the idea that if you have a poor diet you can fix it with a pill containing one or two ingredients has always been naïve (Highfield).
In addition, even if taking a supplement would make up for an unhealthy diet, this does not then mean that a mega-dose supplement is required. All that would be needed to make up the difference would be a supplement containing 100% of the DV for a variety on nutrients.
Worse yet, our soils have become so depleted that plants cannot extract all of the vital minerals they once did (Josephs, p.21).
Our farms and range soils are so depleted of nutrients as a result of 100 to 200 years of intensive farming without appropriate mineral replacement. Why is it they cannot seem to make the connection that the food on their plate is anemic in nutrients? (Crain, p.90).
Both of these quotes are making the same claim, due to depleted soils, food not longer contains adequate amounts of nutrients. Almost identical statements can be found throughout the Internet, each site just repeating the claims of another. But none of these books or Web sites provides any actual evidence via laboratory analysis of foods to show that these claims are true.
Now it is true, "The selenium content of food is dependant on the selenium content of the soil in which the food is grown and can vary 200-fold" (Somer, p. 114). But for most other vitamins and minerals, the truth is, if the soil is depleted of nutrients, the plants simply will not grow, or the plants will not grow as large and will produce smaller fruits and harvests. But on a per volume basis, the result crops will contain the same amount of nutrients.
The availability of soil nutrients sets limits to plant growth rate (Aikio).
The food that plants use to grow is beginning to run out from the soil and the plants become smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker (Agronomy).
However, there is some evidence that foods grown organically have greater nutrient content than those grown with conventional methods, which is to say, with chemical fertilizers (Nutritional Farming). So if you are concerned about depleted soils, then spend your money on organic produce rather than on mega-dose supplements. Moreover, even if all our foods are somehow depleted of nutrients, this would still not support the taking of mega-dose supplements. Again, a simple 100% DV type of supplement would suffice to make up for the lack of nutrients in the foods.
Even the anti-supplement American Medical Association recommends a multi-vitamin for every man, woman and child for exactly the same reasons I've laid out here: We simply aren't getting the nutrition we need from our food (Josephs, p.22).
True, the AMA recommends a multi-vitamin mineral supplement. But what they recommend is a supplement like mentioned above, one that contains 100% of the DV for a variety on nutrients.
The idea here is to take such a multi as an "insurance" to be sure you are not "missing" one or more vital nutrients. Even with following a healthy diet, it is possible that do to particular food likes and dislikes or food availability, you might miss eating foods that contain a particular nutrient. But that's it. The AMA recommendation in no supports the taking of mega-dose supplements.
Why Mega Dose, Synthetic Supplements can be Dangerous
Putting all of the information from Part One together, it explains why mega-dose, synthetic supplements can be dangerous, and why I began to feel worse after taking such supplements for a period of time.
First, the synthetic nutrients are simply not natural. They are not in the form that God/ nature intended for the body to function on.
Second, without the "helper" or syncretistic elements (like the seven additional elements found in vitamin E or the antioxidants and bioflavonoids found along with vitamin C), the nutrients are not functioning properly. "It is now believed that the ‘unknown' co-factors found in natural vitamins, not found in synthetic forms, act as catalysts which make the vitamins more effective."
Research indicates that synthetic vitamins may actually cause nutritional deficiencies. When you take a synthetic vitamin, it needs the co-factors normally found in the whole food, in order to complete its action. If they are not in the foods you eat, it will draw the co-factors from your body. You may feel good for a while but when the co-factors run out, you will begin to feel worse (Center For Health Education and Research).
Third, the various nutrients in food function together in a syncretistic fashion. I have the following quote in the chapter on whole grains in my book, "In addition to the health benefits of the individual nutrients, there is evidence nutrients work together to fight disease. This process is called whole grain synergy" (University of Minnesota).
I then comment, "There is no way to duplicate this ‘whole grain synergy' through the ‘enrichment' process. We simply cannot duplicate all of the beneficial elements that God put into our food and the way God designed them to work together" (p.48). What I say here about the enrichment of refined grains would apply to supplements as well.
As CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta puts it:
We've been sort of coerced into a lot of supplements and antioxidants. People want to do right by their bodies, but there's no scientific [proof] that stuff really works. The vitamins in what we eat are great, but something gets lost putting them into pill form (TV Guide, p. 60, brackets in original).
The Early Show's medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay states about a recent study that found no benefit from antioxidant supplements:
"It leads the authors of this latest study to wonder if complex antioxidants in actual food are somehow able to fight heart disease more effectively than the antioxidants found in vitamin supplements," she said. "Pill-makers just may not be able to match mother nature" (KDKA).
Starting and Stopping Mega-Dose Supplements
It was mentioned in Part One that some feel better when first taking a mega-dose supplement. This was my experience. In such cases, it is possible that we were deficient in one or more nutrients, and the mega-dose supplement quickly corrected it. But in such cases, there is no reason to take the mega-dose indefinitely. A simple correction in diet or a low dose supplement is all that would then be needed to prevent the deficiency from reoccurring.
There are also many who are currently taking a mega-dose supplement that claim they feel terrible if they stop taking it. That was also my experience, at least initially. So what is happening here?
Going back to thiamin, you only need 1.5 mg a day; any more than that is simply excreted. So if your diet contains 1.5 mg and you are taking a supplement containing 50 mg of thiamin for an extended period of time, your body gets used to excreting just about all of that extra thiamin, which is to say, over 95% of the thiamin you are taking in is excreted.
When you stop taking the supplemental thiamin, you would now only be getting the normal 1.5 mg from your diet. But it takes a while for your body to readjust, so for a short while your body still excretes 95%. As a result, you are only absorbing a minute amount compared to your needs. But give it several days, and your body will readjust and start absorbing what you need.
This effect is definitely seen with at least some nutrients:
When a high intake of vitamin C is discontinued suddenly, the body may perceive this as a deficiency. It is a type of withdrawal effect, and could be particularly serious in a newborn whose mother took large amounts during pregnancy (Parsonnet, p.46).
Excessive doses [of vitamin B6] are toxic to the nervous system, and cause numbness and tingling of the hands and feet and unsteadiness in walking. Dependency can also develop so that rapid withdrawal of substantial doses may produce deficiency symptoms which in turn may again harm the nervous system (Parsonnet, p.51).
"A Little Extra"
In the final chapter of my book, I present a week's worth of my own eating plan. I then evaluate my diet for a variety of vitamins and minerals. The results show that I am consuming well over the RDA for a man my age for all nutrients. I then comment, "This is what happens when you consume a variety of God-given foods; you attain all the nutrients your body needs from food" (p.25).
Given that fact and the problems I encountered with supplements, I struggled with if that meant I would be best off not taking any vitamin/ mineral supplements whatsoever. But as indicated above, there is some wisdom to the idea of taking a basic 100% DV supplement as an "insurance" against deficiencies.
Moreover, I also wrote in my book, "This is not to say there is not a place for supplements. But they are just that, a way to supplement or to add a little ‘extra' to a healthy diet. In no way can supplements make up for an unhealthy diet" (p. 15).
Given my health problems, I figured that "a little extra" might prove worthwhile as there might be some truth to the idea that those with health problems require more nutrients than the average person. But logically, that would more be along the lines of double the normal amounts, not ten times the normal amounts. Doubling one's nutrients intake might be possible from diet, but increasing it ten-fold is impossible.
For instance, I suffer from a condition called neurological "tics." These are minor muscle twitches that can barely be seen by others, but they can be very irritating, especially when they flare-up at night. The best I can explain, it feels like someone is pinching me. You should be able to image how difficult it would be to sleep with someone pinching you all night long, so they can be very problematic.
After much research and experimentation, I found I could keep these tics mostly under control through the use of calcium/ magnesium supplements. In a way this does not make sense since I am consuming enough calcium and magnesium in my diet, specifically, 1300 mg of calcium (or 130% of the RDA) and 571 mg of magnesium (or 136% of the RDA). But those levels are not sufficient to control the tics.
However, by taking 600 additional mg of calcium and 300 additional mg of magnesium via Twinlab's Calcium Citrate Caps, the tics are kept mostly under control. But taking more than that does not provide any additional benefit.
So that means I am talking in supplemental form about half of what I am getting from my diet. Or to put it another way, by supplementation, I am increasing my intake by 50%. That is a level I could get from food if I ate solely high calcium and magnesium foods, so it is not a ridiculous amount.
And if increasing my nutrient intake just that much provided benefit for one of my problems, then maybe doing so for other nutrients might be beneficial in other ways. So that is why I looked into taking a basic supplement with just 100% of the DV for various nutrients.
Basic 100% DV Multi
There are many supplements popularly available that contain 100% of the DV for a variety of nutrients. However, there are two common problems with them. First, the nutrients are synthetic. Second, they often contain artificial colorings. As I discuss in my book, by definition, such ingredients are not natural or "God-given" and are best avoided. For me, this is especially important as I am allergic to most artificial colorings.
But one such supplement that at least does not contain artificial ingredients is Higher Power's Once Daily Multi. It contains 28 different nutrients, with most being in the 100 - 200% of the DV range. It is a very inexpensive and can purchased from Bodybuilding.com.
But an even better option would be a food based multi. The idea behind such supplements is that the nutrients are taken from real foods, not synthesized in a laboratory. As a result, they are more natural, containing the forms of nutrients found in nature with the accompanying co-factors. To ensure the latter, such supplement usually including some kind of fruit and vegetable blend, providing dehydrated forms of whole fruits and vegetables.
There are many such supplements available. But they also suffer from two common problems. First, they can be rather expensive, costing much more than a synthetic basic multi. Second, food based nutrients, due to the inclusion of the co-factors, are much more "bulky" than synthetic nutrients. So either the amounts found in the recommended serving are inadequate, or to get a full day's supply of nutrients requires taking much more than one small pill a day. So only the reader can decide if it the extra expense and effort is worth it to you.
But as for myself, I decided to take Twinlab's Food-Based Ultra Daily (also found in Twinlab's Ultra Harvest line of products and called Premium Multiple Vitamin). It contains 22 different nutrients, with most being from 100% to 200% of the DV, and it contains no artificial colorings. Three caplets are required a day. That is easy enough to take. I take one with each of my main meals. It is somewhat expensive, but not much so when purchased from WebVitamins. For more about it, follow the link. But the supplement does not contain much calcium or magnesium, so I still take the Calcium Citrate Caps.
With taking the Food-Based Ultra Daily, I have noticed several health improvements. First, my hypoglycemia seems under better control. Second, I have been sleeping better at night. Third, I have noticed an increase in my sex drive. Fourth, my powerlifting training has been going particularly well. The possible reasons therefore are discussed in the above linked page.
Taking mega-dose, synthetic supplements is neither natural nor wise. But there might be some benefit to taking a basic supplement with just 100% of the DV for a variety of nutrients. And a food based supplement would be the best and most natural way to do so.
Agronomy - Soil Fertility and Crop Nutrition –
Aikio, Sami. Plant adaptive strategies in relation to variable resource availability, soil microbial processes and ecosystem development –
Center For Health Education and Research. Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamins –
Crain, Ricky Dale. Xtreme Squatting. Crain's Muscle World, Limited: Shawnee, OK, 2005.
Highfield, Roger. Vitamin pills are no substitute for healthy diet –
Jospehs, Allen S. Natural Cures. USA, 2006.
KDKA.com. Study: Taking Vitamins No Boost To Heart Health. Aug 14, 2007 –
Nutrition Action, "Designed to Sell. October 2006, p. 9.
Nutritional Farming –
Parsonnet, Mia. M.D. What's in Our Food? Madison books: New York, 1996.
Somer, Elizabeth, M.A., R.D. The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. New York: HarperPaperback, 1992.
TV Guide April 9-15, 2007.
Zeolla, Gary F. God-given Goods Eating Plan. © 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Folly of Synthetic, Mega-Dose Supplements: Part Two. Copyright © 2008 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article first appeared in the free
FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site June 1, 2008.
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