The Vitamin Gospel as Reported by The Nutrition Reporter

This article is taken from Jack Challem's website and details 10 "Truths" and 2 misconceptions about vitamins. For further information on nutrition, prediabetes, and inflammation, I refer you to his most excellent website at The Nutrition Reporter.

The 10 Truths.

We take vitamin supplements for a lot of reasons; as a form of dietary insurance, to stave off disease, or even to treat specific conditions. But after a while, we sometimes lose sight of why we take them, or go about supplementing in contradictory ways. For example, do you take them because you don't eat vegetables, although veggies are probably more important than supplements? Or do you take them because you want to eat a more "natural" diet?

With those thoughts in mind, consider the perspective of these 10 "truths." They should help you think about why you take supplements and, perhaps, do so more conscientiously.

Truth #1: Everyone has different supplement requirements: there is no valid, universal standard.

Over the years, the Minimum Daily Requirements (MDRs), the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), and the Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs) have sought to provide general nutrition guidelines for Americans. The underlying idea is that the MDR, RDA, and RDI levels of intake should prevent gross nutritional deficiencies.

However, such broad-brush nutritional standards have inherent defects. Roger Williams, Ph.D., a preeminent scientist, developed the concept of "biochemical individuality" to describe how people's differences in anatomy, biochemistry, and genetics greatly influenced their individual nutritional requirements. Williams argued that RDA-type recommendations were based on an unrealistic statistical norm, not the complexities and variations of real people.

Although the RDAs and other general recommendations are purportedly based on scientific research, they remain highly subjective and prone to change. For example, the RDA for vitamin A in Denmark and Portugal is twice that in Britain and Spain and 50 percent higher than in the United States and Canada. Who's right? Who's wrong? All of these RDAs were developed by well meaning scientists.

In addition, scientific knowledge constantly shifts, and many essential nutrients (such as vitamin E and selenium) were once thought to be nonessential. How many more nonessential nutrients, such as the carotenoids and flavonoids, will turn out to be essential? No one knows, so it's not wise to dismiss promising nutrients.

Truth #2: The diet of the past serves as only a partial guide to the diet of the future.

Popular wisdom says that people ate better and were healthier in the past. Although fashionable, this idea is generally not true. American pioneers ate considerable amounts of meat and fat and relatively few vegetables. Even people who ate produce were limited by their seasonal availability.

When the Kellogg Co. was founded in 1906, corn flakes were considered a health food. Back then, most people started their days with steak and eggs and thought cereals were the breakfasts of sissies, not champions. Native Americans, who we have come to mythologize, weren't all that healthy either. If they had been, they would have had no need to develop an extensive herbal pharmacopoeia.

Analyses of prehistoric diets, however, does provide clues to the diets with which people evolved. Such diets can serve as a baseline, or starting point. Prehistoric diets were generally higher than modern diets in animal protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They were also relatively high in polyunsaturated fats but lower overall in fat. According to the evidence, many of these polyunsatured fats did not come from plant sources. Fat from game meats contained about 30 percent polyunsaturates, 30 percent monounsaturates, and 38 percent saturated fat. Raising animals domestically, whether cows or salmon, alters these fat ratios.

Truth #3: What people do right is often to compensate for what they do wrong.

Do you eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, or do you prefer to skip the salad and just take a supplement? Do you eat mostly at fast-food restaurants, but try to make up for it by taking supplements?

It's no secret that people have difficulty staying on the straight and narrow path, nutritionally speaking. They binge one day, diet the next. They eat a fudge sundae, then drink a diet cola. They eat a high-fat diet for 20 years, then go to the opposite extreme with a low- or zero-fat diet.

Supplements have their place, but they're additions to a sound diet, not replacements for it. Instead of trying to compensate for what you do wrong, strive for balance. Eat a wholesome diet as consistently as possible, and then add supplements.

Truth #4: People who take a lot of supplements are more interested in an optimal diet, not a "natural" diet of the past.

Williams and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, Ph.D., urged people to think in terms of achieving an optimal diet, which contains micronutrient levels that help our bodies function at their best, not at average or mediocre levels. This is very different from a diet based on avoiding gross deficiency diseases. It's also different from, but not incompatible with, a natural diet.

If you think in terms of biochemical individuality and optimal nutrition, it helps to keep in mind that all people require the same 50 or so nutrients, but they differ in the amounts they need. A daily intake of 30 to 60 mg. of vitamin C will prevent scurvy. This amount, however, may not prevent periodontal disease. Nor may it protect against free radical damage to your genes, which can lead to cancer. Pauling emphasized that supplements could optimize cellular performance, creating a foundation for optimal health.

So, do high-vitamin diets make a difference? They do. In consistently reading medical journal articles on health, I've found two themes inescapable: people with high intake of supplements have a low risk and incidence of disease, and people with low intake of suppl;ements have a high risk and incidence of disease.

Striving for optimal vitamin intake is a little like working to achieve straight As in school. If you stick with RDA levels, you're eating a grade C or D diet. You'll get by without flunking, but barely.

Truth #5: Vitamins and other nutritional supplements do "work."

Everything we accomplish as people gets back to biochemistry. Our brains' ability to think, our hearts' ability to pump blood, and our immune systems' ability to fight infections operate on a biochemical level. Remove a necessary biochemical, or interfere with it, and the body doesn't work as well as it should.

All of these biochemicals - regardless of how obscure - ultimately come from your diet. For example, coenzyme A, which holds your genes together, requires the B vitamin pantetheine (also known as pantothenic acid). Your adrenal hormones require vitamin C. Your cell membranes require vitamin E. And so forth.

Vitamins work because they are among the raw materials needed by the body to make far more complex biochemicals. You can't build a solid house without a good foundation, and you can't create a good foundation for health without the right raw materials. When you add these raw materials after they've been missing, you'll notice the improvements.

Truth #6: Sometimes, one or two supplements can make a very big difference in your health.

Every now and then, you hear about a new "super" nutrient, or a person who takes just one supplement, such as vitamin C or grape seed extract, and has a dramatic improvement in his health. Are these really super nutrients? Or is something else happening?

Dietary surveys have reported that from 65 to 91 percent of Americans do not eat sufficient quantities of fruits and vegetables. Many people also lead stress-filled lives, live in polluted cities, smoke tobacco, and drink excessive amounts of alcohol - all of which increase their vitamin requirements. If people were cars, they would be driving on fumes.

What's likely to happen when a stressed person eating a poor diet takes one or two vitamins? They're going to get something their body has been lacking - and the effect is going to be a little like a biochemical kick in the pants. Many people are in such bad nutritional shape that almost any single supplement will give them a boost, at least up to a point. It's worth remembering that they'd feel even better with more extensive dietary improvements.

Truth #7: Many people are less interested in natural foods and more interested in self therapy.

Many people take supplements as nutritional insurance, and that's the best way to take them. That's because it's more sensible to prevent disease than to treat it. But many people do take vitamins to treat diseases, such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and even cancer. That's very different from prevention or from advocating a natural diet.

There's nothing wrong, in my opinion, with treating yourself, assuming you start with an accurate diagnosis, have read enough to know what you're doing, and are aware of the potential pitfalls. People often turn to self-therapy because they have not been helped by conventional medicine, or because they simply don't trust it. Emanuel Cheraskin, M.D., D.M.D, professor emeritus at the University of Alabama, has described medicine as "America's fastest growing failing business." He's got a point and, not surprisingly, many people want to take their health into their own hands. I certainly do.

Truth #8: Vitamin C is different from other vitamins: we probably need lots of it.

Most animals need vitamins and minerals in relatively small amounts ranging from a few mcg to 50 mg. There's good reason to believe vitamin C is different.

Here's why. Most animals manufacture their own vitamin C - and lots of it at that. On average, a 150-pound animal produces 4,000 to 13,000 mg. daily. Only a handful of animals, including human beings, do not. Researchers believe that a genetic accident occurred 25 millions years ago in one of our evolutionary ancestors, eliminating our ability to produce this vitamin.

In the 1960s, Irwin Stone, D.Sc., theorized that people still have the need for large doses of vitamin C, even though they don't produce it. Gorillas, among our nearest biological relatives, eat about 4,000 mg. daily in the wild. That should offer a clue about our needs.

Another clue comes from how people respond to high daily intake of vitamin C: 1 to 6 grams daily. Their risk of heart disease and cancer decreases. They manage their diabetes better. They live longer. In other words, people become healthier when they consume amounts of vitamin C comparable to what other animals do.

Truth #9: Vitamins are panaceas, and that's good.

Critics sometimes dismiss supplements as cure-alls. In a sense - the best sense - they are cure-alls. Nutrients are essential building blocks for health. They work at a fundamental level in the body, which is why they impact so many diseases. For example, the B vitamins are essential for the synthesis and repair of your genes. It would be hard to get any more basic than that.

Truth #10: It pays to keep an open mind about nutrients.

At one time, researchers figured that supplements were the active ingredients in fruits and vegetables. Then beta-carotene came into focus. Then alpha-carotene and lycopene. Now, researchers are looking at hundreds of nutrients or nutrient-like compounds, including indoles, isothiocyanates, isoflavones, limonene, ellagic acid, proanthocyanidins, and gallates. Vitamins and minerals are still very important, but there's lots more in foods. Although you, like me, may be fond of supplements, don't forget that foods contain nutrients that haven't yet been discovered or researched.

And Correcting Two Misconceptions

Conventional dieticians and physicians often repeat two common misconceptions about vitamin supplements. Here's what's wrong with their thinking.

Misconception #1: You get what you need out of a normal or balanced diet.

This is an assumption that has never been proved, and it's based on three faulty assumptions.

First, it presumes a carefully selected diet contains all the nutrients you need. But the foods people eat today are substantially different from what they ate 100 years ago, and there's evidence that the nutritional value of food has declined over the years.

Second, it presumes that all people face the same stresses - the same boss, the same commute, the same pressures at home, and that everyone smokes the same number of cigarettes and drinks the same amount of alcohol! All of these stresses affect the way you eat and the way your body utilizes nutrients.

Third, if you ate this fantasy concept of a balanced diet, you still wouldn't known whether it meets your individual nutritional requirements unless you undergo expensive laboratory tests. That's because quantitative nutritional requirements vary from person to person. (See Truth #1.) The best nutritional safeguard, with respect to supplements, is to err a little on the side of excess.

Misconception #2: The only thing supplements do is give you expensive urine.

Critics often dismiss supplements by saying that the body excretes excess vitamins as "expensive urine." It's a bizarre argument because a $50 restaurant meal and a bottle of fine wine also lead to expensive urine, but no one seems to be complaining about those things. The simple fact is your body doesn't use everything you eat. That's why going to the bathroom is a normal function.

Numerous studies have shown, however, that supplements do increase people's blood levels of those nutrients. So while some of the vitamins are probably being excreted, some of them are being put to use.

Here's some practical advice, though. If you take a lot of supplements at one time, you will excrete more than you will when you divide up the dose a couple times over the course of a day.

The information provided by Jack Challem and The Nutrition Reporter™ newsletter is strictly educational and not intended as medical advice. For diagnosis and treatment, consult your physician.

Copyright © 1996 by Jack Challem, The Nutrition Reporter™All rights reserved.This article originally appeared in Let's Live magazine.

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