Last week I shared with you one particular episode demonstrating how nutritional research can be distorted to suggest something other than its accurate findings. This week, we’re going to explore why vitamin supplementation is important.

Medical Mainstream Prescribes Vitamins

While the good doctor indicated that there is no proof that multivitamin supplementation isn’t helpful, perhaps he forgot the fact that it is an established practice for obstetricians to prescribe prenatal vitamins! Pregnant women have been prescribed these for decades, as we know vitamin and mineral deficiencies cause birth defects. In fact certain breads and other foods are fortified with certain B vitamins to prevent the development of Spina Bifida, a devastating birth defect involving the spinal column (see link to article below about the public health efforts in the US and Canada). Magnesium deficiency is associated with all chronic diseases, including, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension (high blood pressure), as is Vitamin D deficiency.

I could go on and on. There are volumes upon volumes of studies that indicate the benefits of supplementation, and the health damaging risks of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For example, in 2002, a review of several vitamin studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that: Some groups of patients are at higher risk for vitamin deficiency and suboptimal vitamin status. Many physicians may be unaware of common food sources of vitamins or unsure which vitamins they should recommend for their patients. Inadequate intake of several vitamins has been linked to chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. The FDA has an established minimum daily requirement (RDA) now known as the RDI Reference Daily Intake was established during World War II and people have taken vitamins formulated to prevent vitamin deficiency diseases since then.

Documented Nutritional Decline of Our Food Supply

I’m often asked if I am a proponent of vitamin supplements. Yes, and have been one for decades. Why? I have witnessed their benefit. In the best situation, as Mother Nature intended earth to be, if we lived in an environment composed of clean air, clean water, healthy foods grown in nutritious soil, we wouldn’t need to take supplements. But that isn’t the case for most of us. A recent evaluation of nutrient content of vegetables and fruit indicate a significant decline compared to the levels reported only 50 years ago. Industrial agriculture has increased productivity, but the use of fertilizers and pesticides have decreased the nutritional value of vegetables, fruit, meat, and dairy products.

Here’s an excerpt from a report about the study:

Evidence continues to accumulate that our industrial food system is not serving us well when it comes to the nutrient value of food. True, American agribusiness has given us one of the cheapest food supplies in the world, but science reveals this food is “cheap” in more ways than one. Here are some of the things we know at this point:

• Over the last 50 years, the amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C in conventionally grown fresh fruits and vegetables have declined significantly. We know this thanks to rigorous analysis of USDA nutrient data by biochemist Donald Davis of the University of Texas. Similar trends have been discovered in the United Kingdom.
• Wheat grown 100 years ago had twice as much protein as modern varieties.
• Major declines in protein and several other nutrients have been documented in modern corn varieties (see the chart).

Causes of the Decline

Environmental Dilution Effects: Scientists have known for years that high rates of fertilizer and irrigation use can lead to higher yields, but sometimes at the expense of nutrient density of the crops. Nitrogen in particular is difficult to manage in the soil, and when farmers apply too much it causes plants to take up more water, resulting in high yields but giving us foods that have lower nutrient density.

Genetic Dilution Effects: As plant breeders develop “improved” varieties that give farmers ever higher yields, they are inadvertently causing food nutrient values to decline. Consider calcium in broccoli: Widely grown varieties in 1950 had about 13 mg/g of calcium, but today’s varieties provide only about 4.4 mg/g of calcium.

Similar declines are also being documented in meat, eggs and dairy products. Compared with industrial products, foods from animals raised on pasture are consistently richer in vitamins A, D and E, beta-carotene and beneficial fatty acids.

How Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation Promote Health

Prominent biochemist Bruce Ames argues that many Americans are not getting enough essential vitamins and minerals, and that the health consequences of these dietary deficiencies — increased cancer and accelerated aging — should be taken far more seriously than other problems such as pesticide residues in our food. In his paper, “Increasing Longevity by Tuning Up Metabolism,” he notes that the 25% of Americans who eat the fewest fruits and vegetables have a two-fold increased cancer risk compared to the quarter that eats the most.

In it he writes: Our daily intake of the 40 essential micronutrients—vitamins, minerals and other biochemicals—is commonly thought to be adequate. Indeed, classic deficiency diseases, such as scurvy, beriberi and pernicious anemia, are now rare among the citizens of developed countries. The optimum amount of vitamins, minerals and essential biochemicals is the amount that maximizes a healthy lifespan, and is likely to be higher than the amount needed to prevent acute deficiency disease.

Evidence suggests, however, that much chronic metabolic damage occurs at levels above the level that causes acute micronutrient deficiency disease but below the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs). In addition, current RDAs may not be sufficient to prevent subtle metabolic damage: if one input in the metabolic network is inadequate, repercussions are felt in a large number of other systems. This could result in an increase in DNA damage (and cancer), neuron decay (and cognitive dysfunction) or mitochondrial decay (and accelerated ageing and degenerative diseases). In addition, the optimum amount of micronutrients varies with age and constitution—the requirements of the elderly for vitamins and metabolites are likely to be different from those of the young—and with genetic make-up.

A tune-up of micronutrient metabolism should therefore markedly increase health at little cost. It is a distortion of priorities for much of the world’s population to have an inadequate intake of vitamins or minerals—at great cost to health—when a year’s supply of a daily multivitamin/mineral pill costs less than a few packs of cigarettes. The poor, in general, have the worst diets and have the most to gain from improving their multivitamin and mineral supplementation and diet.

Do you take a good multivitamin/multimineral supplement—one with natural and not synthetic vitamins? If you don’t, you might seriously want to consider and discuss with your doctor. My book Superhealing contains a chapter devoted to the latest nutrition research, and our upcoming Superhealing Basics webinar, will give you even more information about nutritional supplement, and the superfoods that can improve your health and well-being. Stay tuned!

Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: scientific review
Food fortification cuts cases of spina bifida in Canada
Increasing longevity by tuning up metabolism 
Food nutrient value report