Health News Digest

August 11, 2008

Taking Nutritional Supplements

Nutritional supplements

By  Michael D. Shaw

By definition, if you had a perfect diet all the time, there would be little need for nutritional supplementation. Of course, that ideal is seldom realized. Indeed, a few years ago, an endorsement for supplementation came from a very unexpected place: the Journal of the American Medical Association. In an article entitled “Vitamins for Chronic Disease Prevention in Adults,” the authors—from Harvard Medical School—noted that…

Most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone. Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.

As it happens, this is one case of folks listening to their doctors, since more than half of Americans take nutritional supplements. Beyond the AMA recommendation, the US Department of Agriculture and others have found that…

  • From 1909 to 1994, a three percent to seven percent decrease in vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc, and potassium levels occurred in our food supply.
  • Growing conditions, agricultural technologies, and nutrient content of the soil can negatively affect levels of some nutrients in crops by more than 20 percent.
  • Food preparation and storage methods can decrease certain nutrients by as much as 30 percent.
  • Most Americans fail to meet the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for several key nutrients, including calcium, vitamin E, vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc.
  • More than half of Americans consume significantly less than the RDA of chromium, copper, and folic acid.

Of course, there is not much the average person can do about soil nutrient depletion. And while methods of food preparation and storage can be improved, some nutrients will always be lost. Thus, deficiencies can occur even in the best-planned, most wholesome, well-balanced meals. Most of us, though, at least at times have to take fast food and might skip meals to keep pace with our harried, stressful life styles. While health educators will tell you that supplements are not a replacement for eating right—assuming that you always could—how convenient it is that we CAN supplement our nutritional needs!

The very number of supplements available—consider this to be part of the broader Holistic Renaissance—enables individuals of all ages to have something that meets their particular requirements.

For example, vegetarians may need to supplement B vitamins and amino acids, and many have reported that so-called “growing pains” in children diminish, if not disappear when they start taking a calcium supplement to support the growth of their bones. For older people, consumption of antioxidants—including vitamins A, C, E, selenium, carotenoids and flavonoids—is thought to provide protection against free radical-caused oxidative damage.

This very oxidative damage is implicated in a host of degenerative diseases typically associated with aging: Cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, immune dysfunction, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Research on Omega-3 fatty acids has suggested numerous benefits from their supplementation, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain, and other rheumatoid problems, as well as helping with certain skin ailments. Those of us who took cod liver oil back in the day were getting a dose of Omega-3’s.

Famed classically-trained alternative physician Julian Whitaker’s journey toward alternative medicine started because of vitamin supplementation. Whitaker notes on his website that his epiphany occurred when he was an orthopedic surgery resident. A young woman presented in the emergency room with a sprained ankle, who appeared so healthy that “her eyes actually sparkled.” He soon learned that his patient took vitamins, and he became a quick convert.

As stated by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, in a well-documented 2002 monograph entitled “The Benefits of Nutritional Supplements”…

The regular use of multivitamins and a few other nutritional supplements can measurably improve the nutritional status and lifelong health of the American public. Adoption of the concept of supplementation as a part of personal lifestyles, health care practices, and public policy would benefit individuals, would improve the health profile of the nation as a whole, and could significantly reduce health care costs.