Why I Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Aside from vitamins D and K, we humans can’t make any of the vitamins we need to stay healthy.
- Carl Zimmer, "Vitamins’ Old, Old Edge", The New York Times, December 9, 2013
I gotta tell you, right at the top of my list would be taking vitamins. I know that over the years doctors have said they're ridiculous and all that. But I started taking my vitamins at an early age. And I take them every day. Every bloody day! So I think that's number one. For whatever reason, I feel active and pretty good at my age.
- Regis Philbin, American media personality (b. 1931--that makes him age 82 )
Regis was active and full of life, even at age 80 when he finished his last "LIVE!" show on television. He holds the Guinness Book of Records title for "Most Hours on Camera."
I hadn't planned on becoming a single parent. Nobody does. More importantly, with two kids under age ten to support and care for by myself, I wasn't ready. I wasn't prepared. How could I feed three people when I had little idea how to prepare meals? I could hardly make toast and prepare canned soup.
Local supermarkets were helpful as they provided suggestions for combinations of foods I could assemble to make something resembling a meal. But how could I be certain I was providing my kids with full and balanced nutrition as I knew that growing children needed?
My solution was to find out what vitamin and mineral supplements would ensure that they and I had minimums of what we needed. That's how it began. If I at least provided foods my kids would eat and that was healthy, I didn't need to worry about balancing nutrition if they got the nutrients they needed. Which was good because my reading was suggesting this could be difficult as research at the time conflicted about what was right, good and balanced. And I didn't have much time to spare as a classroom teacher with 35 needy kids to manage.
One part has not changed. Research results still show great conflicts. Now I know to find out not just who conducted the research, but who paid for it. It made sense then and has proven so many times since that researchers tend to find results favourable to the companies that provided funding for the research. Researchers, now and then, always wanted more funding for more research when their current project ended. Follow the money and you often find yourself where you hoped not to be.
Studies funded by manufacturers of sugar or companies that make products that depend largely on sugar tend to conclude that sugar is not so bad for you. They stress the benefits of other nutrients. Large suppliers of fresh produce stress in their advertising that fresh is good, without noting that their products are often covered in pesticides, fertilizers and other growth stimulants that come straight from a chemical factory.
Monsanto, Dow, BASF and their like stress that the chemicals they make to put onto and into food products vanish shortly thereafter. They often forget to note research projects that have shown their products to be dangerous to human health and the environment.
As for GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms, also known as GEs, Genetically Engineered products, a term more popular in Europe), none of the chemical companies, none of the factory farms and none of the food suppliers point out that some 55 countries around the world have banned such products, deeming them risky to human health. And threatening to foods grown organically nearby through wind blows and other methods by which modified seeds are spread.
All of the above companies spend fortunes to see that laws forcing them to announce these additions to natural foods on labels never get passed. Why don't they want us to know? Because they have something they want to hide, something they don't want you to find out about, of course.
Packaged foods, whether in cans, bottles or other wrappings, tend to have preservative chemicals added to ensure they don't spoil on food market shelves. The trouble is that they don't "spoil" or break down in the human gut either, which is what we all desperately want to happen for digestion to work. Food that remains undigested in the gut or blood vessels is just plain dangerous.
Sometimes it's impossible to avoid products with ingredients we don't want, especially if the manufacturers have made sure the laws don't force them to put information important to consumers on their labels.
What's more, medical and health research (the dependable and honest variety) have shown in recent decades that our bodies need nutrients beyond what they would likely get from foods from the average food market. Why? If our ancestors didn't need these extra nutrients, why should we? Because most of us want to live many years longer than our ancestors did. And the diet of the average person is not prepared to accommodate or provide for those extra years.
And, sad to say, many of the foods we buy in stores is pre-treated before we get it that it has already lost most of its nutritive value. Milk that is pasteurized and now heated to high temperatures to help it last for weeks without spoiling is nothing like the milk your grandma served to her kids.
We all know about how cancer (breast, prostate and colorectal get the most publicity) is far more common now than ever before. Diabetes and obesity, almost rare in past decades, are so common now that doctors call them pandemics. Why are so many diseases more common now than years ago? What we eat--our diet--has changed dramatically. Our diet conforms more to what manufacturers want to sell us than what is best for our bodies to survive and thrive for eight or nine decades. Advertising makes sure we believe what we buy is good for us.
So how do we get the nutrients if we know what our bodies need? Often the only way to get some of them is through what we now call supplements. By the way, only a few decades ago people were told that we would all be eating pills or liquid meals in the 21st Century. Nobody was shocked by that news then, but many are alarmed by people taking pills and liquids that are not prescribed by a doctor now. Why? Big corporations don't make much money when we buy supplements instead of their drug products prescribed by their doctors.
You can see how my thinking on the subject of vitamin and mineral supplements (and now tablet supplements of other edible plant products) has evolved over the years. I have left what is perhaps the most important point to the last.
Why do we get old? What happens inside of us that makes us more vulnerable to disease, bone breakage and so on as we pass the formerly enforced age of retirement, 65? Why are we weaker and more vulnerable to attack by bacteria and viruses? While the answers may seem mysterious to those who have not kept up with research, they are becoming public, albeit slowly.
Our DNA is made up of chromosomes, each of which has many genes. Each cell of our body has these genes. As each cell dies off (most from daily to once a month), they are replaced by newly minted genes that carry the same genetic information. Almost. Over time, many decades for most of us, the tail ends of some of the chromosomes fail to be reproduced when new cells are formed in our bodies.
The tail ends of the chromosomes are called telomeres. These telomeres (they keep chromosomes from getting tangled up with each other) can get lost over countless reproductions. When that happens, parts of genes can be lost as well. With some genes and chromosomes not complete, our bodies are not as capable of defending themselves as they were when we were younger. That makes our body vulnerable to all sorts of things, including aging.
An enzyme called telomerase can add telomeres to the ends of chromosomes when they divide (reproduce). Our DNA, the stuff of life, can actually be improved by having telomerase add telomeres to our chromosomes over time. Okay, enough chemistry and biology.
We can actually improve our own DNA and prevent ourselves from aging too quickly (and dying too soon) if we know how to have our bodies create the telomerase that will fix up our DNA chromosomes. But how?
It's all in what we eat. Just as inadequate nutrition will cause our chromosomes to get shorter faster and younger, good nutrition can help us to boost our DNA to help us live longer and stronger and more active lives as we get older.
What foods or supplements can do that for you? Now that's when it gets hard to answer. First of all, the threat of litigation prevents me from providing easy answers. More importantly, each person is different and requires a different combination of nutrients. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Did it seem to you as if I just hit you and ran away there? I didn't mean to. The answers are not simple or easy to find. What works for me will not necessarily work for you. You will need to find your own answers, what works for you.
Fortunately, the internet has loads of resources that will help you if you want to dig in and do the research yourself. Just don't expect to find the solution in a single pill. There is no magic involved. This science is in its early stages, so no definitive answers are possible. But you can read to learn more.
At the end of this article are some resources to get you started with your reading about supplements.
Finally, a few notes about supplements:
(1) Almost all supplements contain fillers to give them size and colour. While making the tablets or capsules larger, thus seemingly more impressive (worth more) to the customer, they add nothing of benefit. Some claim the fillers could be harmful, though any decent researcher could find that even water can be harmful.
(2) A small number of studies have found that supplements are a waste of money, that they do nothing. Careful scrutiny of each study reveals that in every case the conditions or amounts of each supplement were arranged so that the results were inevitable. Example, if four of a tablet are necessary to accomplish some health benefit and only one tablet is given to test subjects, the results will inevitably show the supplement is ineffective, it doesn't work.
(3) Opponents of supplements, who often share a warm and friendly relationship with pharmaceutical companies, claim that all the necessary vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy are available in food. That is true. If a person eats the diet recommended by health authorities. But nobody does. In fact, "the typical American diet" that students of the subject read so much about is downright unhealthy. Supplements ensure that you don't miss anything you need, including trace minerals that are not in every vegetable and without which you could be unhealthy or die. Supplements lower your risk of dying younger and living a sad and dependent life in the final decades of your life.
(4) Supplements can do you harm of taken indiscriminately or to excess. As with anything else you put into your mouth, moderation is the key. Moderation, not elimination.
(5) Vegetarians and vegans may suffer problems with heart disease and with other body organs if they sustain a chronic shortage of vitamin B12 in their diet. The risk of these problems vanishes when they take B12 supplements.
(6) Some vitamin manufacturers will suggest doses far higher than you need (usually because they believe their vitamin is water soluble, thus you can't overdose). Remember, it's a supplement, not a main course.
(7) Most vitamin and mineral containers will recommend that you ask your doctor before beginning a new series of supplements. This is wise in case they might conflict with something you are already taking or with something in your system. If your doctor says you should not take any vitamin supplements, you may want to consider finding another doctor who is more interested in your health than in his or her income.
This short video is about extending life:
or use this shorter version of the URL: http://tinyurl.com/lfb4w2v
A doctor specializing in nutrition delivers the goods
You can even heal tooth cavities or prevent them with proper nutrition
Vitamins and minerals to prepare the body to protect against Multiple
Sclerosis, Alzheimer's and many other diseases.
Human nutrition, the gut microbiome, and immune system: envisioning the future
(This summarizes the relationship between diet/gut bacteria and health.)
Finally science writer Carl Zimmer with a bit of history of humans and vitamins
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems as well as hundreds of articles, all available on the internet.
Learn more at http://billallin.com