Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are vitamin and mineral supplements a waste of money? By Jerry Brainum

An article published in the December 17, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine made the bold claim that vitamin-mineral supplements are a waste of money for most people. The article authors noted that the evidence that vitamins and minerals have any preventive effect against the onset of the major killer diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, is scant to non-existent. Furthurmore, asserts the doctors who wrote the article, vitamins and minerals will do nothing to help you live longer. Of course, since so many people, even those who aren't into using food supplements, still ingest a basic vitamin and mineral formulation as "nutritional insurance," this story merited being picked up by the popular media, who preceded to produce stories with such headlines as "Vitamin and minerals are worthless and a waste of money."
   However, as is typical with popular science reporting, several important points were not mentioned in the Internet and newspaper reports. For one, the assumption of the medical journal article was that most people are consuming enough nutrients in food, and therefore don't need any supplements. This further makes the assumption that most people consume a balanced diet that is replete in all necessary nutrients. That notion is nothing less than a fantasy on the part of the medical journal authors. Had they bothered to look at the latest government nutritional surveys, they would quickly have noted that the majority of Americans are in fact, not even meeting the minimal suggested daily intake of many vitamins and minerals.
   One reason for this is the reliance on processed and fast foods, which are devoid of many essential nutrients, but are top-heavy in carbohydrates and fats. Few people consume even the minimal suggested intake of five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, and without eating these foods, they will not be getting some of the essential nutrients. The obvious question is: if they aren't obtaining these required nutrients from food sources, where are they getting them? The answer is no where. And contrary to what was wrongly stated in the medical journal article, a long-term lack of nutrients is indeed linked to disease onset, even if it involves just a nutrient deficiency.
    The authors also overlooked individual requirements for certain nutrients. The concept of biochemical individuality states that, due to certain slight gene differences, some nutrients may be more required than others in some people. One example of this involves the production of a byproduct of amino acid metabolism called homocysteine . Homocysteine is produced from the metabolism of the essential amino acid, methionine. Normally, the body deals with it without a problem. But in some people, again likely due to slight genetic differences, homocysteine can accumulate in the body. When this happens, a few toxic effects may accrue. This includes acceleration of both cardiovascular disease and brain degeneration. The good news is that homocystine is capable of being broken down into harmless substances, as long as three nutrients are present: vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. If a person who overproduces homocysteine isn't consuming enough of these three nutrients from food sources, eventual health disaster is likely.
    Then there is the case of the obese. Studies show that those with high body fat levels tend to sequester nutrients in their body fat, where the nutrients are inert. This is particularly true of the fat-soluble class of vitamins, such as vitamins E and D. In fact, studies conclusively show that obese people need to ingest higher doses of vitamin D just to reach an optimal blood level of the nutrient. A recent study examined the nutrient intake of obese subjects, both before and after being placed on special weight-reduction plan. This plan was designed to deliver all required vitamin and minerals in optimal amounts for health promotion. In fact, the plan actually delivered a level of vitamins and minerals that was slightly above suggested intakes.
     Prior to starting the special diet plan, the obese people were examined for any pre-existing nutrient deficiencies. This revealed deficiencies for vitamin D, vitamin C, selenium, iron, beta-carotene, and lycopene. The researchers conducting the study determined this by taking buccal or inner cheek smears from the subjects, since this method was more reflective of nutrient uptake and long-term intake of the nutrients, rather than a blood sample, which would just provide a more immediate picture.
   As noted, these obese subjects were placed on a special formula diet that at its strictest phase, provided only 800 calories a day. But they also were provided enough protein and other nutrients to prevent any problems.Despite this, while on the formula diet for three months, the obese subjects still showed deficiencies of vitamin C, selenium, iron, zinc, and lycopene. And this was true despite the fact that they were supplied these nutrients based on suggested daily requirements. So why were they still deficient?
    When losing fat in large quantities, the level of oxidation in the body increases significantly. As such, the minimal level of nutrients that the subjects ingested, most of which were antioxidants, were being used up to decrease the potentially dangerous byproducts of increased oxidation from the fat utilization.In addition, the fat-soluble vitamins, instead of being circulated in the blood, were instead shunted into fat reserves, which not only neutralized their effectiveness, but also increased the oxidation effect. The fat cells also exert an inflammatory effect, which adversly affects iron metabolism by boosting levels of hepcidin, a substance that controls iron uptake into the body.
   So, as this study shows, obese people show a definite increased need for certain vitamins and minerals that is above the recommended suggested intake of these nutrients. This is particularly true under dieting conditions, when increased oxidation effects will use up existing levels of minimal vitamins and minerals in the blood. Also, the fat sequestration effect must also be considered. Obese people need to ingest higher amounts of fat-soluble vitamins to get the same protective effects as their leaner peers.
    The absolute stupidity of suggesting that vitamin-mineral supplements are a waste of money is obvious. For the tiny minority of people that truly do ingest a balanced diet, they aren't as necessary, unless there is a genetic quirk that demands higher intake of certain nutrients. For all the rest, vitamins and mineral supplements can represent the difference between long-term health and disease. The salient question really comes down to this: Who stands to gain if people stop ingesting vitamins and minerals, and eventually become afflicted with health problems related to the lack of those nutrients?


Damms-Machado, A, et al. Micronutrient deficiency in obese subjects undergoing low calorie diet.Nutrition Journal 2012;11;34.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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