Vitamins and Minerals 101:
To Take Your Vitamins… Or Not
- Food first, supplements second
- You probably don't need 8000% RDA Vitamin C
- More is not always better
It probably does not come as a surprise to you that the nutritional supplement industry was worth $32 billion in 2013. What might be more astounding is that these supplement companies are projected to double in value towards $60 billion by 2021. As one of the fastest growing markets in the world, nutritional supplements have become the go-to for fit people everywhere – from professional athletes to your average Joe looking to lose some weight, almost everybody is interested in these natural ‘performance enhancers’. But how legit are they? Do they do what they promise?
Nutritional supplements – vitamins in particular – have come under scrutiny in the media more than once in the past decade. As the whole “vitamins cause cancer” claim in 2013, with multiple studies to back it up, is still debated heatedly by vitamin enthusiasts and scientists alike, it may be hard to know if you’re really helping or hurting yourself by ingesting the various ‘supervitamins’ on the market today. Worry not, readers, for there is some information that all the experts can agree upon!
1) Food First.
In light of all of the technological advances of the 21st century, we tend to forget that our bodies are natural things and not machines. Any nutritionist will tell you that the majority, if not all, of your vitamin and mineral intake should be coming from unprocessed, whole foods. This is the way that our bodies can best process the nourishing contents in what we eat because, face it – this is the way that foods are meant to be consumed. When faced with the chance to snack on a fresh orange or that red Emergen-C tablet… The choice should be clear enough.
2) Too much of a good thing…is bad.
Speaking of oranges, the typical orange contains between 60-100mg of vitamin C. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C for men aged 18 and older in the United States is 90mg. That Emergen-C tablet? 1000mg. That’s ten oranges. There are some supplements than go even further, to 5000mg of vitamin C. That’s the equivalent of eating fifty oranges. Now you might say, “But vitamin C is water-soluble though, so won’t I just pee the excess out?” That’s what many experts thought too, until a study in 2004 showed that the antioxidants vitamins (A,C,E), taken to prevent intestinal cancers, actually increased mortality. While a minority of studies make this claim, a standing theory for explanation is that the antioxidant vitamins, when consumed in excess such that it would be impossible to ingest that much of the vitamin naturally, remove so many free radicals in the cells of the body that the immune system is no longer primed to deal with these products of oxidative stress. For those of you who read that sentence three times and think I’ve switched from English to Swahili –
Free radicals – products of oxygen reactions that damage DNA in cells (these are often associated with cancer)
Antioxidants – the body’s natural defense against free radicals. Many vitamins have antioxidant properties!
Oxidative stress – naturally occurring situation in cells whenever oxygen is present as a reactant
3) Decifiency << NORMAL >> Abundance
Vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, a debilitating condition which has had its symptoms recorded by the Egyptians as far back as 1550 BC. It’s been around for a while. Since vitamin C is necessary for collagen production in the body, people who have scurvy tend to lose their teeth and bleed from mucous membranes – not pretty. Common sense may dictate here that if a deficiency in vitamin C leads to no collagen being produced, then an abundance of vitamin C must lead to phenomenal levels of collagen being produced, right? Not so. While vitamin deficiencies are obviously debilitating, abundances will not lead to performance enhancement! It’s as if we have little workers in our bodies helping to heal us – these workers need some fuel (vitamins) in order to do their jobs. Give them no food and they die. Give them too much food and the food spoils (no, they can’t eat it all). Both bad!
Moral of the story? Stick to your meal plan, eat foods of a bunch of different colors (I’ll talk about this another time), and be conscious about just how many vitamins are in your supplements. Till next time!