Tibor V. Varga

PhD student, Lund University

This conversation is closed.

Should we take vitamins or not?

Should we take vitamins or is a balanced diet enough?
It's very controversial, take sides!

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    Jan 19 2012: I read the list and I think the issue is much more nuanced than anyone has captured.

    1. There is no single regimen that works for everyone.

    I want that line to stand out because it doesn't simply apply to vitamins, it applies to ANY aspect of health and wellness, what you need depends on what is already going on in your body and that is affected by your lifestyle. If you don't have a good handle on the impacts of your genes and lifestyle on your blood serum, get it checked before making any decisions.

    2. A certain segment of the population looks at multivitamins as magic bullets. A recent study showed that smokers given a multivitamin began to smoke more.

    EDIT (added bits):
    3. Even within a single type of vitamin there are often a wide range of options and recommendations. Let's take vitamin D for example.

    I take 4000 IU daily because I am a black person living in a northern climate and it is winter. I take it as a combination of sublingual drops (rather than as a tablet) and seal oil (also sublingual). I have a family history of colon cancer. A Caucasian person living in a more southern region may not require any at all, because they may be getting enough sunlight to produce their own.

    Even in the summer here, unless I am spending time gardening or playing sports outside, I still take at least 1,000 IU. My melanin level means that I have to spend longer in the sun to get the same benefit as someone paler than I am.

    And that is just one vitamin.

    I take phytoplankton - I picked the brand because they have the cleanest facilities and the environment in which they grow it is contained - yes, artificial, but also segregated from environmental contaminants. There are other brands that are naturally harvest from the wild, which theoretically sounds better, but phytoplankton is sensitive to contaminants.

    There are so many factors that making blanket statements is just not productive - regardless if the statement is pro or con.
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      Jan 19 2012: Hi Gisela,
      Interesting...."A recent study showed that smokers given a multivitamin began to smoke more".
      Did you see my other comment about a documentary I watched recently regarding contaminants/toxins in supplements?

      The research indicated that supplements are often processed and packaged on equipment that was previously used for other medications and narcotics. They discovered that sometimes people taking large doses of vitamin supplements sometimes got depressed, or had other symtoms that were not usual for them. When the supplements were analyzed, it was found that they contained trace amounts of antidepressants, antibiotics, narcotics, etc. This apparently was not an isolated situation, but something that was discovered with several different supplements.

      I totally agree with you..."There is no single regimen that works for everyone". We all need to have information about the body, know how it functions, and make good choices for ourselves.
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        Jan 19 2012: Thanks, Colleen! I have seen this - my third point is actually about the source of the supplements themselves. Contaminants, binding agents, form of the vitamin (e.g. tablet vs liquid; delivery systems).

        Still busy, but will fix that post shortly.
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    Jan 19 2012: At first: During wintertime (+ late autumn, early spring) I take 1000 mg C and 1000 IU D daily. Both are big overdoses, the recommended daily intake for vit C is 60 mg, for vit D is 40 IU. I am never sick - that's a fact, on the other hand I don't know what will be the long term effect of these on my body. Maybe I ll develop kidney stones because of the excess vit C (there are some scientific papers which say I will, others say I will not), maybe I ll show some vit D overdose toxicity sings (it's a vitamin soluble in fat, which means it can accumulate). We will see.

    I read a lot about these and I think they carry more benefit than harm. Apes and human lost their ability to produce vitamin C on their own, so they need to take care of that from other sources. Sadly, our vegetables and fruits contain less and less antioxidants (such as vitamin C) from year to year, and based on graphs which calculate our need for vitamin C based upon our average bodyweight we d need to consume around 5 grams (or more, I don't remember the exact value) of vitamin C a day. Albert Szt. Györgyi, who received a Nobel price for describing some basic metabolic pathways (Szt. Györgyi - Krebs cycle) was the first one who first described and isolated vitamin C (fun fact: from pepper). He took 10000 mg s a day from vitamin C and told people should sell vitamin C like flour, in supermarkets.

    Science is full of conspiracy theories - here is one: The levels of advised daily intakes of vitamins are established by evil pharmaceutical companies: as the anecdote says: "these levels of vitamins are exactly enough till you arrive to a pharmacy and buy your drugs".
    I think we all agree that this may be an exaggaration, but seriously - I'd rather take vitamins, than drugs...
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    Jan 19 2012: A big research in Germany brought about that supply of vitamins is unnecessary and sometimes harmful. However nothing wrong with fruit every day.

    With vitamin C they showed that if you took more than necessary it was contra productive on muscel building. So the view that if it doesn’t help it doesn’t harm also isn’t true in the end.

    They found that with the normal variety of food there was no need for supplements. Advice was to eat all that people used to eat in the fifties the time as everything was fresh and little was fabricated.
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      Jan 19 2012: I agree Nafissa...look into the science...get the information.

      To follow up on your statement about calcium, another supplement that people are advised to take are bisphosphonates (Boniva, Fosamax, Reclast, Actonel, etc),which were supposedly meant to prevent bone loss, "treat" osteoporosis, build and strengthen the bones. We found out awhile ago, that these supplements were causing a breakdown of the bone in the jaw. Now, we see that they are causing femur fractures. I believe the femur is the largest most dense bone in the body? And these "bone building" supplements are causing it to fracture? Very interesting.

      Years ago, when my primary care doctor advised me to take one of these supplements, "because of my age", I asked what studies were available regarding the long term use of these supplements. She said there are no long term studies. I said I would not take it, she said OK! We really need to look at the information that is available, and if no information is available, why put it in the body?
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    Feb 1 2012: I am going to take the side of "We should already know by now!" We understand physics, chemistry, genetics, and cellular biology enough to know for sure what vitamins do...but truth and knowledge about vitamins are not freely or easily shared.

    We all deserve PERFECT nutrition. If my body needs one more atom of Nitrogen, it should get it! Same for everyone else.

    Thank you for the debate but I am going to say that "It should not be debate, we should know by now."
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    Feb 1 2012: If you are a completely healthy person you sholdn´t worry bout taking supplements. You can get all the vitamins just by eating a "balanced diet", this means: proteins, carbs and fats in the correct and equilibrated percentages. Also, the vitamins and minerals you take from your diet are better digested and metabolyzed by your organism than those synthetic you take from supplements (except vitamin K in its lab form: K3 or menadione). I`m against supplements when your organism is able to get all it needs from food, in first place, because it could be dangerous to take some fat-soluble vitamins in a higher dose than the specifics for your high, weight, ethnic group or poblation, age, etc (you wont have this trouble with water-soluble vitamins) in second place, cause -as I already said- the intestinal absortion works better. Oh, and... probably, you´ll save money by not buying supps.
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      Feb 1 2012: I'm curious: who exactly is a "completely healthy person"?

      We all have inflammatory responses - they are part of the healing process, but can become detrimental when they go amok. We all have cellular decay, telomeres shortening, etc.

      We all have different family health histories to work with. Not to mention lifestyles.

      On top of that "supplements" is a broader category than "vitamins". You've just expanded the topic to include hormones, pro- & prebiotics, minerals, tinctures, fresh herbs, and more.

      There is no one answer that fits every single person on the face of this earth.
  • Jan 31 2012: I agree that this is too complicated for a yes or no answer. As a vegan I take a multi-vitamin to supplement my diet. I try and make sure I'm getting enough out vitamins and minerals everyday, but there are quite a few that my diet doesn't provide because I don't consume any animal products. A vitamin pill is necessary to make sure I'm getting enough Iron and B vitamins, because though they are available in plants it's not as available as in meats. To me a multivitamin is necessary, but for someone who's healthy and eats a well balanced omnivore diet I don't see them being needed unless you're deficient.
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      Jan 31 2012: This still misses the family history and the environment you are in.

      Do you know there is actually a (graduated) border that cuts through the US where those on the north side are much more likely to be vitamin D deficient with all the attendant chronic illnesses? I believe it is at 34degrees north.
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    Jan 24 2012: A 'balanced' diet should provide one with their needed vitamins, so I think using both diet and supplement may be excessive unless you have a deficiency of a certain vitamin or allergy to the foods you need to consume in order to get certain vitamins. If a person is surrounded by fresh food, able to eat it, but is struggling with the decision "Should i take my vitamins by eating fresh food, or should I just be taking a supplement?", then to me, they have lost all common sense lol.
  • Jan 19 2012: The best way is to depend on our foods. But, vitamins can also replace some of the foods which we cant get due to different reasons.

    NB:No single advise fits to all! so, it depends.
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    Jan 19 2012: Some people turn to vitamin and mineral supplements probably for the reasons shown here:

    http://www.natural-health-information-centre.com/depleted-soils.html

    ...supported by this information:

    http://www.soilassociation.org/futurefarming/policyresearch/resourcedepletion

    If vegetables are grown on healthy organic soil, there would be no need at all for supplements. If on the other hand, they are grown on demineralised, inorganic substrates, then that nutritional deficit has to be made up somehow.
  • Jan 19 2012: I think no one has a clear answer yet as we are still discovering how our human body works.

    I don't think the answer is yer or no. It depends. It seems that usualy we should be able to get enough vitamins through good diet. However sometimes this is not possible. For example, the older you get the less vitamins your body will be able to get from a good diet alone. If you are pregnant you might need to take certain types of vitamins to ensure your baby is healthy . Being sick might also affect your body's ability to extract vitamins from food.
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    Jan 19 2012: Do you want more nutrition, or do you want more jobs? To what extent are those the same thing?

    Vitamins supplement the horrible eating habits of lazy consumers... but, they also create jobs, and people would likely eat horrible food anyway...

    If you eat at McDonalds a couple times a week... I reccomend vitamins... If you take your rights as a consumer seriously, and only eat local fruits and veggies, home cooked, with small portions of meat... Don't waste your time on vitamins.

    It's up to you in a capitalist society. What we make more popular wins... Bad food + supplements, or good food... RIght now, eating bad food, with supplements is winning. This also happens to be the philosophy that creates the most jobs. I don't agree with this in theory, but I have shopped at a fast food restaurant before, which offered me no nutrition... So do I really disagree? Or, am I just trying to sound like I care about my health, because no rational person wouldn't?

    Are people good, or are they evil? Would people rather have 2 jobs that cancel each other out, or 1 job, that actually earns a wage? Do we want to eat food infused with poison, and then buy the antidote, or do we want to stop eating food with poison in it? That's up to consumers in a capitalist society... We're not making smart choices... So, should we take choice away?
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      Jan 19 2012: I see your point, although what happens if we simply cannot make sure of a healthy nutrient intake with the food products available. Sadly - if you want to maintain a healthy living (with sports and a good diet), that will cost you a fortune. In the US farmer markets are much more expensive than supermarkets (thank God in Europe the situation is the opposite), and nowadays even foods from the best sources cannot reach a quality good enough.
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        Jan 19 2012: That sounds like a fair question, until you realize that no society, in the history of humanity, has ever made "sure of a healthy nutrient intake with food products available", including the EU. The EU, subsidizes farmers markets, and makes the products of said markets cheaper, at the cash register, but you still pay for that subsidy... You also experience a higher tax rate than US citizens.

        Personally, I would love to see a similar subsidy program here in the US, but instead we subsidize corn, and soy... But, the real question, is... Why?

        We have figured out that corn syrup, and soy products provide the best calorie, per cent. So, our subsidies feed, way more people than your subsidies, but the people we feed are less healthy, and require big pharma, to bail them out... So, would an EU influenced program in America, actually starve the third world by decreasing our calories per hectare?

        The moral issue, as with many, in the end comes down to economics... Which strategy is cheaper? If the cheaper strategy feeds more people, it would be difficult to argue, that it was an immoral strategy... To be fair though, the USA has a lot more land to grow corn on than the EU.
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    Jan 19 2012: This is a very important question Tibor, and it's also a huge money making industry without any overview here in the US. Personally, I don't believe in taking supplements and believe I can get all necessary vitamins and minerals in the diet. I eat directly from my garden for about 6-7 months of the year, and out of the freezer, which is produce from the garden the rest of the year, so I feel confident that I am eating foods that supply the body with good nutrients. I often take vitamin D in the winter because I live in an area that is very cold and lacks sun. After watching a documentary on public tv recently, I'm not even taking that.

    The FDA supposedly is starting to investigate the contents of supplements, and various other pills on the market, like diet pills. What researchers are finding, is that some of the over the counter pills contain ingredients that are toxic to the body. There are no rules or regulations for using pesticides in some countries for example. The plant material is imported, put into pill form here in the US, and because there are no laws governing supplements, we are often getting toxins in pills that are advertised as having "all natural" ingredients!

    Another issue that was brought forth in the documentary, is that the pharma companies often process supposedly "natural" supplements on equipment that was previously used to process other drugs, like antidepressants, antibiotics, etc. So often, products that are marketed as "natural", have traces of other drugs in them. When we take supplements, we think we are doing something beneficial for the body, when in fact, we may be doing just the opposite!
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      Jan 19 2012: I agree with you on many things
      - eating your own food products is the best possible solution (or making small communities which redistribute goods).
      - having a freezer and keeping stuff there - again, really nice effort!
      - being cautious about vitamins and supplements - clever, you have to be cautious, never trust drugs

      On the other hand:
      - What will happen if our foods cannot supply us with the necessary nutrients anymore. We have to keep up and supply ourselves, but our regular foods just won't do... If you produce your own goods, meat and vegetables come straight from the garden then you will be the last one who suffers from this problem, but what should others do who will show sings of malnutrition because they do the shopping in the local supermarket (let's say they can't have access to farmer markets or they simply cannot afford buying healthy food - the cheap foods are generally energy dense with a high amount of refined carbs, high fructose corn syrup and saturated fats and generally low in vitamins)?
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        Jan 19 2012: When we grow our own foods, or buy from a reputable, organic local farmer, the foods DO provide necessary nutrients. I don't accept the idea that healthy food is a lot more expensive and I don't agree that "cheap foods are generally energy dense". I may be confused about how you are defining "energy"? They ARE high in carbs, sugar, salt, fat, and usually very low in vitamins...yes. Regarding malnutrition...probably many of those who are overweight from eating fast foods are malnurished.
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    Jan 19 2012: Well, for a long while I was thinking that a good diet is what we all need. Plus, often not all of vitamin dose is absorbed by an organism, because it may need some special conditions (for example, Fe needs vitamin C to be absorbed well).
    But one article brought some confusion and disappointment actually. I searched for it in English and I found this in video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH6N7tHGsi8
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      Jan 19 2012: Don't let them confuse the good thoughts you already had, Julija.
      Trust your body's capacity to stay healthy and don't worry.
      More people get sick by stress than by any deficiency.
  • Jan 18 2012: Its enouff with a balanced diet, you get all the nessessary vitamins. Taking vitamin pills is waste since the boddy cant pick up the amount of vitamins contained in the pill. Often you only consumes a small fraction of it. Another reason to not is beacuse it is unnatural.

    NO PILLS.