I love using supplements, especially vitamins and minerals, both personally and in my practice with my clients because, when used appropriately, they can be powerful tools on our wellness journeys.
When I got sick in 2004, I didn’t know that I had options for my treatment and care. Eventually, after hitting many dead ends and not feeling any better, I discovered the world of natural health. Dietary and lifestyle changes and the use of targeted supplement therapies turned my world right-side-up. Today, I use supplements for just about everything! Where some of you may have Benadryl in your cupboard, I have quercetin. Where some may have Dayquil, I have elderberry, astragalus, echinacea, and goldenseal. For the last 17 years, I have successfully managed my depression and anxiety with supplements.
Having these tools on hand has been a lifesaver.
In my blog post today, I ask why we need to supplement our diet with vitamins, minerals, and herbs. I also want to address their safety profile.
The Supplement Industry
In 2019, revenue from vitamin and nutritional supplement production reached nearly 32 billion dollars. According to M. Shahbandeh’s report, US Sales of Vitamins and Nutritional Supplements Manufacturing, 2018-2019, consumers stated that they “used dietary supplements for overall health and wellness benefits.” A survey conducted in 2018 showed that “at least 70 percent of the population in every age group … used dietary supplements, spending on average $80 per month.”
Yet despite widespread use, conflicting reports about the benefits of supplement use continue to pop up in our newsfeed.
1. Most Americans are Subclincally Nutrient Deficient
In the United States of America, most of us don’t have scurvy from lack of vitamin C or goiters from lack of iodine. This type of severe malnourishment usually occurs in impoverished, underdeveloped third-world countries. While most Americans are not chronically undernourished, many are marginally, or subclinically, nutrient-deficient.
For example, our recent encounter with Covid demonstrated that too many of us are low in vitamin D3. Studies show that approximately 42% of Americans have low Vitamin D, while as many as 80% of COVID-19 patients don’t have enough. We also learned that a Vitamin D count of at least 30 was enough to keep 90% of COVID sufferers out of the hospital. A physician that I listened to recently said there is no cold and flu season, only low vitamin D season. That is because flu and the common cold occur more often in the winter months when our access to sunshine, our primary vitamin D source, is limited.
2. The Standard American Diet is SAD
The Standard American Diet also lacks enough of the foundational nutrients we need for a healthy life. It often consists of prepackaged foods, like cereal, cheese crackers, sandwiches, potato chips, chicken fingers, cookies, candy, and soda. Manufacturers often create prepackaged foods from the same ingredients: corn, soy, sugar, dairy, and wheat. (Corn, soy, and sugar are usually genetically modified.) In fact, it is estimated that 75% of the world’s food is produced from only 12 plant and 5 animal species. Hardly enough to provide you with a robust variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
When we make better choices, for example, picking produce instead of cookies, they sometimes come with their own set of problems. Unless you choose organic food, the toxic pesticide and herbicide load can lead to inflammation. The inflammation injures your digestive tract, hindering your ability to absorb nutrients.
3. Our Food’s Nutritional Value is Declining
Much of the food that is grown today lacks the nutrients that it did 70 years ago. Information from the Department of Agriculture from 1950 and 1999 found “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin C of 43 different vegetables and fruits. The report concluded that the declining nutritional content was due to “agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition.” (Sheer et al., 2011)
Finally, as part of my homework in nutrition school, I spent an entire module pulling apart recipes to discover their nutritional value. I spent hours, breaking down meal after meal by their ingredients. My studies revealed that we rarely make it to the recommended daily allowance of many of our vitamins. The only consistent exception is vitamin A.
4. RDA – Recommended Dietary Allowance or Rationed Daily Allowance? It’s Not Enough.
Formulation of the Recommended Dietary Allowance that we use today has been a work in progress since 1941. It tells us the amount of each nutrient we need every day to avoid the most basic nutritional deficiencies. The Recommended Dietary Allowance assesses the nutritional intake of groups of people, not individuals. This is because the nutrient needs of an individual vary so much. Dr. Murray, N.D., writes: “A tremendous amount of scientific research indicates that the optimal level for many nutrients, especially the so-called antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, and selenium, may be much higher than their current RDAs.” (Murray, N.D., 1996, The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements)
Murray points out that the RDA does not consider lifestyle choices, like smoking. They can impact your ability to absorb or use your nutrients. For example, smokers require twice as much vitamin C as non-smokers.
Instead, we prefer to use SONA or Suggested Optimal Nutrient Allowance as our foundation. Dr. Alexander Schauss created it to reflect an ideal level of intake for each nutrient. We combine it with decades of research to determine Therapeutic Dosing.
5. Vitamins Have a Great Safety Profile
Generally speaking, vitamins have a strong safety profile. Experiencing symptoms from taking too many vitamins is called hypervitaminosis. This condition is usually reversible when you stop taking them. Overdoses are extraordinarily rare, occurring most often in children and frequently with iron-containing supplements. Some vitamins, especially fat-soluble vitamin A, D, E, and K, can build up in your system. (I always recommend that my clients check their vitamin D levels before they supplement with it.)
When I last reviewed fatalities from hypervitaminosis in 2015, the Poison Control Center had data dating back to 1983. Between 1983 and 2013, there were 15 deaths from hypervitaminosis in 14 years. When we compare this to reports from 2019 demonstrating that 128,000 Americans die annually from taking their prescriptions as prescribed, vitamins have a very safe track record.
Vitamins are Safe and Necessary
These five factors are enough to convince me that we benefit from including high-quality supplements in our diet daily. In his book, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Dr. Murray, N.D., writes: “Dr. Roger Williams, one of the premier biochemists of our time, states that healthy people should use multiple vitamin and mineral supplements as an “insurance formula” against possible deficiency. This does not mean that a deficiency will occur in the absence of the vitamin and mineral supplement any more than having fire insurance means that your house is going to burn down. But given the enormous potential for individual differences from person to person and the varied mechanisms of vitamin and mineral actions, supplementation with a multiple formula seems to make sense.” (Murray et al., 2012; The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine)
For this reason, I feel very safe using supplements in my practice and at home. I believe, due to the Standard American Diet, antiquated RDA levels, and declining levels of nutrients in our soil, most of us are at least marginally nutrient deficient. Supplements are supplemental. They won’t make up for a bad diet or poor lifestyle choices. However, in the context of a healthy diet and good lifestyle choices, they can support how your body functions, giving you the best chance for a healthy life.
For most people, minor lifestyle changes will make a big difference. However, there are times when the problem runs deeper, and you need professional help. If you’ve tried to figure this out on your own, or you feel like you’re lost in a maze of information and aren’t sure which path to take, don’t give up hope.
We have a range of different approaches that will help you figure out the root cause of your dysfunction and stop the cycle of sickness so you can feel better now. Book your free 30-minute Breakthrough Strategy Session today.