Are Vitamins and Supplements Worth it?

One of the paradoxes in a consumer society like ours, is that to lose weight, to remove something, we are typically instructed to do so by consuming something else.

It’s just how we’re taught: got a problem? Buy something to fix it.

A lot of folks think that they can fix their crappy diet by popping vitamins and supplements. I for one. Until perhaps 6 months ago, I would take a handful of supplements, including:

  1. a multivitamin without iron
  2. COQ 10
  3. Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Acetyl L-Carnitine
  4. Magnesium
  5. Fish Oil
  6. Calcium+D
  7. Vitamin E
  8. Selenium
  9. GarlicMax
  10. Ginseng

At one point I was using old prescription medicine bottles, and due to the fact that some on the list needed to be taken in multiples, I sometimes could not fit all of a day’s supplements in a single bottle.

But then I stopped taken them completely. Here was my concern at the time: I had read a very good book by the name ‘Swindled’, which described the food adulteration problems in England in the 1800s and in the US later into the 1900s. I do not want to do the book discredit by giving it a review, but I’ll note just one example (out of dozens and dozens described in this wonderfully written history) that comes to mind.

In England in the 1800s, it was customary to cook pickles in copper pots because the copper gave them a bright green color, making them look a heckuva lot more yummy and the normal olive drab pickles.

You might have some copper pots at home yourself, they’re quite pretty, actually. I have a few myself.

You’ll notice that every last one of them is copper CLAD – meaning the copper is on the outside, and does not touch the food.

That’s because copper is poisonous. Really poisonous. From Wikipedia, in their usual overly technical prose for such things:

Acute symptoms of copper poisoning by ingestion include vomiting, hematemesis (vomiting of blood), hypotension (low blood pressure), melena (black “tarry” feces), coma, jaundice (yellowish pigmentation of the skin), and gastrointestinal distress.[2] Individuals with glucose-6-phosphate deficiency may be at increased risk of hematologic effects of copper.[2] Hemolytic anemia resulting from the treatment of burns with copper compounds is infrequent.[2]

Chronic (long-term exposure) effects of copper exposure can damage the liver and kidneys.[3]

People died eating these pickles. And it was only after public outcry that producers stopped boiling their pickles in copper pots and killing their patrons. Not because they necessarily felt some moral or ethical imperative, mind you – it was bad for business.

This all got me to thinking about these various powders and liquid gelcaps I was ingesting – what was actually in  these things? How can I be sure that the compound I am expecting, uncontaminated, is actually in there?

I can’t.

One thing I learned from ‘Swindled’ was that, the longer the distribution chain, from producer to consumer, the greater the likelihood that someone along the way, will, knowingly or unknowingly, adulterate the product you consume.

Supplements in the US are also unregulated. My understanding on how this works is that manufacturers are on the honor system about what is listed in the ingredients, and that’s that – until they get caught.

What sucks about this system is that I believe that the majority of supplement manufacturers are honestly and ethically trying to create the best damn product they can.

But it might not be them – it might be their supplier, or their supplier’s supplier.

Think about it. If you buy a multivitamin, look at all those ingredients.

Where do they all come from?

I thought about this for a long time…and decided that I’d try living without vitamins. I made a conscious effort to try to buy better quality food with the money saved in supplements and try to eat better instead. Buy organic. Buy local. Buy fresh.

I honestly feel about the same – maybe a little better, 6 month later. Certainly I weigh about 15 pounds less, though don’t jump to any conclusions about no vitamins = weight loss, because I am certainly not.

Then I came across this interesting article on msnbc.com, in which researchers found that people who took multivitamins were more likely to participate in risky behaviors, their conclusion being that the vitamins gave them a feeling of invulnerability. Patients in the study were given sugar pills and told they were taking supplements. These patients:

reported a greater sense of invulnerability and less of a desire to exercise. They also were more likely to consider engaging in casual sex, sunbathing and binge-drinking.

At the end of the study the two groups were told they could choose between a healthful meal and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sure enough, more of those in the group who were told they’d taken a supplement said they’d prefer the buffet.

Here’s a link to another report on this from Scientific American, in case you’d like a more scholarly source.

I covered much the same ground in a previous post, but I thought the psychological study discussed above that I read after I wrote that one warranted another discussion on this topic.

So perhaps you might want to reconsider that New Year’s resolution about taking vitamins?

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2 thoughts on “Are Vitamins and Supplements Worth it?

  1. The only vitamin I’ve ever taken that I can feel working is B vitamins, and thats most likely because I don’t eat red meat. And even then, it 50/50 that I’ll feel any effects at all..

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