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Do I Need Daily Supplements to Stay Healthy?

Aug 17, 2007
The subject of nutrition is very complex. Most of us are aware of the Food Guide Pyramid encouraging us to eat recommended servings of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, fish and complex carbohydrates so we'll get all the protein, vitamins, minerals, and food energy we need to live and thrive.

One would expect that by eating a healthy diet we'd have a very good chance of getting the nutrients we need to stay healthy. But so many factors affect the nutrient value of the food we eat. By the time freshly picked fruit gets transported to the grocery store, on display for you to buy, home to your refrigerator and finally eaten many of the vitamins have already been lost. If you cook your fresh fruit and vegetables even more nutrients are lost.

USDA food consumption surveys show that although Americans are making improvements in our eating habits most of us do not consume the full five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day as is recommended. But even if we did eat properly every single day, the nutrient values in our food may not be sufficient to meet our body's daily requirements to maintain good health.

There is no way to get the vitamins and minerals we need other than through the food we eat and any supplements we might take. Vitamins are organic (carbon-containing) substances that originate mainly in plant tissues and are essential for growth, reproduction and maintaining health. Our bodies can not synthesize vitamins in adequate amounts so we must obtain them through our diet.

Our bodies also require certain minerals to stay healthy. Unlike vitamins, minerals are not organic. They do not contain carbon. Minerals are elements that originate in the Earth and can not be made by living organisms. Plants get minerals from the soil and we get those minerals through the plants we eat or the animals we eat that have eaten the plants. Mineral content in soil can vary considerably from place to place.

Adding to concerns about the nutrient value of the fresh foods we consume is the nutrition value of the highly processed foods we eat. They allow us to quickly prepare a meal but they deprive us of the natural, whole food nutrients our bodies need.

Historic and scientific studies show that the nutrient content of food decreases with processing.Processing reduces the amount of every known essential vitamin. When brown rice was originally refined and white rice began to be consumed many people died of beriberi because the B-complex vitamins were destroyed. Cooking meat can reduce Vitamin B5 by as much as 50% while processing vegetables can reduce it by up to nearly 80%. Refining, cooking and canning can destroy as much as 95% of foliate. Milling wheat to white flour reduces the natural food complex vitamin and mineral content by as much as 60%.

Besides processing our food we add substances like sodium bicarbonate to foods to preserve them. When it is added to peas and green beans so they will retain their color it destroys the thiamin in them.

We have also introduced artificial things into our diets, for example, the artificial fat olestra (Olean). It robs the body of Vitamins A, D, E, K and carotenoid antioxidants. When we irradiate meat and other foods the characteristics of those foods change.

These facts indicate that using supplements to ensure our bodies get the necessary nutrients to maintain our health is a very good idea. In fact, the use of dietary supplements is a widespread practice among Americans according to the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. We take supplements for a variety of reasons that include protecting ourselves from colds, cancer, heart attacks, the effects of stress as well as to increase our energy. As much as 1.7 billion dollars are spent every year in the U.S. on vitamin and mineral supplements.

But we must ask ourselves, "Is a vitamin a vitamin and a mineral a mineral so the source of our vitamin and mineral supplementation doesn't matter?"

To combat loss of nutrients in our food due to production, transportation and processing issues the USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) has developed synthetic vitamins. Many foods today are "enhanced" with added vitamins and minerals to help us get the daily recommended allowance of vital nutrients our bodies need to sustain life and health. These additives come from synthetic, chemical sources, not natural plant sources. They have not all been proven to safely replace the natural vitamins that come from plants.

Most USP vitamins have crystalline structures which are not usually found in natural food sources. The processes used to develop these synthetic vitamins raise concerns about their safety and the ability of our bodies to use them in the same way natural vitamins are absorbed and used. For example, the USP form of Vitamin A is a vinyl or coal tar in one or more of its processing stages. Thiamin is made from a coal tar derivative that is processed with ammonia.

Niacin is made in a process that includes formaldehyde and ammonia. Vitamin B6 is pyridoxine hydrochloride. Vitamin B12 is made through a fermentation process that includes cyanide. We would not choose to eat many of the substances used to produce these synthetic vitamins. Do we really want to swallow pills that contain these chemicals?

Perhaps of most concern is whether our bodies actually absorb and use these synthetic vitamins the same way it uses organic vitamins. Synthetic vitamins are isolated but vitamins found in natural food sources are part of vitamin-complexes which aid in the body's ability to absorb and use these essential nutrients. Many studies indicate that our bodies do not absorb or retain the synthetic vitamins as efficiently as natural vitamins.

In addition to concerns that synthetic versions of vitamins reduce the body's ability to absorb and use them, there is concern that some of them actually inhibit the body from absorbing other nutrients. For example, synthetic vitamin A in the form of retinyl acetate significantly reduces the body's ability to absorb and use vitamin E.

Considering these facts it is imperative that we look closely at our choices of supplements. According to a paper for the Center for Natural Health Research, Down Syndrome-Epilepsy Foundation entitled Natural Vitamins May Be Superior to Synthetic Ones, by R. J. Thiel, Medical Hypothesis, 2000; 55(6):451-469;"Vitamin nutrition should come from food or from supplements which are as close to food as possible.

Since no one knows everything there is to know about nutrition, it seems logical from both a historical and modern perspective to consume vitamins in the forms found in natural food complexes and not to try to build health based on chemical isolates."
About the Author
H. Court Young is a writer, author, publisher and a geologist. Sharon Young is a wife and mother with an interest in nutrition and health. LifeForceAmerica.com offers Nutritional Products. Try these incredible liquid nutritional supplements,
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