Although American alone is spending more than $17 billion a year on supplements for health and wellness, the rates of some forms of chronic disease have not changed, and others have actually increased. There are a number of reasons for these poor statistics and many things remain a mystery.
One thing seems fairly clear, however. Most supplements aren't helping very much if we don't first address the necessary basics of health and healing. Not all supplements are created equal.
Whole Food Nutrients Vs. Synthetic, Isolated Nutrients
Although there are numerous viewpoints on what kind of foods we should or should not be eating, as well as the ideal ratio of these foods, everyone from all corners of the diet and nutrition world seems to agree on one thing: No matter which foods we choose and in what ratios we eat them, whole foods are better for you than refined foods. This fact has never really been argued and why should it be any different for vitamins?
Just like refined foods, these refined vitamins have been robbed of all of the extra accessory nutrients that they naturally come with as well. In turn, like refined foods, they can create numerous problems and imbalances in your body if taken at high levels for long periods of time. They can also act more like drugs in your body, forcing themselves down one pathway or another. At the very least, they won't help you as much as high quality food and food-based supplements.
Whole Food Supplements
Whole food supplements are what their name suggests: Supplements made from concentrated whole foods. The vitamins found within these supplements are not isolated. They are highly complex structures that combine a variety of enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, activators and many other unknown or undiscovered factors all working together synergistically, to enable this vitamin complex to do its job in your body.
Nutrients from within this complex cannot be taken apart or isolated from the whole, and then be expected to do the same job in the body as the whole complex is designed to do.
The same analogy applies to the vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or vitamin E (delta tocopherol) you can find on most health food store shelves. They are parts of an entire complex that serve a purpose when part of the whole. However, they cannot do the job of the entire complex by themselves.
Synthetic or Isolated Nutritional Supplements
Isolated nutrients or synthetic nutrients are not natural, in that they are never found by themselves in nature. Taking these isolated nutrients, especially at the ultra-high doses found in formulas today, is more like taking a drug. Studies show the body treats these isolated and synthetic nutrients like xenobiotics (foreign substances).
By the same token, food-based supplements are never treated like this by your body. For example, your urine will never turn florescent yellow, no matter how much meat (a good source of B vitamins) you eat. This sort of rapid excretion happens only with foreign substances in your body.
Not only are isolated nutrients treated like drugs or other chemicals by your body. Like drugs, they can create problems for you too. Nature does not produce any nutrient in an isolated form. The nutrients in foods are blended together in a specific way and work best in that format. For an isolated nutrient to work properly in the body, it needs all the other parts that are naturally present in the food too.
If the parts are not all there from the start, they are taken from the body's stored supply. This is why isolated nutrients often work for a little while, then seem to stop working. Once your body's store of the extra nutrients is used up, the isolated nutrient you're taking doesn't work as well anymore. Worse yet, a deficiency in these extra nutrients can be created in your body.
And, because most nutrients are isolated from the foods they come in -- using a wide array of potentially nasty solvents and other chemicals -- taking high amounts of these products can also expose you to these potentially toxic chemicals, if care is not taken to remove them. With the burden we are already facing from the high number of chemicals in our environment, why would anyone want to add more?
Synergy and Potency
The various parts of a natural vitamin complex work together in a synergistic manner. Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Supplement makers typically try to stuff as much as possible in a capsule, telling us that the more we take, the better it is for us. This is simply not the case. As you now know, it is not necessarily the amount of a nutrient you ingest that is important, but its form and how much is bioavailable that counts the most. In fact, remembering that ingesting single nutrients can actually create imbalances in the body, logic would dictate the higher the level of a single nutrient that you take in, the quicker this imbalance will occur.
What all of this means: The potency of a supplement has much more to do with synergy than with actual nutrient levels. It is a combined effect of all the parts of the food, rather than the chemical effect of a single part, that is most important.
Don't Forget ...
Popping vitamin tablets has detracted from the most important part of health and healing. The basics of proper diet, exercise, detoxification, structure, mental/emotional and spiritual health must all be in order for true healing to occur. No supplement will work on its own if these foundations are not in place. Health foods are just that, food that is healthy and should be used to give you the balance of vitamins to your healthy diet. A health food shake in the mornings isn't going to do you much good if the rest of the day you are eating processed and junk food and not taking exercise.
**PLEASE NOTE Exceptions to the "foods are better" rule are two B vitamins. Ten to thirty percent of older people don't properly digest and absorb natural vitamin B-12 from foods, so it is recommended to get B-12 from a supplement if you are over age 50. Folic acid (vitamin B-9) from supplements and fortified foods is absorbed twice as well as from regular food. Consequently, pregnant woman are advised to get folic acid from a supplement (or fortified food) as well as regular foods.
After living in Thailand for 20 years, owning a health shop and studying nutrition, I feel very strongly about the toxic chemicals & carcinogenics sold to us on such a wide scale in our food and skin care products.