Supplements – Beneficial or Bunk?

So… your mother tells you to take your vitamins.  Your best friend says not to bother – it’s all just a scam to make easy money.  Your doctor warns you to be careful – that vitamins can potentially be ‘dangerous’.  And your acupuncturist swears by his recommended supplements.

Who’s right?  Why is there so much confusion?

First of all, let’s look at the definition of a ‘supplement’.

Supplement: Something added to complete a thing, make up for a deficiency, or extend or strengthen the whole.

By definition, supplementation is not meant to be the miracle cure for what ails you.

It cannot take the place of proper nutrition.  It cannot magically strengthen your bones or burn off your unwanted fat all on its own.  And it cannot act as a substitute for the vitamins we find naturally in food!

Now, having said all that… there is research showing that the micronutrient content of our food has weakened in modern times.  Growing food in depleted soil, harvesting the food before it’s ripe (to keep up with customer demand), freely using pesticides and herbicides, then adding chemicals and preservatives to certain products… each step in the modern farming process subsequently robs our food of its nourishment.

Is it true then, that even if we are spot on brilliant with our nutritional choices… even if we make the effort to eat a variety of whole foods to satisfy our micronutrient needs… will we still be at risk for nutritional deficiencies?  Is disease a sure thing without supplements?

I honestly don’t know.

Yes, typical farming techniques have severely affected our food supply – but there has been a resurgence in organic, local farming that focuses less on profit and more on quality.  They take the time to nourish the soil.  They pick the food when it’s ready.  They stay far away from pesticides and chemicals.  They are returning the nourishment to fresh food.

My take on it is… if you are not one to eat organic, local produce, then a bit of supplementation may do you a bit of good.

But that’s only if you are trying to eat whole fresh foods for the majority of your diet.  If you are the typical American who survives on processed ‘food products’ and fast food, then vitamins are probably a waste of your time.  Change your eating habits first.

Now, there’s one more argument for supplementation that I can’t leave out.

It’s the proven idea that high levels of vitamin supplementation have been used to successfully rehabilitate patients with serious diseases.  This vid below (from the “Food Matters” documentary) describes how high doses of Niacin (Vit B3) have almost ‘cured’ individuals with suicidal depression.  In the same documentary, they demonstrate research and results on hundreds of instances where high doses of Vitamin C over long periods of time have completely reversed cancer.  Amazing stuff!

I’ve personally sided with the ‘pro-food’ team for many years now.  I haven’t been against supplements.  I have simply believed that it’s more productive to re-educate individuals about healthy eating habits.  Because giving them vitamins ain’t gonna do much good if they nourish themselves with crap.

And I still believe this whole-heartedly.  But I’m beginning to realize that supplements have their place.  Especially now that I’m pregnant.

I mean… if the development of another human life is at stake, I’ll err on the side of caution!  I’ll eat my spinach… AND I’ll take a little extra folic acid, iron and vitamin C (all of which are abundant in spinach). 🙂

There are certainly instances when supplementation can be fruitful.  In the rehabilitation of a very sick person.  In a person who is experiencing mild health problems that are very likely related to nutrient deficiencies.  And in the times when a female is providing nutrients for two people at once.

Otherwise… most people could benefit from simply cleaning up their diet.

What are your thoughts on supplementation?

6 Comments on “Supplements – Beneficial or Bunk?

  1. Very well said! I love that you are sharing this!
    I am with you – FOOD is our primary and most important source of nutrients, so we should start there and get the most nourishment possible from our food choices. That being said, there is a lot of evidence that shows our nutrient requirements are increasing in the modern world (due to stress, toxicity, etc) and many nutrients in our food are depleted (even in organic and locally grown foods) because the soils are being depleted. So, supplements can be a good “supplement” to our food — but only if they are high quality, produced with the best raw materials, and customized for our unique individual needs.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Andie!
      And good point. High quality vitamins – instead of just Flintstones 🙂
      I guess it’s the same concept as with food. If we spend a bit more on spectacular quality food and supplements now, then we’ll SAVE money later by not getting sick and diseased.
      Appreciate your thoughts, my friend.

  2. Lovely article Kim! I couldn’t agree with you more on this view of supplements. People should definitely focus more on eating quality foods that are whole foods. Afterall, our bodies are designed to digest and take what they need from foods, not just doses of synthetically created vitamins. I just wanted to add the fact that not all organic foods are necessarily better than non organic. Apparently some of our organic produce is being imported from other far away countries and lose their vitamins in transport. Personally I’d prefer to eat more local but not organic produce than produce imported from china or another country. It seems that the term “organic” has many variations. We tend to imagine organic food is grown by a farmer in overalls driving a tractor somewhere on an American family farm. Unfortunately this is probably not the case except maybe in our farmer’s markets, where the people growing the food travel with their produce to sell it to you.

    • What a great point, Liz!
      Because “organic” is trendy right now – people think that’s enough. But by the time that produce from China reaches us… it’s already a week old. Plus, thousands of dollars were spent in oil to get it over here. Not optimal from a nutritional OR an environmental standpoint. Local is best – I agree!
      Thanks a mil, chica 🙂

  3. It all changed for me after watching Food Inc. My organic produce is grown 15 feet from where i sleep. Did you know that homeraised chicken eggs have 1/3 less cholesterol   
• 1/4 less saturated fat
   • 2/3 more vitamin A  
 • 2 times more omega- 3 fatty acids  
 • 3 times more vitamin E
   • 7 times more beta carotene. Not to mention real flavor. Who’s ready for a badass omelette!?

    • I’m ready, Ben! Do you really have backyard chickens? You’re right down the street from me! Can’t wait to get some property so that I can have chickens and a veggie garden.