Do you need to take a daily supplement?
Nutritious food is better than any pill
What to look for
What supplements should not include
Do you need to take a daily supplement of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients?
If you are:
- healthy, and have an effective digestive system
- live in a place that has rich soils with a good variety of trace elements
- live in a pristine area (not subject to high levels of pollution)
- enjoy a diet exclusively of local and organic foods
- eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods
then you certainly don't need to take any supplements unless your health practitioner identifies a specific deficiency. (9)
If you are like the majority of health-conscious people living in the modern world, feeling some of the stresses, subject to some level of pollution, and dependent to some extent on supermarkets and commercial foods, then this is a reasonable question. This is particularly important if you live in Australia (especially West Australia), which has the most barren soils of any continent. Rather than multi-vitamin multi-mineral and other pills, you should be looking to nutrient-dense foods to get your micronutrients, and enzyme supplements. The Grow Youthful Recipe Book discusses a range of nutrient-dense foods such as bee pollen, green juices, bone stocks, mineral tonics and certain herbs and berries.
Buy organic Australian bee pollen (Australia only)
If you live in a city, eat a diet high in supermarket or processed food, are exposed to a high toxic load through stress, pollution and drugs and are over 40, then your body needs all the help it can get. However, the best way to provide this help is NOT with a daily broad-spectrum micronutrient multi-mineral multivitamin antioxidant supplement. Pills and capsules are not the best way to help you to prevent disease, neutralise toxins and guard against free radicals. (9)
There is a substantial body of research (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) that shows that taking a daily multi-vitamin/mineral/antioxidant pill may be harmful, in particular increasing your risk of various cancers (6, 7) or heart disease. (7, 10, 11) I prefer to recommend a supplement pill only when your body has a specific deficiency.
Most multi-vitamin multi-mineral supplements contain a high level of fluorides, added deliberately. This can make the whole notion of taking these supplements quite perverse.
Even vitamin D, essential for good health, may be harmful when taken as a supplement. There is a regretful difference between getting your vitamin D from your food and from sunshine, and getting it from a pill. (10, 11)
Nutritious food is better than any pill
Nutrients in fresh foods are nearly always more effective than other supplements in treating any ailment. Time and again David Niven Miller shows how healthy eating is the key to curing many degenerative diseases, rather than medicines and pills.
Don't expect to take a multi-vitamin multi-mineral supplement and look and feel younger a month later - the greatest anti-aging results only occur after a decade. For example, in a study of 88,000 nurses over 26 years, those who took multivitamin tablets for fifteen years or more reduced their risk of colon cancer by 75%. However, there was no reduction of colon cancer among those who had been taking multivitamin tablets for only five years.
What to look for
The best supplements contain a broad and complete range of micronutrients. You can take a dose of zinc sulphate or citrate to improve your skin or immunity, and it may be quite effective. Combine it with magnesium, and it will double its performance. Combine it with B vitamins, or a wider range of vitamins and minerals, and it will work more effectively again. A synergistic combination of micronutrients is far more effective than taking the individual components. The interactions between the components are so complex that it is best to rely on nature to create them wherever possible. The best ingredients are from wild herbs, nutrient-dense foods, seaweeds, peat bogs, glacial muds and natural minerals.
Trace minerals act as catalysts for many biological reactions, including muscle responses, hormone production and nerve transmission. Most vitamins will not work without supporting minerals. We need some minerals, such as calcium, sodium and potassium, in relatively large quantities. Others, such as barium, bismuth, boron, chromium, cobalt, molybdenum, rubidium, selenium, titanium and vanadium are essential in micro-doses, but are toxic at higher levels. Your body continually needs a minimum array of minerals just to stay alive, but optimal health requires higher levels, tailored to your individual needs.
A broad range of over 100 minerals is available in sea salt. If you throw away any refined table salt in your home and avoid foods made with refined salt, instead replacing it with natural sea salt, you will get a large portion of the minerals your body needs. A year's supply of Celtic sea salt only costs a couple of dollars.
A pill cannot possibly contain many of the living nutrients made by plants. Vegetables, fruits and herbs contain thousands of chemicals that have health and synergistic properties. Right now, this area is at the forefront of nutritional science, with most of these phytochemicals still undiscovered. A daily supplement pill can provide specific vitamins and minerals that science knows we need to maintain excellent health in today's polluted world, but don't kid yourself that a pill can in any way make up for a beautiful, fresh multi-coloured salad, or a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs on a daily basis. The bottom line is that you also have to eat a variety of fresh, organic, ripe picked fruit and vegetables - supplements are not an excuse for poor eating.
Good digestion is the most important factor in getting all the nutrients you need. You can eat the most nutritious diet, and take additional supplements, but if you cannot digest them, you will still be malnourished. Years of poor eating make it likely that most adults have a weak and damaged digestive system. Restoring your digestive strength with natural and home-made probiotics may be the key to absorbing the nutrients that your body needs.
What supplements should NOT include
Vitamins or minerals which cannot easily be excreted if they are in excess of your body's needs. The most common components which are included in excess are:
Vitamin A. This fat soluble vitamin can accumulate in your tissues, causing nausea, bone fractures and pain, and skin problems. A good supplement will contain carotene or beta carotene instead of vitamin A, because your body can convert them into vitamin A, and any excess is easily excreted.
Iron.This mineral tends to accumulate in the body rather than be excreted, and even a small excess can be dangerously toxic. Women can lose iron in their blood during their period, but men have no such outlet. Menstruating women, particularly those who are vegetarians or pregnant, can sometimes take a supplement containing up to 10 mg. Some people need iron to treat anaemia, but frequently there are other causes for the lack of iron assimilation, such as a copper deficiency.
The majority of people (other than menstruating women) have an iron overload rather than iron shortage. This becomes more apparent when one considers that the upper bounds of traditional blood iron metrics are too high.
Calcium. Calcium supplements contain inorganic forms of calcium that are not easily absorbed by the digestive system. Studies have shown that calcium (and also vitamin D) supplements do not protect you from osteoporosis and the risk of hip fractures, and may actually increase your risk. (8) It is best to obtain your calcium from food sources, but this does not include dairy. Little if any calcium is absorbed from dairy foods, especially low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt. Leafy green vegetables and sardines, for example, are far better sources of calcium.
1. Virtamo J. et al.
Incidence of cancer and mortality following alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene supplementation: a postintervention follow up.
Journal of the American Medical Association 290, no. 4, 23 July 2003: 476-85.
2. Vivekananthan D. P., Penn M. S., Sapp S. K., Hsu A., Topol E. J. Use of antioxidant vitamins for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of randomised trials. Lancet 361, no. 9374. 14 June 2003. 2017-23.
3. Neuhouser M. L., et al. Multivitamin use and risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease in the Women's Health Initiative cohorts. Archives of Internal Medicine 169, no. 3. 9 February 2009. 294-304.
4. Miller E. R. et al. Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. Annals of Internal Medicine 142, no. 1. 4 January 2005. 37-46.
5. Bjelakovic G., Nikolova D., Gluud L. L., Simonetti R. G., Gluud C. Mortality in randomized trials of antioxidant supplements for primary and secondary prevention: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Medical Association 297, no. 8. 28 February 2007. 842-57.
6. Martin Bergo, V.I. Sayin et al. Antioxidants accelerate lung cancer progression in mice. 29 January 2014, Science Translational Medicine, 6: 221ra15, 2014.
7. Mike Mitka. Emerging Data Continue to Find Lack of Benefit for Vitamin-Mineral Supplement Use. JAMA. 2014;311(5):454-455. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.285786.
8. Jia-Guo Zhao, Xian-Tie Zeng, Jia Wang, Lin Liu. Association Between Calcium or Vitamin D Supplementation and Fracture Incidence in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA; 318(24):2466-2482. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.19344. 26 December 2017.
9. Stephen P. Fortmann, Brittany U. Burda, Caitlyn A. Senger, Jennifer S. Lin, Evelyn P. Whitlock. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159(12):824-834. DOI: 10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00729. 17 December 2013.
10. Robert Scragg, Alistair W. Stewart, Debbie Waayer, Carlene M. M. Lawes, Les Toop, John Sluyter, Judy Murphy, Kay-Tee Khaw, Carlos A. Camargo Jr. Effect of Monthly High-Dose Vitamin D Supplementation on Cardiovascular Disease in the Vitamin D Assessment Study. A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Cardiol. 2017;2(6):608-616. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2017.0175.
11. JoAnn E. Manson, Nancy R. Cook, I-Min Lee, William Christen, Shari S. Bassuk, Samia Mora, Heike Gibson, David Gordon, Trisha Copeland, Denise D'Agostino, Georgina Friedenberg, Claire Ridge. Vitamin D Supplements and Prevention of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease. 3 January 2019. N Engl J Med 2019; 380:33-44, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1809944.