It is estimated that Americans spend over 30 billion dollars per year on dietary supplements. But are they really necessary, or even safe? There are many different opinions among health professionals on this topic but one thing is for certain — just like with diet, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
The Case for a Daily Multivitamin Supplement
The grim reality is that most people in the United States eat too much processed food and added sugars and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables. The “Standard American Diet” leaves us vulnerable to deficiencies in various nutrients, such as essential fatty acids, magnesium, folate and disease-fighting phytochemicals, just to name a few.
Even those who strive to eat a nutrient-dense, balanced diet still may not be meeting their daily nutritional needs. Studies have shown that the nutritional value of produce has steadily declined since the 1950s, most likely due to soil depletion from over-farming as well as from the transportation of produce over long distances. Protein, riboflavin, iron, vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus are a few of the nutrients that have been negatively affected by modern agricultural practices.
For the majority of healthy individuals looking for a little extra nutritional insurance, supplementing with a whole-foods-based multivitamin and mineral supplement is a smart idea. Multivitamins with high doses of synthetic or activated forms of vitamins and minerals can have therapeutic value in certain circumstances, but it’s best not to go that route unless a health professional has evaluated or tested you for nutrient deficiencies — since it is possible to overdose on certain nutrients. Always check labels carefully if you have any allergies to foods or other ingredients.
An Epidemic of Chronic Disease and Reliance on Pharmaceutical Drugs
We have an epidemic of chronic disease and chronic stress in America, so it is important to understand that these things can affect nutritional status regardless of diet — meaning that if you are one of the many affected by chronic disease or constantly under stress, you may have additional nutritional needs that are difficult to meet through food alone. For example, inflammatory bowel diseases can decrease fat absorption from food, which puts patients at risk for deficiencies of fat-soluble nutrients such as A, D and K. Additionally, chronic stress is known to deplete B vitamins, vitamin C and our beneficial gut bacteria (gut flora).
Another often overlooked phenomenon to consider is drug-induced nutrient depletions.
Many pharmaceutical drugs can deplete valuable nutrients due to the mechanism of action of the drug and yet many patients report that they were not educated on this when the medication was prescribed. One of the most common drug-induced nutrient depletions is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is depleted by statin drugs. This is an important antioxidant used by our cells for growth and maintenance and difficult to obtain through diet.
Supplementation is a good option for statin drug users, unless they are also taking a blood thinner, and for those using birth control pills. Studies show that birth control pills can cause deficiencies in B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
The Value of Getting Professional Guidance
This a complex subject with complex answers. Each person is a unique combination of factors that determine nutritional status, including genetics, dietary patterns, diseases, medications, stress level and so forth. A nutritionist or other healthcare provider who is trained in nutrition can help you choose a supplement regimen based on your individual needs.
Supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994. However, not all supplements are created equal in terms of quality and potency standards. Pharmaceutical grade supplements are considered the gold standard because they are third-party tested and contain 99 percent raw materials (less than 1 percent fillers).
Often these supplements can be purchased through a health care provider, or your health care provider can help recommend reliable brands while working with you to safely implement a supplement protocol.