My message today to you is inspired by a number of conversations that I’ve been having with clients lately. When conducting my nutrition assessment for them, I’ve discovered that they’re taking vitamins and other supplements. When I ask them why, they don’t really have a good reason why that particular supplement at that dosage. If you take vitamins (or other supplements) and/or give your kids supplements, you’ll want to read on get my reasons why I have concerns with vitamins and other supplements.
Before getting into my words of warning, I want to make my general position on vitamins and other supplements really clear. I believe in food first. Meaning that you need to eat healthfully as a foundation. There is no combination of pills that will make you healthy if you eat nothing but crap. That being said, for the vast majority of us (kiddos and adults), food alone won’t need all our nutrition needs.
Myth: Vitamins are Natural so They’re Safe
Just because vitamins and other supplements are natural doesn’t mean that they are safe. Vitamins, minerals, herbs and other supplements are powerful. That’s why I recommend them to many clients. Anything powerful must be used appropriately because they have both the potential to cause health…and harm. They have the potential for harm in several ways:
#1: Interactions with Medications
Many vitamins and other supplements interact negatively with medications – both prescription and over the counter. Some interactions are mild and some are quite serious.
#2: Disrupting the Balance
Our bodies are finely tuned systems. Things don’t happen in isolation. When you change one thing, other things are affected. Hence why medications have side effects. Taking one vitamin/supplement has ripple effects through the body. This needs to be considered before taking something. For example, taking high doses of folate (folic acid) can upset the balance amongst your B vitamins and can mask a deficiency in B12. What’s the side effect of B12 deficiency? Permanent cognitive loss. Yup, it’ serious.
#3: We DON’T Pee Out Extra Vitamins
I hear this over and over. “If I take too much, my body will just pee out the extra”. It simply isn’t true that if a little is good, more must be better. Yes, we do pee out the extra of some vitamins. Specifically, water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C. Even when it’s the case, they can still wreck havoc as I described above in #2 (B-vitamins are water-soluble). Also, many vitamins, minerals and other supplements don’t get peed out. Our body stores them. At too high a level they can be toxic. I’m talking organ failure.
Exhaustion from Chasing False Hope
This is a more subtle but still important negative effect from taking the wrong supplements. It’s the giving up on feeling better. The acceptance of sub-optimal health because you feel that you’ve tried stuff and it didn’t work.
Let me illustrate with an example: Iron. Many, many times I find people taking supplements because they have low energy. Often we women are recommended iron supplements when we are menstruating monthly and we have low energy. Iron-deficiency anemia can be fairly common. A symptom of iron-deficiency anemia is low energy. However, I often find women who have IUD’s or are post-menopausal who are continuing to take iron because they feel tired. They assume that if iron helped them feel better before, that it would give them more iron now. The problem is that high iron is toxic to our organs. Without monthly bleeding, iron can build up in the body. Low energy can be due to many, many things. If your iron isn’t low, i.e. it isn’t the cause of your low energy, then taking iron supplements won’t give you more energy.
What’s the solution? Get expert advice on what vitamins and other supplements are good for you/ your child. You/your child - where you are at in life now. And no, your Mom and your girlfriend aren’t experts (unless they happen to be health professionals). I know that they are well-meaning. But following their advice can cause harm.
Don’t take vitamins/ supplements unless a health professional recommends them for you AND they’ve taken into consideration:
· Your medical conditions and aspects of your health such as whether or not you menstruate and how much you exercise.
· Your eating habits.
· Any medications or supplements that you take.
Health professionals include folks like doctors, naturopaths, dietitians, and pharmacists (who know all the above information about you/ your child). Note that the person working at the health food/supplement store and your personal trainer are not on this list (unless they also happen to be one of the health professionals I mentioned above).