I’m slowly catching up on podcasts from the last few weeks when I wasn’t really in Podcast Listening Mode, and recently, I listened to On Point’s discussion on recent research on vitamins. Much of the discussion focused on recent reports suggesting that over-dosing on vitamins for years could do more harm than good. Specifically, they discussed a recent study called the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) where men took the daily recommended dose of Vitamin E and were found to be 17% more likely to develop prostate cancer over the 7 years they were followed. This news comes after another recent study from the Archives of Internal Medicine suggesting that multivitamins, folic acid, and iron and copper supplements may increase mortality in older women.
This all reminds me of what Dr. Shaffer told us in psychopharmacology class back at Truman: you don’t need vitamins if you eat a healthy diet. Human physiology is set up to absorb the nutrients you need and get rid of the ones you don’t, provided you eat the diet your body needs to survive. This includes vegetable, dairy, grain and meat sources. If you start removing any of those sources of food, you either a). replace those nutrients with something like a multivitamin, or b). die sooner. Apparently, however, new data like those referred to above suggest that even with the replacement of nutrients, your body still may not be very happy with you.
Brooke and I talked about this a few days ago and we both had a question about Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) intake, as this is one of those vitamins pregnant women are instructed to take to limit the risk of congenital malformations of children, including spina bifida and cleft palate. The recommended daily allotment of Folic Acid is between 400 and 800 ug for a pregnant woman per day, though your doctor may prescribe more if there’s a history of problems in your family. Bear in mind, however, that it’s important that women of child-bearing years have Folic Acid in their diet or take supplements before they are pregnant, as it’s more important in the early stages, before many women even know they’re pregnant.
Speaking of which, what are the ways to get Folic Acid in your diet, aside from a pill? Spinach, peas, beans, egg yolks, sunflower seeds, white rice, fortified grain products (e.g. pastas, cereals), livers and kidneys, among others. Now, I ask you: How many women between the ages of 18-25 are eating anything from that list on a daily basis? I’d guess not very many. They’re probably going to get most of it from breads and cereals, though the recommended daily allotment of folate is added to the product: it’s not endemic to wheat.
(Side-note: The U.S. government, on their Women’s Health fact sheet, says that vitamins are still essential to ensure you are getting the daily allotment of folate every day, and that it’s possible to do so by diet alone, yet difficult. Anyone reading this should go by what their doctor tells them. I’m only using folic acid as an example. I am, by no means, a medical professional. :-))
I guess my larger point is that vitamins are alright, but trying to rely on them in order to avoid eating foods that we as Homo sapiens have evolved to require over millenia is unwise. It’s more important that we get proper dietary sources of vitamins and minerals that our stomachs have “learned” to take advantage of for generations. This isn’t to say you should only eat organic food, or only eat food that you grow yourself. Sure, organic sources can be healthy, but I’d argue that it’s better you eat your broccoli every day regardless of whether it’s organic or not. Women of child-bearing years should be eating food from the outlined sources above anyway. Men at risk of prostate cancer should be eating grapes, leafy green vegetables, and avoid trans fats anyway. Heck, regardless of whether you’re “at risk” of prostate cancer or “at risk” of becoming pregnant, these are things you should be eating anyway.
So yeah, I don’t really think that vitamins are that bad for you. But what is bad for you is trying to rely on them, or other supplements, as a substitute for a healthy diet.
(Final Note: An actual medical professional posted this article up on Huffington Post to help assure people that they shouldn’t necessarily stop taking all their vitamins and that there are some flaws in the conclusions being drawn from these studies. As with anything in science, more studies are needed to come to any real conclusions on this matter)