This article originally appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of Wise Traditions in Food, Farming
and the Healing Arts, a publication of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Page 2 of 2 is located here.
Much of what we believe is shaped by what we see, read, and hear. The media's message about supplements—those substances regularly ingested as pills, powders, and liquids by over one-half of all Americans in their quest to feel better and live longer—is decidedly mixed. We often read or hear stories about the benefits of taking supplements of vitamin E, St. John's Wort or Coenzyme Q10.Often these stories refer to published scientific studies demonstrating usefulness. A week later, we read or hear a report about the dangers of the same substance, with warnings by a designated expert to stay away from it.
This is not an article about the media or politics, but a few words about what's behind the news and what the media calls "science" are in order. Actually, one word is in order. The word is MONEY. Money vastly influences what is reported and the slant placed on that reporting. So where's the money? Most of the ads on the nightly news now are drug company ads. And newspapers and magazines today are full of drug company ads. This means we should expect enormous bias against anything that would take away from pharmaceutical profits. Do you want to trust Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings —or your own judgement?
To Take or Not to Take
Over thirty years ago, I read a little book called Vitamin E for Ailing and Healthy Hearts, by the Shute brothers. It's still a good read. The brothers, Canadian medical doctors, presented an open and shut case about the myriad benefits of vitamin E supplements. I began taking vitamin E and continue to this day. I also began researching the usefulness of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, and special foods in the treatment of health problems. A number of these substances are helpful to anyone interested in optimizing health and extending the span of vigorous, active life. Others are appropriate for many people who develop problems typical of our culture. The question is really not whether or not to take supplements. Rather, the questions are which ones, when and how much.
Those are hard questions, and because the answers are different for each of us and depend on individual needs, they can't be fully answered here. But some general questions that apply to all of us can be answered. In this article, I'll address the following questions:
- What is the difference in quality between one company's version of a given supplement and another's?
- What supplements are important for most people? Why?
- What is the relationship between supplements and foods? Can supplements complement even a very good diet?
- What are some problems people commonly have that can be helped with proper supplementation?
Most people simply cannot determine what they are really getting when they buy supplements. Among the usually unanswered questions:
- What are the sources of the vitamins and minerals used in a given vitamin and-or mineral product?
- What sources are most like the vitamins and minerals in foods, and most likely to be beneficial?
- Do the herbs in a given herbal product have the potency to achieve the desired result?
- What are the effects of additives used in manufacturing the supplement? How absorbable is the product?
Sources and Forms
Vitamins and minerals come in many
different forms. Some are derived from foods, such as vitamin E when
extracted from vegetable oil and vitamins A and D when extracted from
fish oil. Others are made in laboratories—they may then be labeled
"natural" because they are made from "natural" precursors. Some are
combined with dried foods and herbs and called "food vitamins."
A number of forms of synthetic vitamins A and D are used in
supplements. All should be strictly avoided-even small amounts of the
synthetic forms may be toxic. In fact, the toxicity of these synthetic
forms has contributed to the media frenzy about the alleged dangers of
vitamins A and D. The media and the medical establishment do not
distinguish between the synthetic forms and natural vitamins A and D as
found in or derived from animal fats. Decades ago, researchers
definitively established the benefits and safety of large doses of
natural vitamins A and D. Traditional diets are rich in these nutrients,
typically containing upwards of ten times the RDA amounts the
government now tells us are adequate. There has never been any
indication of anything but benefit from these natural forms of vitamins A
and D, including for pregnant women. In fact, these nutrients are
particularly important for pregnant women, and foods rich in vitamins A
and D were emphasized for pregnant women in virtually all of the
traditional cultures studied by Weston Price.
against Vitamin A usually include mention of Arctic explorers who
diedfrom vitamin A overdose because they consumed polar bear livers.
Actually, the early explorers did not die from vitamin A overdose but
from cadmium poisoning. They experienced exfoliative dermatitis and hair
loss. In 1988, a team of Swedish scientists discovered that polar bear
and seal livers tend to accumulate the metal cadmium. The symptoms for
cadmium poisoning are exfoliative dermatitis and hair loss. But don't
expect to hear about this on the evening news. Rather, expect continuing
stories about the dangers of vitamins A and D.
Cod liver oil
is a wonderful supplemental source of natural vitamins A and D. Note, it
is important to balance cod liver oil, butter oil and ghee and vitamin
See my recommended doses of these oils
Vitamin E is another nutrient for which it is very important to select the proper form. Synthetic vitamin E is labeled, "d, l- alpha." This mixture of
the "d" and "l" forms is biochemically different from naturally derived
vitamin E, which consists of and is labeled "d-alpha." Like synthetic
vitamins A and D, synthetic vitamin E has detrimental effects. It is
incompletely metabolized and may even disrupt the metabolism of natural
vitamin E in the liver. The most beneficial natural vitamin E products
come as mixtures of the alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocopherol
fractions. I use and recommend a product called "
Unique E," made by the A.C. Grace Company, whose only product is this superior vitamin E supplement.
To summarize, the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D and E) should always
come from natural sources. As for the water soluble vitamins, there are
natural sources that can provide small amounts for general use-acerola
powder for vitamin C, for example, and low-temperature dried yeast
flakes grown on an appropriate medium for B complex. However, for larger
therapeutic doses it is necessary to use synthetic vitamins. How these
water-soluble vitamins are formulated makes a big difference in how they
are absorbed and tolerated.
Almost all of the vitamin C in
supplements is made in a laboratory, despite labeling that implies
otherwise. For example, the label might say, "ascorbic acid from sago
palm." Dextrose, a form of sugar that contains no vitamin C at all, is
extracted from sago palm and used as the base molecular material for a
complex laboratory process that synthesizes vitamin C. Or the label
might say "vitamin C derived from the finest natural sources." True, but
the vitamin C was synthesized. It might also say "with rose hips and
acerola," which are then used as the base material for the tablet or
capsule. But a tablet of rose hips or acerola can contain only about
forty milligrams of truly natural vitamin C; the rest is synthesized.
Pottenger's experiments met the most rigorous scientific standards.
His outstanding credentials earned him the support of prominent
physicians. Alvin Foord, M.D., Professor of Pathology at the University
of Southern California and pathologist at the Huntington Memorial
Hospital in Pasadena, co-supervised with Pottenger all pathological and
chemical findings of the study. One particular question that modern
science has largely ignored was addressed: What is the nutritive value
of heat-labile elements-nutrients destroyed by heat and available only
in raw foods?
Most significant in regard to the form of vitamin C is the
buffering process, which complexes a mineral (typically either calcium,
magnesium, or potassium) with ascorbic acid.
Buffered vitamin C
is gentler on the stomach than regular vitamin C, which because of its
acidity often causes gas, bloating, and upset stomach. Buffered C offers
superior absorption as well.
Labels often proclaim "natural" B vitamins, derived from yeast. But companies manufacturing yeast add laboratory-synthesized B vitamins to the food fed to the yeast during its growth, and then fortify the yeast further with additional B vitamins once it has grown. This allows the production of yeast of any B-vitamin potency desired, which is then used to formulate vitamin pills labeled "B vitamins derived from yeast." I generally recommend taking B vitamins as part of our multi vitamin-mineral-antioxidant,
Doc's Best. For therapeutic doses of specific B vitamins, I recommend our B-Optimal and Thorne Research products.
Minerals in supplements are found in many different forms. Minerals
occur in foods as part of molecules in which the mineral exists as a
complex with other substances. Minerals in supplements are also found as
complexes, and the substances with which they are complexed effect the
degree to which the minerals are absorbed and utilized. Some mineral
supplements are actually extracted from foods (for example, calcium
hydroxyapatite), while others are complexed in the laboratory (for
example, amino acid complexes of calcium) or found in nature (for
example, calcium carbonate).
Calcium is the most commonly taken mineral supplement, and calcium
supplements come in scores of different forms. But only one is actually a
food extract and that is
This is the form of calcium that naturally occurs in bone. Low
temperature processing techniques are used to extract microcrystalline
hydroxyapatite concentrate (MCHC) from raw bone-the best products
utilize MCHC from free-range, pesticide-free New Zealand cattle. MCHC is
a complex crystalline compound composed of calcium (about 24%),
phosphorous, delicate organic factors (thus the importance of low
temperature processing), protein matrix, and the full spectrum of
minerals that naturally comprise healthy bone. Look for a calcium
supplement in which the only source of calcium is MCHC. Many supplements
say "MCHC" or "calcium hydroxyapatite" on the label, but when you read
the ingredients carefully you discover that a secondary source of
calcium, typically dicalcium phosphate-an inexpensive, poorly absorbed
form of calcium-contributes an unstated percentage of the calcium to the
Many calcium formulas include magnesium;
well-absorbed forms include magnesium aspartate, magnesium glycinate and
magnesium oxide. Many other minerals may be complexed as aspartates or
picolinates, which generally provide excellent absorption.