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?

Quality Issues

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.

The warnings 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 K2. See my recommended doses of these oils

Vitamin E Complex, Unique E, 180 softgels

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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?

Buffered Vitamin-C

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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).

Dr. Ron's Calcium Magnesium
Cal 1000-Mag 500 Hydroxyapatite Plus Optimal Bone Formula, 180 capsules$39.95

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 calcium hydroxyapatite. 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 supplement.

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.