A recent article in the The Tampa Bay Times reported that the science was in and that it was a waste of time and money to take vitamins. Apparently if you eat healthy meals, it is not necessary to supplement with additional vitamins. Well, this got my attention! This flies in the face of all those writings and studies I have read and the great medical minds I have studied. Dr. John Meyers, Chief of Medicine at John Hopkins in the 1960′s and Prof. Holick at Harvard, are just two respected medical doctors who have stressed that each person is unique and that the need for vitamins varies from person to person.
The Food and Drug Administration has a standard for the amount of vitamins that each person must have if they are to have minimum health in the US. This standard was based on a government study done in the 1940′s that determined the minimum nutritional standard required to keep a 28 year-old male soldier on the battlefield for 90 days, without showing any signs of disease. But even given those guidelines, the American diet leaves much to be desired. The World Health Report of 1997 stated that the American diet is too high in fat, sugar, sodium and saturated fats and that it doesn’t provide enough vitamins. Studies have shown that even if an individual ate a so-called healthy diet they would not get all the nutrients they need. 91% of people do not eat the recommended 5-9 daily servings of protective fruits and vegetables. And what happens if an individual’s health is compromised? For example, if the individual has any digestive problems, they will not be able to absorb all the nutrients in their food and, as a result, be more susceptible to disease. In this case, supplementing with vitamins is essential.
I was a vegetarian for many years. And like a number of my patients who are vegetarians, I thought I was healthier for avoiding meat and dairy. I was convinced I could get all my vitamins from vegetables and other sources of non-animal protein. Not true. Taurine is a protein and does not come from a vegetable. Similarly, B vitamins are found mainly in animal products. Most vegetarians are deficient in these vitamins and certain proteins. I reached a point that I did not have the endurance to play long tennis games. I realized I wasn’t getting enough nutrients to support a healthy lifestyle that included rigorous exercise. I am no longer a vegetarian.
Our lifestyle and our diets are responsible for the depletion of our store of vitamins. The following factors affect our body’s ability to absorb vitamins: drinking coffee and tea, living with stress, prescription drugs, birth control pills, pregnancy, laxatives, alcohol, PMS, smoking, and diabetes. If you partake in any of these activities or have any of these conditions, you are going to need an increased number of vitamins to maintain your health.
Another factor that needs to be considered is how our food is prepared. Eating foods raw is optimal but not always convenient or appealing. But bare in mind that the process of cooking food reduces the nutritional value of vegetables by 20-50%. Boiling vegetables destroys most folic acid, vitamin C and all enzymes. Milling of whole grains results in a 70% loss of minerals.
Eating food is not the only way we get our vitamins. There is one vitamin that we do not get from food. Vitamin D comes from the sun. Given the easy access to this abundant source, you would think that everyone would have ample levels of vitamin D – especially those living in Florida. Not so. In my practice in the Sunshine State, almost 40% of my patients are vitamin D deficient! Vitamin D is very important to life. To be honest, it is one of the vitamins that most impresses me. It prevents rickets by hardening the bones. Lack of vitamin D is a major cause of depression. It increases the immune system’s ability to fight diseases. Most diseases are easier to treat when the patient has higher levels of vitamin D. Neuropathy is a debilitating condition where a patient feels numbness and burning in the exterminates. It is a common side effect of chemotherapy. By increasing the vitamin D levels of these patients significantly, I have seen neuropathy from chemotherapy and diabetes go away within 6-8 weeks. I have experienced equal success when treating rheumatoid arthritis. Not only does the arthritic pain go away, but patients have noticed that the deformity caused by the disease is not as great. An impressive vitamin indeed!
But why is it that most Americans are deficient in this wonderful vitamin? The first reason is obvious – if you don’t live in a place that gets sunshine and you don’t get out into the sun enough, you don’t make vitamin D. Did you know that if you live above the latitude of Atlanta, GA, you cannot make any vitamin D from November through February? It’s no coincidence that people experience more depression and certain diseases in winter months in those northern states. Winter sun rays above this latitudinal line are weak because of the angle of the sun to the earth. Direct sunlight is required to make vitamin D. But even in sunny conditions, Americans often choose to remain indoors, and when they they do choose to go out, they are covered with sunblock or wear long sleeves to protect them from the sun.
Vitamins are essential for good health. When the body has certain vitamins in abundance, the body can do amazing things. Perhaps in an ideal world, under optimal conditions, there would be no need to take added vitamins. But we live in a toxic, stressful world, and we need to fight back by arming our bodies with essential vitamins and minerals to ward of disease, for healing, and to maintain good health.