Are Vitamin Supplements Really Necessary?
How do you know if you are really deriving any benefit from your daily vitamin supplements? Is it really necessary to take all of these tablets and capsules, day after day?
Where’s the proof?
Well, the “proof” may or may not be so easy to come by, depending on the reason you are taking vitamin supplements. We can take nutritional supplements for three general reasons:
1. To prevent nutritional deficiency disease. If we do not get enough of the various vitamins and minerals, we will actually develop life-threatening diseases. Examples are scurvy, pellegra, beri beri, rickets, etc.
2. To ensure optimal health, vitality, and longevity. The amount of vitamin C necessary to prevent the overt symptoms of scurvy, for example, may not be the amount needed for optimal tissue health. Is there really a sharp line between scurvy and optimal health? Of course not. I will elaborate on this in just a moment.
3. To treat a health problem. Vitamins and minerals can be used, usually in larger doses, as therapeutic agents. When we take 500 mg of Niacin several times a day, for example, to lower elevated cholesterol, the Niacin is not functioning as a food, or a nutrient. Instead, it is a therapeutic agent. The same can be said for using Glucosamine to treat arthritis, vitamin B6 to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, alpha lipoic acid to treat diabetes, or high doses of vitamin B2 for migraines.
Proof is easy to come by in the first instance. We have pretty much eradicated the various deficiency diseases by adjusting diet, fortifying foods with nutrients, and taking supplements, at least in the more developed parts of the world. Someone who begins to exhibit the symptoms of scurvy will rapidly improve when given vitamin C. The only argument here is whether or not a proper diet is sufficient, or if supplementation is necessary. In an ideal world, we would like to think that a proper diet is enough. But this is far from an ideal world. Few people are actually able or willing to eat a “proper diet.” And even if they could, and would, we still have the problem of increased pollution, stress, and environmental hazards.
What may be a “proper diet” for one person may not be at all sufficient for an airline stewardess, for example, who spends most of her working hours exposed to high levels of radiation, and aviation fuel hydrocarbons. A proper diet for a farmer in Idaho may be far from sufficient for the person living in Manhattan, or smog-dense Los Angeles.
And proof is easy to come by in the last instance, treating health problems. Why? Because you can see the results. People with arthritis can readily see the improvement when they supplement with glucosamine, chondroitin and/or MSM. People with high blood pressure can readily see the results of supplementation with magnesium, calcium, coQ10, taurine, garlic and/or arginine. People with carpal tunnel syndrome can readily see the improvement when they supplement with vitamin B6.
Not only do people see the results every day, when using vitamins and minerals as therapeutic agents, but research is also being published in well respected peer-reviewed medical journals. NIH is now funded to support ongoing research. The government has been increasing the recommended daily intakes of various nutrients.
I mentioned vitamin B2 as a therapeutic treatment for migraine headaches. Using that as an example, one group of researchers treated 49 migraine patients with large amounts of vitamin B2, or riboflavin (400 mg per day). Both the frequency and severity of migraines decreased by more than two-thirds. In a follow-up study, also double-blind, the same researchers found that 59% of patients receiving vitamin B2 had at least a 50% reduction in the number of headache days, whereas only 15% of those receiving a placebo experienced that degree of improvement. The beneficial effects of vitamin B2 s