Are Vitamins Effective and Worth the Cost?

Christina Lasich, MD Health Pro May 06, 2010
  • In these times of cost savings, maybe you find yourself asking whether or not vitamins or worth it. Do vitamins really help prevent disease? Do vitamins really help you live longer? Are vitamins really worth it? These questions may be on your mind because if a vitamin is not effective, then paying for a vitamin would make no sense at all.

     

    Before you decide, take a look at the history of vitamins. A vitamin is defined as "any of a group of organic substances essential in small quantities to normal metabolism". These essential organic substances were discovered when the diseases of vitamin deficiency became evident. One such disease is scurvy. Scurvy is causes from a lack of vitamin C and was typically found in sailors/soldiers who went months without fresh fruits and vegetables. Once discovered, all ships were supplied with limes and lemons. Another vitamin was discovered with the epidemics of pellagra and beriberi. These diseases are caused by a vitamin B deficiency. Widespread vitamin B deficiency started with the advent of white flour production which strips the natural nutrients from the grain. The vitamin B discovery was really the first of many discoveries linking the industrialization of food production with vitamin deficiencies.

     

    In fact, since the 1950's the USDA studies have shown a decline in nutrient content in 43 crops. According to Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, "you have to eat 3 apples to get the same amount of iron as you would have gotten from a single 1940 apple". The industrialization of food production has caused a substantial drop in nutrient content in the basic building blocks of your diet. Some research has shown that plants grown with industrial fertilizers are nutritionally inferior compared to the same crop grown in organic soils. Maybe it is the root systems which tend to be shallower in quickly, cheaply grown crops. Or maybe it is the lack of soil nutrients. Either way, the modern, industrial supply of fruits and vegetables are deficient in many organic substances essential in small quantities to normal metabolism-vitamins.

     

    So back to the question at hand; are vitamins worth the extra expense? If you have fire insurance for your house, then the expense is probably worth it. If you have automobile insurance, then the expense is probably worth it. The point here is that vitamins are like an insurance policy against diet gaps. Sure, ideally you should be getting all the nutrients you need in the food that you eat. In reality, you are probably not. Now, the skeptics will point out that vitamins are not perfect replacements for the natural nutrient. Take for example vitamin E which is a complex of eight different molecules. Only one vitamin E molecule is found in most vitamins. So, the vitamin world is not perfect. But if you wait for more research and medical certainty, you will be dead. Better to buy some insurance now, to avoid problems in the future. Vitamins are worth it and not a big scam.

     

    Which vitamins are best? That depends on who you ask. Dr. Andrew Weil pushes his own brand. Then there are the Juice Plus supporters. But here are some basic guidelines:

    • Vitamin A should be as beta carotene
    • Vitamin B6 and B12 should be at least 50mg each
    • Folic Acid should be 400 IU
    • Vitamin D should be at least 400 IU (but you should supplement that to a total of 1000 IU)
    • Iron is necessary if you are a menstruating woman
    • Calcium should be a calcium citrate
    • Magnesium should be included
    • Take the multi-vitamin with a little dietary fat to insure the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin D

     

    Editor's Note: Check out these quizzes on Vitamins and where to find them naturally

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