By Michael A. Smith, MD
Sure, relying exclusively on food may keep you from developing vitamin deficiencies, but a dietary approach alone is not going to come close to optimizing your health.
In this post, we’ll look at just a few of the reasons we believe supplementing your diet with vitamins and minerals is a smart move. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should be taking supplements yourself, this post is for you.
Reason #1: Poor Soil Conditions Equal Less Nutritious FoodDr. Bernard Jensen was a world-renowned clinical nutritionist who once said that a tomato today is not the same as a tomato from 100 years ago. What he was referring to is the poor conditions of our soil in this day and age.
The first U.S. soil surveys were completed in the 1920s. They all concluded that our soil was depleted of key nutrients like nitrates and carbonates. These soil nutrients are necessary for the growth of healthy crops and ultimately, nutrient-dense food. And that was way back in the 1920s.
So what’s been done since then to improve the conditions of our soil? Well, not much. In the 1930s and 40s, following the Great Dust Bowl, farmers planted soy to reinvigorate top soil. This helped to some extent but certainly not to the degree needed.
Since then, farmers have had to incorporate chemicals into the soil to rapidly improve growth potential. And while this may help to grow crops, it doesn’t necessarily grow healthy crops. The natural conclusion then would be to look toward organically grown fruits and vegetables.
Although we believe that organic produce would be a healthier choice in terms of pesticides, it doesn’t ensure that you’ll be eating nutrient-rich food. Why? Because organic soil is just as devoid of nutrients as chemically treated soil is.
The bottom line is this: Poor soil produces poor crops, and poor crops produce nutrient-depleted food.
Reason #2: Extra Protection Against our Increasingly Toxic EnvironmentWe live in an increasingly toxic environment these days. Chemical toxins from the air, water and soil all help to create a destructive, oxidative environment inside of us. Most of these environmental toxins are highly reactive oxygen molecules that build up over time, creating what’s called oxidative stress. As a matter of fact, oxidative stress is one of the leading theories behind aging itself.
Antioxidants help to reduce oxidative stress. Our bodies intrinsically synthesize some antioxidants, but most of them come from dietary sources, like dark-colored fruits and vegetables. However, once again, this brings us back to the condition of our soil. Can we rely solely on dietary sources of antioxidants given the fact that crops around the world are producing nutrient-poor foods?
So how can we increase our intake of antioxidants? The answer is (you guessed it) … supplements. A high-quality antioxidant formula can offer protection to help counter the effects our toxic environment — something that food alone cannot easily provide these days.
Reason #3: Supplements Put Optimal Nutrient Dosing Within ReachThe recommended daily allowance or RDA for vitamin C is 75 to 100 mg a day. This is just enough vitamin C to keep you from developing scurvy — a skin condition resulting from a vitamin C deficiency. But here’s the big point: Vitamin C can do so much more than just prevent scurvy.
By reaching an optimal daily dose of 2,000 mg, vitamin C becomes a powerful antioxidant that strengthens your immune system1,2, supports your cardiovascular system3,4 and optimizes your overall health. Hitting the RDA alone simply isn’t going to deliver those benefits.
Now let’s say you’re not interested in supplements and you want to reach the optimal dose from food sources alone. Here are some common food sources and the amount of vitamin C per serving they contain:
- Papaya – 70 mg
- Kiwi – 70 mg
- Green peppers – 65 mg
- Citrus fruit – 35-60 mg
- Strawberries – 49 mg
- Blueberries – 45 mg
- Apples – 25 mg
This is another reason why supplementation is so important. Being able to confidently reach optimal dosing levels on a regular basis just isn’t realistic otherwise.
The bottom line is this: If you’re looking for a practical way to get optimal amounts of a wide variety of nutrients into your diet, supplements are a great solution. Many of us simply can’t afford the time or money to hunt and gather nutrient-rich produce on a daily basis.
Should You Take Nutritional Supplements?Still not sure if you should be taking supplements? We understand if you’re on the fence. Without an industry capable of spending “big pharma” dollars to fund massive clinical trials, it’s hard to convince mass media to relay the truth. And without mass media support … well, you know how that story goes.
Bruce Ames, professor of Biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior scientist at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), suggests that "to maximize human health and lifespan, scientists must abandon outdated models of micronutrients" and that "a metabolic tune-up through an improved supply of micronutrients is likely to have great health benefits."5
We agree with Bruce and for now, we’re going to have to rely on the wealth of research that is available, shared personal experiences, and common sense. Is that enough for you in the meantime? It certainly is for us.
- Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94.
- Med. 2004 Nov;169(11):920-921
- Circulation. 2001 Oct 30;104(18):2182-7.
- J Hypertens. 2000 Apr;18(4):411-5.
- EMBO Rep. 6 Spec No: S20–4.
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