I take a lot of vitamins, somewhere between 10–15 pills a day. When I shared this with my doctor he replied, “Congratulations, you have the most expensive urine in the city.” This seems to be the opinion of most American doctors: vitamins are a waste of money. My own doctor said there’s little scientific evidence vitamins do anything positive for your health.
Despite these views, Americans take more vitamins than ever before. According to the online site statistica.com, US vitamin and supplement sales exceeded $35 billion in 2016, up five percent from the previous year. Retail food markets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s report an overall gross profit margin of 35 percent but their vitamin and supplement sales are closer to 50 percent.
The American Medical Association recently reversed their long-standing anti-vitamin stance and began recommending multivitamin supplements for all adults. Popular doctors like Andrew Weil and Mehmet Oz tout vitamins as a crucial part of our health arsenal. Weil says that vitamin intake “is a constant process of trial and error. My body changes and I read up on the medical literature and then I adjust what I take.”
It used to be that a healthy diet provided all the vitamins we needed. But a carrot today is not the same as a carrot from 1975. Soil depletion has stripped fruits and vegetables of the nutrients they once possessed. A 2004 study by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found “reliable declines” in the percentage of proteins, calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B and phosphorous in 43 different fruits and vegetables. The researchers attributed this to modern agricultural practices formulated to increase crop yield and pest resistance.
It’s important to note that not all vitamins are created equal. Fish oil, for example, an important source of Omega-3 fatty acids (shown to prevent heart disease and stroke), can be toxic. Since fish oils are derived from the fatty tissue of fish, they often contain heavy metals like cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic. These chemicals are not only carcinogenic, they can lead to cognitive impairment, nervous system dysfunction and organ damage. Many nutritionists recommend fish oil derived from krill or extra-virgin cod-liver oil. Both sources contain an abundance of anti-oxidants and lower levels of toxic metals.
Some doctors recommend a daily multivitamin under the guise of “it can’t hurt.” Unfortunately, multivitamins are often “synthetic” or made of lesser quality ingredients. Nutritionists recommend “naturally derived” vitamins found in food. They also suggest that you take vitamins with solid food. Vitamins like B3 and B12 can induce nausea if taken on any empty stomach.
As a man in his 50’s, my own daily vitamin regimen includes Vitamin C, Vitamin B Complex, Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin E, Calcium-Magnesium, Turmeric, Vitamin D3 and Fish Oil. I take digestive enzymes and acidophilus with every meal. After long hikes or bike rides, I take MSM and Glucosamine to prevent sore joints and muscles. If my mood is down, I increase my Vitamin B12. If I feel a cold coming, I take Zinc, Garlic and Golden Seal as well as extra Vitamin C. During the COVID, nearly all doctors recommend Vitamin D3 to boost the immune system.
Most of my family and friends incorporate vitamins into their diet. A buddy with an enlarged prostate takes Saw Palmetto and Pumpkin Seed. A cousin with high-blood pressure takes Coenzyme Q10, Calcium Magnesium and Fish Oil. A neighbor with anemia takes Vitamin B12, Vitamin C and chelated Iron. My paternal grandparents were obsessive vitamin takers. As a child I watched them crush dozens of vitamin tablets into a powdery pulp that they ate with a spoon. Their behavior seemed odd but they both lived into their 90s with good health.
The pharmaceutical industry has long wanted to gain control over the vitamin and supplement markets that they view as their biggest competitor. In the 2012 documentary War On Health, filmmaker Gary Null exposed the attempts by the Food and Drug Administration (40 percent funded by Big Pharma) to enact laws to cripple the vitamin and supplement industry. The film depicts the FDA’s efforts to harass natural supplement producers and to ban the dissemination of certain information about the benefits of vitamins and nutritional supplements.
Obviously, we can’t simply take a pill to solve all our health issues. A daily vitamin regimen should be combined with a healthy diet, exercise, sleep and ample amounts of clean drinking water. With increasing costs of medical care and health insurance and ongoing political efforts to repeal Obamacare, it’s crucial that we take our health into our own hands. With the help of vitamins we can all strive to live by the invocation “Heal Thyself.”