Is there value in nutritional supplementation?

Are supplements unnecessary?  Do you get anything more than expensive urine by taking vitamins?  

Until the last decade, most of the medical community has been opposed to nutritional supplementation as being unnecessary and potentially harmful. Such medical doctors have argued that a balanced diet would provide all the nutrients necessary for good health.  However, recently, this stance has changed.  Research showing that elevated levels of a protein--homocysteine--in the blood is an independent cardiovascular risk factor and that these levels can be controlled through the addition of folic acid and B12 to the daily diet,(1)  has led many physicians and nutritionists to recommend that all individuals should take a daily multivitamin.(2)

Apart from the importance of preventing elevated homocysteine levels, we argue that there are many other benefits of taking nutritional supplements.  Many nutritional supplements have been shown to enhance health and help prevent various degenerative conditions, such as heart disease, osteoarthritis, and cancer.  Further, the current recommendations that, in order to get all the essential nutrients, each individual should consume a minimum of 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, makes vitamin supplementation necessary for most.  Only a small percentage of individuals are able to consume this amount of vegetables and fruits on a daily basis. Therefore, it makes sense to consume at least a high quality multivitamin/mineral supplement on a daily basis. Recommendations for additional supplements are made in the following section, Recommendations for Supplements.

There are other reasons for taking at least a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral on a daily basis, such as the Multigenics Intensive Care product that we sell at our office. Many vegetables and fruits are grown in soil that has been depleted by over farming. Therefore, that carrot you are eating may actually have less vitamin A than you are told in a book that lists nutrient levels. Pesticides and/or herbicides are often sprayed on fruits and vegetables, which may bind with minerals and make them unavailable for absorption. Many fruits and vegetables are irradiated and then stored in frozen containers before put on the shelf. Each process may deplete vitamin or mineral levels. Who knows what the effects of genetically modifying fruits and vegetables are?   

Furthermore, the RDA for levels of many nutrients are much lower than what might be optimal. This is because the RDA is based on levels of vitamins that prevent diseases, such as scurvy with respect to vitamin C.  With vitamin E, since there is no human disease associated with its deficiency, the RDA for vitamin E is based on rat fetal resorption rates.  Clearly, we do not take vitamin E supplements to ensure successful pregnancies for rats. We take vitamin E primarily as an antioxidant to counter all the free radicals present in our environment and for its potential benefit in preventing heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, and to strengthen the immune system.  


1. Malinow MR, Duell PB, Hess DL, et al. Reduction of plasma homocysteine levels by breakfast cereal fortified with folic acid in patients with coronary heart disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 1998; 338: 1009-1015.
2. Oakley GP. Eat right and take a multivitamin. New England Journal of Medicine. 1998; 338:1060-1061.