Like most women, you probably think you are being really health conscious by taking your daily vitamins; however, there are some very important facts about supplements that may make you think twice before swallowing those little pills. For most of my life I have taken supplements, including the Flintstone vitamins when I was little. Yet, a couple of years ago I started wondering if the vitamins were actually making me healthier. I began researching supplements, and what I discovered was shocking. Being «good» and taking your daily vitamins might actually be harmful to your health!
Many supplements contain unnecessary ingredients known as fillers that bind the supplements together or provide bulk to meet the necessary volume. The problem with these fillers is that they can actually be dangerous and you don’t know how much you are getting when you take a supplement! One common filler is magnesium stearate which is a chalky powder derived from the very same hydrogenated oil you try to avoid in your diet. Magnesium stearate can harm your immune system by suppressing your T-cells, and it can prevent nutrients from being absorbed by creating a biofilm in the digestive tract. Other fillers include microcrystalline cellulose which is often derived from wood pulp, and titanium dioxide which can possibly cause autoimmune disorders. Knowing that these fillers can be so harmful you might want to try and avoid them when taking your daily vitamins by looking at ingredient labels very carefully.
2. Food Dye
If you read the ingredients of your supplements you will often find that they are colored with food dye. A common dye found in supplements is blue number 2, which is a known carcinogenic and has been shown to cause tumors in rats. Red number 3 is also a carcinogen found in supplements that has been banned by the FDA for topical use, but is still allowed in foods and oral medications. Other dyes commonly used in supplements that are also carcinogens and/or cause allergic reactions include yellow number 5, yellow number 6, red number 40, green number 3, and blue number 1. In Europe many of these dyes are banned, but if you live in the United States read your ingredient labels and stay away from supplements with these dyes.
I recently read a news report about contaminants in supplements that absolutely horrified me. The independent inspection agency, Consumer Labs, has found that some calcium supplements contain unsafe levels of lead and most calcium supplements contain trace amounts! As a woman I am very diligent about taking my daily calcium supplement, and was utterly alarmed that lead could even be detected in calcium. Instead of grabbing the cheapest bottle of calcium I now research reports about lead contamination prior to purchasing calcium. Lead is not the only contaminant that has been found in vitamins. Other contaminants that have been found include anabolic steroids and even prescription drugs!
4. Synthetically Derived Ingredients
Most vitamin and mineral supplements are derived from synthetic ingredients that I would never consider eating, but for a long time I was consuming these ingredients in my supplements. When was the last time you looked at coal and thought it would be good to eat? I haven’t thought it would be tasty either, but it is in synthetically derived vitamin B1 and can cause damage by accumulating in joints! Synthetic vitamin B6 is made from petroleum ester, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde, which isn’t readily absorbed in the body and inhibits absorption of natural B6. Refined oils, which I avoid in my diet, are found in synthetic vitamin E supplements, which also aren’t absorbed well and are actually expelled from the body like toxins!
5. Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMOs)
Because I don’t know what the long term effects of GMOs are, I try to avoid them when I can, but I was shocked to learn that GMOs are even in supplements. For instance, synthetic vitamin C is made from GMO derived corn sugar that is hydrogenated and processed with acetone. Synthetic vitamin B2 is made from fermenting acetic acid and nitrogen with GMO bacteria, and it is quickly removed from the body since the body doesn’t recognize it. Genetically modified soybean oil is found in synthetic vitamin K2, which is highly toxic and damages the immune system. Foods and supplements that have GMOs are not required to be labeled in the US, but I try to stay away from the ingredients that I do know are genetically modified.
6. Questionable Effectiveness
I used to take vitamins thinking they would truly benefit my health; however, I have learned that actual long term effectiveness of vitamins is questionable. A study for the Women’s Health Initiative found that 42% of the women who regularly took multivitamins had no difference in heart attack occurrence, stroke occurrence, or mortality compared with women who did not take vitamins. Another study which analyzed 8 clinical trials found that the elderly who took vitamins had the same number of infections compared to those who didn’t take vitamins. Both of these studies demonstrate that supplements are not a cure all or insurance policy. In reality, supplements may have little long term effect!
7. Too Little or Too Much of Individual Vitamins
Although it is really easy to take one daily multivitamin, the problem with multivitamins is they don’t provide nutrients in proper amounts. Often, they have too little magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D, or vitamin K2. Conversely, multivitamins tend to have too much vitamin A, manganese, iron, copper, or selenium which can lead to toxicity creating real problems. When I found this out, I realized multivitamins are like the porridge in Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. Some of the vitamins and minerals come in too big a dose, some come in too small a dose, and some are just right, which means that if I am going to take vitamins I am much better off taking individual vitamins in the proper amounts.
8. Optimal Ratios
Eating a healthy diet provides nutrients in the right balance, but supplements can contribute to an unhealthy imbalance. Vitamins and minerals work together. If you have too much of one vitamin or mineral and not enough of another you might not get much benefit from either one leading to problems down the road. Zinc and copper provide an excellent example of this Sonny and Cher relationship between nutrients. If you are getting too much zinc without enough copper you may actually be contributing to your risk of Alzheimer’s! When I read this I did a double take and realized vitamins and minerals should be taken with care.
9. Whole Foods Are Best
Your body recognizes nutrients from food and it readily absorbs them. However, often times the body can’t take in synthetic vitamins and frequently expels them. This is why synthetic B vitamins turn pee such a brilliant yellow. Your body is flushing out the synthetic vitamins because it doesn’t recognize them as nutrients. Whole foods provide you with nutrients in the right proportions that help make you healthy. It is also possible that there are nutrients in food that haven’t even been discovered yet, which do wonderful things for the body!
Supplements have become so common that I used to not even think twice when I took my vitamins and minerals. Yet, when I actually stopped to learn about the supplements I was taking I was shocked that they might actually be harming me. Now, I much prefer to get my nutrition from food, but when I do take a supplement I research it thoroughly. Are you as surprised as I was that supplements can contain harmful ingredients and improper amounts of vitamins and minerals?
Sources: articles.mercola.com, foodbabe.com, sunwarrior.com, consumerlab.com, Jaminet, Paul and Shou-Ching. Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Loss Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat. New York: Scribner, 2012. Print