Vitamin and mineral supplements
What do you need to know?
By Judy Torel
You can’t get your micronutrients from foods anymore, the soil is too depleted!
Avoid getting sick!
Boost your immune system!
This is just a small sampling of the advertising and marketing claims for vitamin and mineral supplements. With all the amazing claims, who wouldn’t take them? But what are vitamins and minerals in actuality? And what is the downside, if any, of taking them? Do they really do all that the manufacturers claim? And do we have to be leery of any safety issues?
Vitamins and minerals are found in the foods that nature provides for humans to eat. They are needed in small and steady amounts for growth, function and health. They are called the micronutrients verses the macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat and water) because we need smaller amounts, but they are inherently important to the healthy functioning of a human body. Your body cannot produce most of them, which makes it necessary to get them from our food.
Vitamins are needed for growth, digestion and nerve function. They participate in processes that enable your body to metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fats into energy and are instrumental in cellular repair throughout the body. Vitamins also facilitate the removal of waste products from oxidative damage within the body, which is why certain vitamins like A and E are also known as antioxidants. Vitamins provide no calories and therefore do not directly provide energy to the body.
Minerals are necessary parts of our bones and teeth and help regulate the nervous system and balance fluid in the body. They also help deliver oxygen to cells, remove waste products and are involved in muscle contractions. Too little or too much of these substances can result in illness or death as happens when athletes deplete sodium to the point where their nervous system fails. They don’t provide calories or directly supply energy
to the body, which only the macronutrients
There is a question as to whether it is necessary to supplement our diets with vitamins and minerals or if we can get what we need from our food supply. One side of the argument is that due to depletion of soil from mass agricultural practices, our foods do not contain enough vitamins and minerals for highest human health. It is also argued that foods are picked unripe and then ripen enroute to distant retailers, therefore lacking in micronutrients. Manufactured, refined food products are said to be stripped of their micronutrients, making supplementation necessary.
On the other side of the argument, experts say that eating fresh, natural foods will supply all that we need and supplementation is unnecessary. Until the debate is decided unequivocally, many medical experts recommend taking a daily vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that Americans are getting appropriate amounts of these micronutrients.
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA’s) for each micronutrient were established by the Food and Nutrition Board of The Institute of Medicine in 1968. These values have been revised over the years; more so recently within the newer Dietary Reference Intakes, which include the current RDA’s and UL, or upper limits, for 46 micronutrients (upper limits are the maximum amount recommended before negative conditions may begin to appear). For instance, it has recently been shown that too much vitamin E may compromise the immune system. For a complete listing of RDA’s and UL’s go to www.crnusa.org.
Vitamin and mineral supplements will list what percentage of the current RDA the supplement contains. When purchasing a supplement it is important to look for a brand that does not exceed 100 percent of the RDA for all minerals and the fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. We intake micronutrients from the foods we eat and now many of our foods contain supplementation. Over-supplementation is becoming more of a concern as more of our foods are fortified with added micronutrients and additional supplementation. An example is the current rage, Vitamin Water. If you eat many products that have additional supplementation you may want to reconsider regular consumption of a vitamin/mineral supplement.
Supplements are considered food and not drugs by the Food and Drug Administration. The current laws governing the regulation of foods are less strict than the laws for drugs. Research studies using people to prove a supplement’s safety are not required for a micronutrient supplement. The manufacturer does not have to prove supplement quality, nor does it analyze the content of micronutrient supplements. What this means is that you may not be getting what it says you are getting on the label.
Supplement manufacturers do have to meet the requirements of the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices for foods. This means the supplement must be manufactured in a facility that meets certain standards for conditions in which it is prepared, packed and stored, but not for what is in it. Terms such as “standardized”, “verified” or “certified” do not guarantee quality or consistency in a supplement.
USP on a label means that the manufacturer met the standards for strength, purity, disintegration and dissolution as established by the US Pharmacopoeia testing organization. Look for USP and GMP on supplement labels.
Bottom line: take a vitamin and mineral supplement if you eat many refined foods that are not fortified or if you eat fresh, real, natural foods, but want to hedge your bets that you are getting adequate nutrition. If you eat many supplemented foods then you may not need an additional supplement, although a supplement or fortified foods will never replace the micronutrient content in fresh, real foods. Look for nutritional amounts that do not exceed 100 percent of the RDA’s and that contain USP and GMP on the label. Do not assume the FDA has found the product safe; it doesn’t have the same safety standards as it does for drugs. l
Judy Torel is a therapist/personal trainer with a Master’s degree in psychology. She is certified through the American College of Sports Medicine as a fitness trainer and works out of Planet Fitness and Deb's Sweat Shop Extension. She can be reached at JTOREL2263@yahoo.com