Seven Arguments for Taking Nutritional Supplements

Sept. 20, 2018; by Dag Viljen Poleszynski, PhD (OMNS Sept 12 2018) One of the most vitamin-restrictive countries in the world is Norway. There, authorities limit potencies to only slightly higher than RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) levels for dietary supplements sold outside of pharmacies. The traditional reasoning is that most people receive the nutrients they need from a “balanced diet.” [1] The authorities are also obsessively concerned that some vitamins and minerals are harmful in high doses. And, since an intake of water-soluble vitamins in excess of needs is excreted in the urine, Norwegian “experts” advise that taking supplements is a waste of money. Accordingly, the argument goes, the public should be protected not only from possible harm, but also from wasting money on unnecessary nutrients. The official policies on nutritional supplements vary within OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. Some are more liberal, while others are even more restrictive.

The official view on the connection between nutrient intake and possible toxicity is illustrated by the Norwegian Food Authority in a graph. [2]

Perceived risk from intake of nutrients. (Source: Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals. Safe upper limits for Vitamins and Minerals. May 2003: Food Standards Agency, UK.)

The graph illustrates the official view on nutrients, assuming that nutrients function in the same way as pharmaceuticals, which they do not. Supplements of most vitamins, but also minerals and other nutrients, do not have very serious side effects even when taken at very high levels – in contrast with most drugs. [3,4] The fact that most of the chemotherapeutic drugs used against cancer have none or even just marginal effects against most cancers [5], while at the same time cause a lot of serious side effects, is rarely up for discussion.

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The idea that nutritional supplements are not safe has a legal underpinning in Norwegian Food Law, which in section 16 prohibits sale of any food which is not safe: “Any food shall be considered not to be safe if it is seen as detrimental to health or not fit for consumption.” [6]

However, the Norwegian authorities do admit that vitamin D supplements are needed during part of the year. [1] Only part of the year? One third of Norway is within the Arctic Circle. Norway has far too little sunshine (especially during winter months) to get adequate levels of vitamin D from UVB radiation on the skin. The authorities also recommend that pregnant women take folic acid to prevent birth defects, and omega-3-fatty acids may be advisable for those who do not eat fish regularly. Norwegians have a long tradition of giving children cod liver oil, which in a daily tablespoon provides enough vitamin A and D and essential fatty acids to cover basic needs.

Essential and conditionally essential nutrients

There are thousands of dietary supplements on the market, including 40+ essential nutrients alone and in various combinations, i.e. vitamins, minerals, trace elements and fatty acids. However, a number of other nutrients are “conditionally essential”, meaning that the body normally can make these molecules, but some people do not make optimal amounts. Examples are L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, the methyl donor betaine, [7] chondroitin sulfate, coenzyme Q10, choline, amino acids such as tyrosine or arginine, and “essential” sugars normally formed in the body. [8]

Healthy young people normally make sufficient amounts of conditionally essential molecules in the body, although the levels are not always optimal. With inadequate levels of minerals or vitamins, key enzymes in biochemical pathways may not function optimally. Due to genetic mutations, some enzymes may have increased needs for certain cofactors (vitamins), which can prevent them from functioning optimally.[9] Some enzymes only function normally when supplied with cofactors in greater amounts than normally required. If supplements of essential nutrients prove insufficient for optimal enzyme function, “conditionally essential” nutrients may be added as part of a comprehensive, therapeutic program.

Some reservations

Parents are advised to become familiar with the literature on essential nutrients, for instance by consulting the Orthomolecular News Service. Children should be given supplements in appropriate doses and in a suitable form. Pills should not be given before children can control the swallowing reflex. Multivitamin powder can be given dissolved in water or juice. Parents should not dose vitamin C so high that a child comes to school or kindergarten with loose bowels or diarrhea. In high doses, niacin may cause unpleasant side effects such as flushing and itching lasting up to several hours. [10] Although this is not dangerous, it may cause a child to feel unwell and anxious. Starting niacin supplementation with a low dose and gradually increasing it will allow the body to adapt and avoid the niacin flush. A multivitamin supplement containing moderate amounts of niacin is often adequate until a child is 8-10 years old. For younger children, the dosage should start with only a few tens of milligrams, and not increased to more than 50-100 mg/day. Adults may gradually get used to taking 1,000-1,500 mg/d divided into 3 doses per day.

When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids (omega = ω) such as EPA and DHA, children may be given cod liver oil and served fish and/or other seafood 2-3 times a week. It is important to check the dose of vitamin A supplied, as it can be toxic in high doses, especially for children. One problem with cod liver oil today is that vitamin D has been removed during processing, thus changing the natural ratio of the two vitamins so that we ingest relatively too much of vitamin A. [11]

Higher dosages may be given after having consulted a therapist who has measured the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in relevant cell membranes (red blood cells). In most industrialized countries, many people get too much of the omega-6 fatty acids, and would therefore benefit from eating more seafood or taking supplements with omega-3 fatty acids derived from organisms low in the food chain (algae, krill). Flax seeds contain a high level of the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, and freshly ground flaxseed meal or flax oil can be mixed with breakfast cereals or smoothies. Note that it may be advisable to limit eating farmed fish to once per week, since their fodder contains less omega-3 fatty acids than the food eaten by wild fish, and possibly also contains more contaminants. [12] Some researchers even warn against letting children eat too much fish because of the content of environmental toxins. [13,14]

Reasons for high-dose supplements of micronutrients

I have identified a number of arguments in favor of supplementing the modern diet with essential nutrients, here summarized with 7 headlines. Most people should consider taking a multivitamin supplement containing vitamins and minerals even if they eat a nutritionally balanced diet. Additional nutrients may contribute to better health and, in some cases, can be of vital importance in our modern world. The arguments are presented in random order, i.e. the order does not reflect priority.

  1. The agricultural revolution has reduced food quality

The transition from an existence as hunter and gatherers to urban agriculture around 10,000 years ago began an epoch when foods were mass-produced but had lower nutritional density, compared with the previous food eaten by our ancestors. The nutritional density in many foods has fallen significantly since human societies transformed from hunter-gatherers into resident farmers. This is especially true in the last 60-70 years after agriculture was changed from small, versatile ecologically driven family farms to large, chemical-based, industrial agriculture. [15] The reduction of nutritional content in modern crops, compared with older varieties, is well documented. [16] It is a consequence of soil erosion, loss of essential minerals from continual heavy use, combined with breeding of new varieties, which has increased the size and growth rate of plants by increasing the content of sugar and water and decreasing their mineral content compared to ancient species. At the same time, the relative content of other macronutrients (fat, protein/amino acids) and antioxidants may have been reduced.

Reduced nutritional density in many foods, combined with the use of refined “foods” like sugar, white flour and refined oils, places a greater priority on eating the most nutritious foods. Farm produce grown organically generally has higher levels of essential nutrients such as trace minerals because the soil contains higher levels of trace minerals and the produce grows slower and thus has more time to absorb nutrients from the soil. Examples of nutrient dense foods are sardines, wild salmon, shellfish, eggs, liver, kale, collards and spinach, sea plants (seaweed), garlic, blueberries, and dark chocolate. [17]

  1. Nutritional content of food varies with geographical location

Nutritional density varies considerably geographically between different regions, even with the same agricultural methods. This was documented in the United States in 1948 by a researcher at Rutgers University in the so-called Firman Bear report. [18] At that time agriculture was little mechanized, and artificial fertilizers and pesticides were hardly used. The analysis found large differences in the content of minerals in the same food. The largest variations were found for potassium, sodium, boron and iron in spinach, while the greatest differences in calcium, magnesium and copper content were found in tomatoes.

The soil in areas with relatively low rainfall may in some cases contain an extremely high concentration of minerals, which is reflected in the plants growing there. This was well documented 70 years ago in the book Tomorrow’s Food. [19] The Dentist George W. Heard found that the soil in Hereford, Texas, was exceptionally rich in minerals.[20] Hereford became known as the “town without a toothache” after a newspaper article from January 29, 1942, reported that Hereford had the lowest incidence of tooth decay of any city in the United States. [21] Heard found that people in Hereford had exceptionally few dental cavities and also that the soil locally was especially rich in minerals. He emphasized that the population in the county ate unprocessed food and was drinking raw milk. [19]

Recent research shows that differences in the content of the selenium in the soil can cause major differences in the concentration of selenium in meat. [22] For instance, since the soil in Finland is poor in selenium, the authorities decided in the early 1980s to add selenate to commercial fertilizers. A survey of selenium status among 108 healthy young people showed an increase in the blood selenium level of about 50 percent after four years. [23]

A similar problem with the level of minerals in the soil exists for the content of magnesium. Often when the soil gets depleted of magnesium from heavy use, this essential mineral is not included in soil amendment with fertilizers. Produce grown in soil with an adequate level of magnesium will contain more magnesium than produce grown in soil deficient in magnesium. Perhaps as many as 70-80% of the US population is magnesium-deficient, which causes many health problems. [24] Magnesium supplements (chloride, malate or citrate) can provide an adequate level when vegetables grown in soil with adequate magnesium are not available.

  1. Stress and the modern lifestyle increase the need for nutrients

Mental stress increases the excretion and hence the need for many nutrients. Among the most important are magnesium and vitamin C, both of which are used by the body in larger quantities during periods of physical and mental stress. [24,25] Compared with our past as hunters and gatherers, today´s stress is often of a more permanent nature. Instead of experiencing occasional situations where we had to fight or flee, many of us live with recurring stress day in and out.

Vitamin C protects the brain and nervous system from damage caused by stress because the synthesis and maintenance of chemical neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and noradrenaline requires adequate levels of vitamin C. [25] Vitamin C is also needed to repair collagen which is essential for skin, blood vessels, bones and joints, and muscles. When these are damaged by physical stress, extra vitamin C is necessary. A controlled trial of 91 adults who experienced increased anxiety and stress 2-3 months after an earthquake in New Zealand in 2011 was divided into three groups, two were given a broad spectrum supplement of micronutrients in low or higher doses. [26] The supplements were found to alleviate the experience of stress, with the biggest dose having the biggest effect.

Our sedate, modern lifestyle reduces the need for energy from food, which implies a lower food intake or obesity. Loren Cordain, PhD, and coworkers have estimated that hunter-gatherers had significantly higher energy needs than the typical modern office worker. [27] A lower energy intake generally reduces the absolute intake of all nutrients, while the need for some nutrients is not always reduced proportionally with energy intake. Overall this suggests that more exercise along with a more nutritious diet, including supplements of essential nutrients and less carbohydrates, will help to prevent obesity and maintain health.

Processing of food reduces its nutritional content, and the finished products are often based on fractions of the original foods. One example is milling grain to make white flour, [1] which has a lower nutritional density than whole grain flour. The reduction in nutritional value has accelerated since whole foods are now divided into pieces, for example, boneless chicken breast. When meat is injected with saline to increase the volume, the relative level of essential nutrients is reduced. In the United States, many supermarkets in low-income rural and inner city areas have a limited selection of nutrient-dense foods, compared with high-income areas. [28]

REASONS 4-7 TOMORROW—>

(Dag Viljen Poleszynski, PhD, is the editor of Helsemagasinet [Health Magazine] https://vof.no/arkiv/ . He has translated and published a large number of OMNS releases in Norwegian.)

References:

  1. National Nutrition Council. Dietary advice to promote public health and prevent chronic disease. Directorate of Health, Oslo January 2011.
  2. [Norwegian Food Authority. Nutritional supplements – a situational description.] Oslo 2013. http://www.matportalen.no/kosthold_og_helse/tema/kosttilskudd/article32116.ece/BINARY/Kosttilskudd%20-%20en%20tilstandsbeskrivelse
  3. Moore TJ, Cohen MR, Furberg CD. Serious adverse drug events reported to the Food and Drug Administration, 1998-2005. Archives of Internal Medicine 2007; 167: 1752-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17846394.
  4. Gøtzsche PC. Our prescription drugs kill us in large numbers. Polskie Archiwum Medycyny Wewnetrznej 2014; 124: 628-33. http://pamw.pl/en/issue/article/25355584
  5. Abel U. [Chemotherapy of advanced carcinomas. A critical inventory] 2nd edition. Stuttgart, Germany: Hippokrates Verlag GmbH, 1995.
  6. [Law on food production and food safety, etc. (The Food Law)]. https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/2003-12-19-124 (24.5.2018).
  7. Craig SAS. Betaine in human nutrition. Am J Hum Nutrition 2004; 80: 539-49. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/80/3/539/4690529 (8.23.2018)
  8. Elkins R. Miracle sugars. North Orem, Utah: Woodland Publishing, 2003. http://www.woodlandpublishing.com. ISBN-13: 978-1580543675
  9. Ames BN, Elson-Schwab I, Silver EA. High-dose vitamin therapy stimulates variant enzymes with decreased coenzyme binding affinity (increases Km): relevance to genetic disease and polymorphisms. Am J Clin Nutrition 2002; 75: 616-68. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/75/4/616/4689367
  10. Hoffer A. Orthomolecular treatment for schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Toronto, Canada: The International Schizophrenia Foundation, 2011. http://www.orthomed.org
  11. Weston A. Price Foundation. A Response to Dr. Joe Mercola on Cod Liver Oil. April 30, 2009. https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/cod-liver-oil/a-response-to-dr-joe-mercola-on-cod-liver-oil/
  12. Leech J. Wild vs Framed Salmon – Can Some Fish Be Bad for You? Healthline, June 4, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/wild-vs-farmed-salmon
  13. Sætre S, Østli K. [Children pay the price for Norwegian dietary advice] Morgenbladet 5.11.2018. https://morgenbladet.no/aktuelt/2018/05/barna-betaler-prisen-norske-kostholdsrad
  14. [For after thought – foods with environmental toxins.] https://spiseforaaleve.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/til-ettertanke-mat-med-miljogifter/comment-page-1/ (9.2.2018)
  15. Grossman K. The truth about nutrient dense foods that nobody wants to hear. https://blog.radiantlifecatalog.com/truth-about-nutrient-dense-foods (5.26.2018).
  16. Hall RH. Food for Nought. The decline in nutrition. New York: Vintage Books 1976. ISBN-13: 978-0394717531
  17. Gunnars K. The 11 most nutrient dense foods on the planet. 6.22.2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-most-nutrient-dense-foods-on-the-planet (5.26.2018).
  18. Bear FE, Toth SJ, Prince AL. Variations in mineral composition of vegetables. Soil Science of America Proceedings 1948; 13: 380-4. https://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/bear-report/
  19. Rorty J, Norman NP. Tomorrow’s Food; the coming revolution in nutrition. New York: Prentice Hall, 1947/1956.
  20. Heard GW. Man versus Toothache. (c)George W. Heard, Hereford, Texas. Milwaukee, WI: Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, 1952.
  21. “The Town Without A Toothache,” text, 1959; http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth46551/m1/1/ University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu
  22. Hintze KJ, Lardy GP, Marchello MJ, et al. Areas with high concentration of selenium in the soil and forage produce beef with enhanced concentrations of selenium. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2001; 49: 1062-7. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf000699s
  23. Mäkelä AL, Näntö V, Mäkela P, et al. The effect of nationwide selenium enrichment of fertilizers on selenium status of healthy Finnish medical students living in South Western Finland. Biological Trace Element Research 1993; 36: 151-7. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02783174
  24. Dean C. The Magnesium Miracle. Second Edition. New York: Ballantine Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0399594441
  25. Hickey S, Saul AW. Vitamin C: the real story. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2008. ISBN-13: 978-1591202233
  26. Rucklidge JJ, Andridge R, Gorman B, et al. Shaken but unstirred? Effects of micronutrients on stress and trauma after an earthquake: RCT evidence comparing formulas and doses. Human Psychopharmacology and Clinical Experience 2012; 27: 440-54. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hup.2246
  27. Cordain L, Gotshall RW, Eaton SB. Evolutionary aspects of exercise. In: Simopoulos AP, ed.: Nutrition and fitness: Evolutionary aspects. World Review of Nutrition and Diet 1997; 81: 49-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9287503
  28. Zenk SN, Powell LM, Rimkus L, et al. Relative and absolute availability of healthier food and beverage alternatives across communities in the United States. American Journal of Public Health 2014; 104: 2170-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202991/

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