Multivitamins: A Magic Pill?

I recently was at a networking event and had the opportunity to have a skin scan done using the Pharmanex BioPhoton scanner. This device uses a laser to harmlessly measure your skin levels of carotenoids in about 90 seconds. This gives you a picture of your overall body antioxidant levels, and possibly therefore how protected your DNA is from free radical damage that can lead to cancer. The reading is just on a relative scale–not a measurement of units of anything–and reflects your diet of about a month prior. I held my breath, thinking, “If this comes out poorly, I’m gonna have a lot of explaining to do!”

I was super excited to see my score, as I ACED IT with an off-the-chart 74,000. (Can you tell I’m kind of competitive when it comes to test taking?) The average American scores around 25,000. When Dr. Oz, that paragon of good health, had the device on his show, he scored a 75,000. I’m feeling pretty darn good about all those raw veggies and fruits I eat every day! Here’s a short video of Dr. Oz taking the test: http://youtu.be/55jIM4pUzuA

Of course, the company that does the scans is counting on most people scanning poorly, so they can then recommend and sell their antioxidant supplements to you. I was however very gratified to hear the rep tell people that it is indeed possible to get all the nutrients you need from a well-balanced diet. HOORAY! We also talked to a few people about the fact that if your digestion is compromised, you might have the best diet in the world and not be able to absorb and utilize those nutrients you’re eating. You know, the dreaded “expensive poop.” Not to mention, if your diet is deficient in healthy fats, you won’t be able to absorb and use the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K.

So the question then is, If you know your diet isn’t full of the recommended more than 6 half-cup servings of fruits and veggies every day, and your digestion isn’t a smoothly ticking machine, shouldn’t you just start taking some multivitamins and antioxidant supplements (like Vitamins A, E and C) to cover all your bases?

NOPE.

Multiple studies have shown that supplementing with high doses of antioxidant vitamins can in fact increase your risk of morbidity and mortality from a variety of cancers. However, we know that people who eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables have lower incidences of heart disease and cancer. The difference is, Mother Nature in all her wisdom has packaged antioxidants and other nutrients in perfect little balanced bites of foods. Trying to one-up her by taking imbalanced loads of nutrients in ratios never intended to be ingested upsets the natural order of things. It seems that the large doses in fact impact our immune system function negatively, with undesirable results, rather than shoring it up as we hoped to when we swallowed the pills. This column sums up the issues nicely, if you’d like to know more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/opinion/sunday/dont-take-your-vitamins.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 

I do not recommend general broad-spectrum daily multivitamins or supplementation. When I do recommend supplements, it’s because of a measurable deficiency (commonly, i.e., Vitamin D and zinc), or because we are trying to use a therapeutic dose for a set period of time to help the body recover balance and deal with a specific health issue. Popping large dose supplements because “more is better” is definitely not the way to go.

3 thoughts on “Multivitamins: A Magic Pill?

  1. This is FANTASTIC!! I couldn’t agree more!

    The other thing about taking a multi on top of weak digestion and/or a poor diet is that it’s likely a waste of money. If you’re not digesting properly, you’re not going to extract a high percentage of vitamins from your multivitamin, which means you are paying for expensive poop 😉 Digestion should always come first, followed by tinkering with food sensitivities (see my thoughts on that below) and vitamins.

    Why I NEVER start patients off with IgG food sensitivity/intolerance testing:
    http://www.drnicoledinezza.com/doctor-dinezzas-blog/igg-food-sensitivity-testing-limitations-and-things-to-know

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  2. Oh, I will add, however, that many of the studies done on vitamins either used high doses of one form or a synthetic form of a vitamin (one tochoperol for vitamin E studies, for example) OR they used the cheap, scary multivitamins like Centrum. I don’t place a lot of weight in those studies…. 😉

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  3. Great article. I love how you point out if you are not digesting then you are not absorbing what you are putting in your mouth…including supplements.

    I also am pleased to see you speak to why we should not supplement willy nilly. So many people do this with out being aware of the consequences.

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