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:

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?


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: 

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.

Shoo, Shoo Colds and Flu

There’s nothing worse than being taken down by a cold, or even worse, the flu. Definitely puts a cramp in your plans for a week or two! As cold and flu season is upon us, there are things you can do to up your resistance, and to help you recover more quickly if you do get sick.

First and foremost, wash your hands. A lot. Touching germy surfaces and then touching your mucus membranes is how you catch a virus. End of story. Wash. Your. Hands. Antibacterial gels are good in a pinch if you can’t get to soap and water, but shouldn’t be overused. In general, keep your hands away from your face.

Immune boosting nutrients that you should be loading up on this winter include:

  • Vitamin C: make sure your C also includes bioflavinoids for the best utilization. Around 1000 mg/day is useful and shouldn’t upset your tummy. (Too much C can cause loose stools).
  • Vitamin D: almost all of us are deficient in this nutrient that is key to immune health. The D that is added to fortified foods like milk is actually D2, which is not a useful form for the body. You need to supplement with D3, which is best found in oil-suspension drops you can put directly on your tongue. About 3000 IU for every 100 lbs of body weight daily. Also, make sure your diet is rich in Vitamin A, as these two nutrients need each other. Good sources include raw organic dairy, organic pasture-raised animals, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens.
  • Zinc: another nutrient most of us are missing out on, zinc is found in beef and lamb, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and lentils and garbanzo beans. When you feel you’re fighting something, 30 mg of zinc gluconate can be helpful daily.

If a virus takes you down, some ways to make it move along a bit more quickly include:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Your system needs to be well-hydrated to mount a strong immune response, and being hydrated will also thin your mucus secretions and make you more comfortable. Herbal teas and bone broth are your best bets. Bone broth also gives you collagen and minerals, all much-needed as your body fights the bugs. Chicken soup isn’t called “Jewish penicillin” for nothing!
  • Elderberry syrup: a very potent anti-viral, take 1 tsp twice a day if you feel something coming on, and double that dose if in fact you fall ill.

Over-the-counter cold medications can help with symptoms in varying degrees, but often produce a “rebound effect” and leave you feeling worse than before. And remember, antibiotics are for bacterial infections only, and will do nothing to help with a cold or flu virus.

Wishing you a happy, healthy winter!