Dr. Roy Murrell, DC 200 NE 20th Avenue, Suite 140 Portland Oregon 97232 - disclaimer - 971-312-9497
A LOOK AT THE VITAMIN INDUSTRY
Americans spend billions of dollars on supplements every year but most know very little about the where their vitamins come from or how they are produced. Unfortunately, where there is money, there are corporations with slick and unlimited advertising budgets to convince you they have a better product. In reality, only 3% of vitamin companies produce their own vitamins in this country. The other 97% buy pure synthetic vitamin concentrates or fractionated whole food vitamins from pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them.
WHAT IS A VITAMIN?
A vitamin is an extremely complex organic (origin in nature) substance needed in very small amounts in the diet, and is essential for the normal metabolic processes of human life. By and large we have to consume these substances from plant and animal life forms. Each vitamin has a unique function in the body and cannot be replaced by another vitamin. They do not exist as isolated molecules but are exquisitely interlaced and fused with the whole food itself. The amount of vitamins in food can vary a lot depending on the health of the soil they were grown in, the degree of ripeness when they were harvested, the length of time between harvest and consumption, and the amount of heat applied to prepare them.
Several good studies have been done looking at blood serum levels of vitamins in average Americans with average diets and they found 70% to 80% were deficient in basic RDA (recommended daily allowance) levels. The average person consumes less and less fresh-made-from-scratch, whole foods. Combine that with massive corporate farming where chemical fertilizers are the only thing that make a plant grow and you have depleted soils and a severe lack of nutrition. It is one of the reasons why over a million Americans die every year from cancer, heart disease, and a host of other chronic diseases; it is really a case of malnutrition.
This is a large part of why Americans spend billions on vitamins; they want to believe that taking supplements will give them the edge they need to stay healthy. Unfortunately, there is very little oversight on the vitamin industry; often what is printed on the label is not always in the bottle and what is in the bottle is not always bio-available.
NATURAL VS. SYNTHETIC VITAMINS
There are two schools of thought when it comes to vitamins. One is that vitamin factors (parts) can be made (synthesized) from different raw materials which produce a product that is chemically pure and free of any co-factors (enzymes, proteins) and can be concentrated in high potency formulations. This is the theory followed by the pharmaceutical companies and most of the vitamin companies. For example, most vitamin B is made from coal tar, essentially the same material they make roofing material from.
The other view is that vitamins are just like other food factors; they exist as extremely complex groups of associated substances of synergistic nature and that if the complex is taken apart (fractionated), it is no longer capable of producing its normal, nutritional and metabolic effect or function. A true natural vitamin is real food in a capsule. It comes complete with enzymes, proteins and synergistic co-factors that make it a live food. (More on how they make these in a minute.)
In the last several decades, synthetic vitamins have been the dominant force in the industry; they are easy and inexpensive to produce and can be patented, leading to protected profits for the drug companies that make them. This philosophy also aligns with the general medical community by producing a pure chemical product to "treat disease". Using this technology, it is easy for them to produce a product with mega doses of vitamins while still selling them at bargain prices. Our medical community has played along with this philosophy as they have little interest or education in nutrition. In a recent survey of 127 accredited Medical schools, only 22 required one course in nutrition. The others offered an optional course but only 5% of medical students signed on. Again, another sign that we focus on treating disease, not educating or advocating preventative health.
The big question is, are pure synthetic vitamins really good for us? Do they actually increase the degree of our health? There are many (and I am one) who think not. It is well known that Scurvy is a disease of end-stage Vitamin C deficiency but you could not cure Scurvy by giving someone synthetic Ascorbic acid Vitamin C. It has been proved in numerous cases both in humans and in animals that you can not reverse a vitamin deficiency disease with chemically pure synthetic vitamins where you can if using whole food concentrates complete with all the co-factors just as found in fresh food.
Most people don't realize that Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) is only the outer part of the Vitamin C complex. The same is true of Alpha-Tocopherol (vitamin E); it is only one part of the vitamin E complex. One never finds just ascorbic acid or Alpha-Tocopherol in a whole food; they always exist as a whole complex. The same is true with vitamin B family. When you consume high potency, chemically pure synthetic vitamins that are isolates like Ascorbic Acid, the body has to retrieve the other parts of the C complex from your body tissue to make a whole complex before it can use that Ascorbic Acid. You may get an initial positive physiological response from the high potency supplement but it does not equate to long term health. More importantly, repeated uses of these high potency isolates can cause a chemical imbalance by depleting the other parts of the vitamin complex that get extracted from your tissue. This process is so complicated that much of the synthetics you take are lost in the process and excreted by the kidneys. Many feel they are more of a stress on the body than a benefit.
Another common practice in the vitamin industry is to extract ou, or fractionate, vitamins from a whole food source. In other words, they would extract out, say the vitamin B6 from a food and then concentrate it in high doses. This enables the company to list it as a whole food natural vitamin and yet show a high milligram content on the label. The public has the notion that the higher the dose, the more potent and effective the vitamin will be. This is a step up from the synthetic vitamins but you are still taking an isolated compound that is void of co-factors and enzymes, the things that make it a live and active food. Some of the more common fractionated vitamins are Co-Q10, Lycopene, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Resveratrol, Beta Carotene, Rutein, and Lutein. Again, these are tremendously important nutrients but are much more bio-available and effective if not separated from their natural co-factors and enzymes as would be found in a whole food.
True whole food vitamins are produced by harvesting a plant at its peak ripeness and dehydrating it in a vacuum that never gets above 70 degrees F. This preserves the living enzymes in the plant which are essential for the synergistic functions of the multitude of delicately intertwined co-factors found in all whole foods. This essentially keeps it a live food! These vitamins will have very low doses listed on the label but that is not an indication of their strength. Consuming a whole complex complete with enzymes and protein co-factors is like eating a very concentrated whole food. It is completely bio-available and can be a very potent nutritional therapeutic.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR VITAMINS ARE SYNTHETIC?
The first thing you can do is read labels. All vitamins have listings of the different vitamins in the complex. A synthetic vitamin will be listed such as: Vitamin C as Ascorbic Acid. This "as" is the key word denoting a synthetic product. If there is a symbol following it such as an "A" with a circle around it; that denotes that it is a patented product. You cannot patent a natural whole food, only synthetics. A whole food vitamin will be listed as: Vitamin C from Acerola berries or some other food you will recognize. Another thing to look at is the milligram dose of each vitamin; one never finds high doses of a vitamin in a whole food complex. If you are reading 500 milligrams of Vitamin C or B, it has to be a synthetic or possibly a whole food vitamin that has been fractionated and concentrated.
Another clue is how easy are your vitamins to digest. Synthetics will typically cause a slight nausea or digestive stress if taken on any empty stomach. True whole food vitamins will not cause this reaction because the digestive system recognizes them as it would any other food.
DO WE REALLY NEED VITAMINS?
I would be the first to recommend that you get most of your nutrition from fresh whole organic foods. Unfortunately, most of us lead a busy, sometimes hectic, life that does not leave time for shopping and preparing whole foods for every meal. We also live in a world that is becoming increasingly toxic which puts higher demands on our immune system, a system that directly depends on the nutrition we consume. It is challenging to get 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (the current recommendations). In addition, cooking reduces the nutritional potency of foods and most of us probably eat more cooked vegetables than raw.
I think taking a good, true whole food vitamin can be worth the effort and expenditure in helping your body cope with today's world. They absolutely do not make up for a diet of processed fast foods but they can provide high concentrations of whole food nutrients in a raw form that you probably would not eat on a daily basis; nutrients such as kale, Brussels sprouts, and chard. These can pack a powerful punch in boosting your anti-oxidant levels, which are the primary source of our immune system strength.
I also feel most of us are deficient in trace minerals and the hard to get omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) found predominately in fish oils so I encourage patients to supplement with these as well. If you take minerals, make sure they are plant-based and not raw minerals. Our bodies are designed to consume minerals that plants have extracted from the soil and converted to a biological form; it is very difficult for us to digest and use raw minerals.
Today the average aging American worries about two health issues: cancer and heart disease. We all like to think it will not happen to us but currently one out of every two men and one out of every three women will get a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Despite the medical community's claims that we are making progress in the war on cancer, a half-million people still die every year in this country and many more are chronically ill from cancer or the treatment they get to survive. Everyone has cancer cells in their body; it is only when your immune system fails to destroy them that they multiply and you end up with a cancer diagnosis. An equal number die from heart disease that also has a large nutritional component. There is no doubt in the scientific community that good nutrition could drastically improve these numbers. We really need to focus as much or more on prevention as we do on finding a cure. Unfortunately in our medical industrial complex, there is no profit in prevention, especially for the drug companies that form the back bone of our system.
WHERE TO GET WHOLE FOOD VITAMINS
There are several companies that produce whole food vitamins; you just have to do a little research. I recommend and use Standard Process. Started in 1929, they are one of the oldest vitamin companies in this country and a pioneer in whole food vitamins. They are one of the 3% who actually produce their own compounds. They have a 1200 acre organic farm in Wisconsin where they control the entire process from seeds to harvest to compounding of the formulas. Most of their products are specialized formulas for whole food nutritional therapy so you have to purchase them from a health care provider; they are not available in stores. You can contact me any time for more information or you can read more about them at www.standardprocess.com .
In the coming weeks I will be writing about each vitamin, what foods are high in that vitamin and why the body needs it.
Yours In Health