Vitamins – Lifesavers or Waste of Money

Thanks to the miracle of technology, I’m able to have a blog, but sometimes that miracle can be a bit frustrating. My next stop on the Counterpoint Tactical System virtual tour (read about Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Springfield) got lost before I could upload it. I’m traveling and didn’t have a backup drive. Oh well. I had to break out a standby post for this week because I’m still recreating the virtual tour blog. It was fun revisiting something I had written a while ago, and I updated it as my routines have changed.

Vitamins - Bad

Recently, doctors have published research telling us to Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. I’m an engineer; so, I require interpretation of that opinion and those papers. Joe Rogan, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, and the Huffington Post disagreed with the article to varying degrees.  CNN and USA Today were ambivalent. My doctor didn’t think that there was much use to supplementation but didn’t see the harm in it. This interests me because I take vitamins and I take supplements. It is a huge industry in the United States; the USA Today article makes the claim that it is a $28 billion dollar a year drain on Americans.

I believe that in life I should go to the experts when an opinion is needed. The opinions on this article come from doctors for and against. The question becomes, which set of doctors should I believe? The answer is none of them individually. What we should believe is the research methods. Results and facts are malleable. I’ve studied the scientific process enough to see that if someone has an expectation in mind before a study is done, the study can be shaped to produce the desired results and facts. Everyone knows this right? Good! The key to science is the process. Pay attention to what is done, how it is done, who does it, and, most importantly, is it REPEATABLE? In engineering, the word repeatable is what makes the test valid.

After looking into the process and who was involved in the studies, I’m leaning more towards disagreement with the article than agreement. This article from the National Institute of Health was the deciding factor for me. This quote sums up my thoughts about the studies:

Overall, the two randomised controlled trials provide evidence that there is little to no benefit from vitamin supplementation for reducing cardiovascular events in people who have previously experienced a heart attack. Nor that taking high-dose daily vitamins leads to cognitive benefits in a group of older men. These findings are in particular groups, so they may not be generalisable to other groups.

The studies may not be applicable to other groups of individuals, and since I’m not in either of those groups, this study is meaningless to me. This is not really all that surprising. I do supplement, and I do take vitamins. I was biased to believe that vitamin and supplementation are part of a healthy lifestyle before I even knew about this study. I take various vitamins and use certain supplements from Onnit. As part of a healthy lifestyle, supplementation can fill in the gaps.

But taking vitamins and supplements do not make a healthy diet. The best source and my first stop for vitamins is food. By eating vegetables and fruits, you get the majority of what your body needs. The human body has evolved to get most of its nutrients through food; so, the most bio-available nutrients are in food. Most of the nutrients in supplements is excreted through urine because they are not as readily absorbed as nutrients from food. Plus, if you eat foods high in the wrong kinds of fat, drink high fructose corn syrup, and full of chemicals, vitamins and supplementation will not make you healthy.

So far, I’ve not really said anything new about vitamins. I’ve also noticed that no one has mentioned anything about the placebo effect. We know that the placebo effect is real, and that it changes the perception of symptoms. Isn’t this applicable to vitamins as well? If I believe that taking a vitamin helps my health, doesn’t the good feeling I get when I take that pill count? I think it does. I think that we get a sense of satisfaction when we take steps to improve our health. So, if I ignore all the studies that show vitamins have a positive benefit to health, at the end of the day, I’m paying money for pills that makes me feel like I’m healthier. Is that a bad thing?


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