We know that vitamins and minerals are important, and nutrient deficiencies are rare, so are vitamin and mineral supplements necessary? If you’ve followed recent highly publicised research, there’s been a resounding NO of late. But does that conclusion follow the science?
In study after study, researchers and medical professionals acknowledge the biological need for vitamins and minerals, and the lack thereof in the diets of most Americans. And yet, they conclude that since deficiencies are rare nowadays, there is no real need for a vitamin or mineral supplement. Taking a closer look reveals a major flaw in this commonly held rationale.
Vitamins and minerals (aka micronutrients) are “co-factors” to all the metabolic processes in the body, including metabolism, detoxification, antioxidant protection from oxidative stress, immune function, blood sugar balance, heart function, and much more. A deficiency of any particular vitamin can throw the body out of balance, so it’s important to maintain healthy levels of vitamins in balance with one another. However, because these nutrients are important to cellular metabolism, chronically low levels of certain nutrients can negatively affect the entire body. While a deficiency is rare, a chronic insufficiency is exceedingly common.
When the body isn’t getting enough of any one micronutrient, it prioritizes where those nutrients should go — meaning some systems get enough, while other systems do not. This happens in the body all the time, and in the short term, it isn’t that big of a deal. But over the long term, it can gradually chip away at your otherwise good health, hence the opportunity for vitamin and mineral supplements to fill those gaps.
For example, a chronic insufficiency of b-vitamins can result in homocysteinemia, or elevated homocysteine, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, blood clots and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic low levels of B6 and B12, plus elevated homocysteine, have been linked with depression, dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Supplementing with vitamin B6, B12 and folate generally return homocysteine to normal levels.
Because integrative and functional medicine recognizes that each person’s genetic individuality means different people need different amounts of vitamins and minerals — and that same individual may need more of something at a specific time in their life, like during times of stress — there is no-one-size-fits-all approach to supplements.
Over the last several decades, modern intensive farming methods have depleted nutrients from the soil in which our food is grown. Today’s fruits and vegetables are much less rich in vitamins and minerals than the varieties that were grown decades ago. In fact, when USDA nutritional information from 1950 and 1999 were compared, they found that there were declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C for 43 different kinds of vegetables and fruits. This means that even the most nutritious diet could still be low in key nutrients. You still need to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, for their nutrients and the phytochemicals, but you may also benefit from targeted dietary supplements.
Ultimately, the question isn’t why do we need vitamins, because without vitamins, our body would stop working. The questions are: do we need to take vitamin supplements, and if so, how do we know which ones to take, how much and for how long? That’s where an integrative doctor or nutritionist can help measure and assess your need for specific nutrients and supplements to support your body in everything it does.
If you’re interested to learn more about how optimizing vitamin and mineral status can help you, call our practice manager, Hildy Abel at 212-989-9828 ext. 1, to meet with one of our integrative practitioners. See first hand how targeted nutrition can work for you!