As a Holistic Nutritionist and Sports Nutritionist I often have to convince people that they need a supplementation and exercise program. There are a lot of differences of opinion in this industry, even among the professionals. Sorting through it all can be time consuming and confusing so I’ve taken the time to diffuse five of the most common MYTHS or contradictions I’ve run into.
1) I get everything I need from a well-balanced diet
2) There is no scientific evidence to support the use of herbs, vitamins or homeopathic remedies
3) Taking vitamins beyond the RDA or RNI, except in rare cases, is a waste of time and money
4) Vitamins can be toxic and should be used with extreme caution
5) I don’t have time to exercise.
One of the problems with the theory of the well-balanced diet is that balance is subjective. What seems balanced to any individual probably isn’t when it is broken down and analyzed. Can you really afford to leave to chance that you are consuming the right ratios of the macronutrients carbohydrates, protein and fat? What about the dozens of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that your body must get from your diet? Do you really feel confidant that you are getting enough omega three fatty acids that are essential for proper membrane production, nerve sheathing and brain function? Do you pay attention to make sure you eat something with vitamin C more than once a day? You know the water-soluble vitamins like B and C need to be replenished on a regular basis or your tissues won’t be performing at their peak efficiency. How about that coffee you had with breakfast and the scotch after dinner. Do you take into account that those substances, as well as sugar, stress and prescription drugs cause your body to lose precious mineral, like selenium, iron and chromium, and increase your nutrient needs?
Now we have to consider the fact that our food supply is not as nutrient dense as it once was. Have a look at modern farming practices that strip the soil of vital trace minerals and never replenish them. Farming practices used to include mulching, manuring, and crop rotation to ensure the soil contained the vital nutrients to grow healthy plants. When drug companies needed to find a new market for the chemicals that were being used to make explosives for the second world war they changed the dynamics of farming by offering synthetic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) fertilizers at rock bottom prices. The problem with these NPK fertilizers is that they only replace three minerals in the soil but all the minerals are depleted in the growing of plants. The soil then becomes deficient in a wide array of important minerals and therefore so do the plants grown in it.
"The latest RDA handbook, for example, reviews studies indicating a direct correlation between the growth of NPK fertilization and declining magnesium levels in our food supply."
Dr. Michael Colgan, Optimum Sports Nutrition, 1993, p37
On top of that we have chemical pesticides, herbicides, fumigants and ripening agents that cause damaging free radicals in our bodies and increase our nutrient needs just to combat them!
"Even the Environmental Protection Agency admits that 60% of herbicides, 90% of fungicides and 30% of insecticides are carcinogenic."
Cory Holly,CHFA CSNA Course 101, 2001, chapter 3, p17
If you’re not eating organic produce then your body has to process and try to neutralize those nasty chemicals and guess what it needs to do that? Antioxidants, like Vitamin A, C, E and selenium.
Processing is another way that the remaining nutrients in our food are destroyed. When we freeze, irradiate, genetically modify, bleach, deodorize, can, dry, cook, pasteurize, hydrogenate, pickle and filter our food we are ridding it of any nutritional value whatsoever.
"The RDA handbook reviews hundreds of studies showing that the already degraded crops of today may lose even their meager supply of nutrients between harvesting and your table."
Dr. Michael Colgan, Optimum Sports Nutrition, 1993, p38.
Some of the examples in the handbook on nutrient loses through processing include:
"the tocopherol content of food varies greatly depending on processing, storage and preparation procedures during which large losses may occur."
"vitamin C can be considerably lower due to destruction by heat and oxygen"
"50-70% of vitamin B6 is lost in processing meats and 50-90% is lost in milling cereals"
"Up to 50% of folic acid may be destroyed during household preparation, food processing and storage"
"More than 80% of magnesium is lost by removal of the germ and outer layers of cereal grains"
Dr. Michael Colgan, Optimum Sports Nutrition, 1993, p38.
If you depend on fortified foods to get your nutrient needs, forget it. What food processors actually put back into their nutrient deficient products doesn’t even rival the nutrients found in the original food.
"Taking vitamins beyond the RDA or RNI, except in rare cases is a waste of time and money.
If you examine the evidence it’s quite clear to see that this is not true at all. The RDI/RNA’s for almost all nutrients are set way too low to create optimal health. If your goal in life is simply to avoid the deficiency diseases such as scurvy or pellagra, then by all means, plod on eating what you deem "a balanced diet". If you’d rather have an abundance of energy, healthy joints, organs, skin and sharp mental function then it just won’t happen with the RDA/RNI.
The RDA/RNI’s are pathetically low. They are designed to prevent disease, not promote health. Even the former chairman of the RDA committee stated that RDA’s "are not recommendations for the ideal diet." To be in optimum health the amounts of vitamins and minerals you need are much higher. For example, to prevent scurvy you need approximately 60 mg of vitamin C every day. This is also the RDA, but if you look at the research of Drs. Linus Pauling or Matthias Rath the optimal daily intake is clearly in the gram dosages, from between 2-12 g. This amount is highly individual and has been proven to create super immunity, kill viruses, prevent heart disease, combat aging free radicals and even destroy cancer cells.
Another example is Vitamin E. The RDA is set at 10 mg-alpha TE or 10 IU. The levels needed for optimal health are much higher. Because Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in our bodies we can safely take up to 3000 IU’s per day. The optimum daily amount ranges from 70-800 mg-alpha TE/IU. At these levels Vitamin E will have anti-aging effects, protect you from pollution, help digest and metabolize fats, protect the membranes of your cells, revitalize and protect Vitamin A from damage, keep your heart and muscles healthy and protect the life of your red blood cells.
There’s more where that came from, the RDA for the B vitamin biotin used to be set at 100-300 mcg/day. Then it was found that the average diet only contained about 35 mcg/day, the RDA was suspiciously lowered to accommodate the lower levels. Relying on the RDA or RNI to determine your nutrient needs simply won’t lead to vibrant health.
There is a further problem with the RDA/RDI and that is the increased nutrient needs of our current lifestyles. For the average Joe that eats a "well-balanced diet", works in a stressful job and is exposed to everyday pollution and chemicals the RDA/RDI doesn’t even come close to providing his nutrient needs. Stress on the body, whether in the form of nutrient-robbing processed foods, pollution and cigarette smoke exposure, mental or physical stress all increase our body’s needs for vitamins and minerals. Remember that coffee at breakfast that flushed calcium, potassium and magnesium out of your body? How about sitting in a smoky restaurant at lunch or worse yet smoking yourself, every drag off a cigarette can use as much as 60 mg of vitamin C, an amount equal to the RDA!
Positive stress, such as exercise or an active lifestyle increases needs for protein, iron, zinc and many other essential nutrients. To build healthy tissue your body incorporates the proteins, minerals and fats from your diet. Your cells are constantly being replaced. As a matter of fact, every cell in your body turns over at least once in one years time, most are replaced 2-3 times every year. Without optimal amounts of nutrients in your diet your cells will be sub-optimal.
Finally we have to consider Biochemical Individuality. The RDA/RNI attempts to give a one-size-fits-all amount for every known nutrient but there is no consideration given to the fact that our specific nutrient needs can vary as much as our individual DNA! This concept has been well researched for over 40 years. For example, Professor Roger Williams showed that animals can require 20 times the vitamin C than others in order to develop properly. Dr. Colgan, a world-renowned nutrition researcher found that some people are able to absorb and utilize 5000 mg with minimal excretion, while others could only use 1000 mg or less .The current state of our health with chronic disease, fatigue and unbearable stress levels should be strongly indicative that our nutrient levels are far too low for optimum health.
"But there isn’t any scientific evidence to support the use of vitamins, herbs and homeopathic devices."
The scientific research for natural therapies is somewhat limited if we compare it the volumes of data on drug research but that doesn’t mean the therapies should be discounted. The biggest problem with setting up the kinds of studies that prove the effectiveness of natural therapies remains to be politics and greed. Since natural substances cannot be patented there is much reservation on the part of pharmaceutical and research companies to invest in expensive studies. If they prove that natural medicine works but they can’t control the markets for it, they have committed financial suicide. Not only can everyone benefit from their research, but they have also made their toxic and expensive drugs obsolete. Now why would they want to do that?
Despite the reasons that research isn’t being done as often as it should, there are still lots of well-documented studies that show the effectiveness of natural therapies. For example, a study done on female nurses found that the nurses with a vitamin C intake of between 240-360 mg per day from food and supplements had a 66% lower risk of cataracts than women whose intakes were below 140 mg per day.
A review of alternative medicine done by a committee of the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck surgery concluded that: homeopathic remedies can be effective in reducing hay fever symptoms, Echinacea is effective in the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections, high doses (1-2 grams/day) of Vitamin C reduce the duration of a cold, the homeopathic remedy Vertigoheel is effective in the treatment of vertigo, as is Ginkgo Biloba (120-140 mg 2x/day), Hawthorn berry has been shown to be beneficial for atherosclerosis, arrhythmia, and hypertension (160-900 mg extract 2-3x/day), and that Bromelain is effective in the treatment of sinusitis and has significant anti-inflammatory properties.
You don’t need to look far to find reputable studies being published in accredited medical journals. For example, on the first page of this months Journal of American Medical Association, Archives of Internal Medicine web page I found a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel group trial on the effects of theaflavin-enriched green tea extract on hypercholesterolemia.
The study found that subjects on a low-saturated fat diet, with mild to moderate high cholesterol, who were given 375 mg per day of theaflavin-enriched green tea lowered their total cholesterol levels by 11.3% +/- 0.9% as well as their LDL cholesterol by 16.4% +/- 1.1%. The placebo group, who was also following a low-saturated fat diet, saw no changes. It is also important to note that there were no significant adverse effects found with the green tea extract.
As time goes on, more and more studies will be done and the medical community will have no choice but to adopt proven, natural remedies that are non-toxic and non-invasive. But you can benefit now from all the knowledge we currently have. By taking responsibility for your own health and doing some research you could be years ahead of your colleagues, from both a health standpoint and professionally. The science doesn’t lie.
"Vitamins can be toxic and should be used with extreme caution"
Vitamin toxicity is actually very rare. The water-soluble vitamins are not stored in our bodies so any excess that your body can’t use simply gets excreted. As for the fat- soluble vitamins, while they can be stored in various places (usually adipose tissue) the rates of toxicity are extremely low. Keep in mind that anything can be toxic in excessive amounts, even plain old water! You need to understand your body’s requirements for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients and fill them. Taking any one nutrient in excess of your body’s needs will cause imbalance, but imbalance is not toxicity. The only caution necessary is to avoid imbalances by getting a full array of nutrients daily to meet the demands of your body.
Most vitamins have no adverse effects even in large doses, but of the few that can cause toxicity, the damage is almost always reversed when the large doses are stopped. For example, one could take up to 2000 mg of Vitamin B6 once and it has a very low toxicity rate, but if one took over 100 mg for months or years then nerve damage could result. This nerve damage repairs itself within six months after stopping the B6.
If we compare vitamin therapy to the use of synthetic compounds such as drugs, even over-the-counter drugs, vitamin safety is glaringly obvious. While you may get the occasional headache, nausea or other minor side effect from a vitamin supplement, discontinuing its use usually rectifies the problem. Compare that to the side effects and deaths that result from PROPERLY PRESCRIBED medications and you’ll be running for your local health food store. The Institute of Medicine estimates that as many as 98,000 people die each year in the US from medical errors. In the last ten years, there hasn’t been one death associated with supplements taken as directed.
"I have no time to exercise"
That is a common reason that people don’t exercise. Let me ask you this… do you have time for more energy, vitality, strength and quality of life? Let me show you how making exercise a priority in your life can actually SAVE you time.
If you start conservatively with 30 minutes four times a week of cardiovascular and strength-training exercise, soon you can benefit from more energy, allowing you to be more productive in the late afternoon and evening. You’ll also have more refreshing sleep, allowing you to get out of bed a little earlier without hitting the snooze button. Before too long you’ll be noticeably stronger, so now your everyday activities become easier, and faster. For example, climbing a flight of stairs won’t slow you down for a minute and every time you cross the street or stroll across a parking lot, you’ll think nothing of breaking into a light jog. Since exercise increases the effectiveness of your immune system you’ll avoid the time wasting effects of a cold or flu 2-3 times per year. Also, now that you’re exercising and increasing your confidence and body image along with your circulation, the lowered libido that was straining your marriage mysteriously disappears. Go ahead and cancel those appointments with a marriage counselor and WHAM, now you have even more time to enjoy your new found energy. All told, you’re wasting time by not exercising!
Then you have to consider the documented health benefits of exercise such as improved LDL:HDL cholesterol ratios, more stable blood sugar and better joint stability, less risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, weight gain, diabetes, muscle atrophy, back pain or anxiety, not to mention longer and better quality of life.
So tell me dear skeptic, what is stopping you from beginning a new life that involves exercise and the liberal use of nutritional supplements?