About 1 in 3 Americans takes a multivitamin. In 2012, nutritional supplements generated 32 billion U.S. dollars worldwide. The use of dietary supplements has shifted from the body-conscious and muscle building groups towards the general population. Baby Boomers and adolescents form the backbone of the supplement market in the United States.
Most of the scientific research I have read suggests that the healthiest way to eat is a whole plant foods diet, supplemented with Vitamin B12. Lots of multivitamins include Vitamin B12 (or cyanocobalamin). But do we need all those other vitamins and minerals? There is some research that suggests that an overabundance of certain vitamin substances has been associated with a higher risk of mortality. Should we stop wasting money on vitamin supplements? Here’s what you need to know.
Vitamin Supplements worth taking:
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 isn’t made by either animals or plants, but by microbes. We used to get all we needed by drinking well water or drinking out of mountain streams. Now we chlorinate our water supply and that kills off all these essential bacteria that make Vitamin B12. Bacteria line the guts of all animals and therefore we can get some B12 through eating animals or animal products. However, you’d have to eat hundreds of scrambled eggs a day to get the amount you need. Therefore, many eaters of animal products are also B12 deficient. Vitamin B12 becomes difficult to obtain in our sanitized world. B12 deficiency is common in vegans and can result in paralysis, myelopathy, psychosis, or atherosclerosis. People with pernicious anemia are also B12 deficient but that is because of an absorption difficulty. They must get their B12 directly into their blood stream through an injection. All pregnant women should take Vitamin B12. The lack of it can cause infantile seizures. Vegan children also need to get their B12. It is imperative to fortify a vegan diet. We need to take 250 mcg daily or 2,500 mcg of B12 once a week. When you take it once a week you have to take a great deal more for the daily benefits. Ideally it should be chewable, sublingual or liquid. A good food source for this vitamin is found in nutritional yeast or fortified breakfast cereal, but a supplement is much cheaper.
Vitamin D: This is considered the only supplement that will actually help us live longer, especially if it is Vitamin D3. This vitamin is impossible to get from the diet alone, because it is actually produced by the body when it’s exposed to sunlight. There are only two ways to get enough Vitamin D; that is by being in the sun or by taking a supplement. When you live in the northern hemisphere as we do, you can’t make enough Vitamin D in November through February, because the sun’s rays are at such a steep angle. Supplementation is essential during these months. Otherwise we need 15-30 minutes of mid-day sun to give us enough Vitamin D. Get your full 30 minutes of exposure before you put on sunscreen. People of dark skin need to get more skin exposure. You may need 3-10 times longer to make enough Vitamin D. If you’re outside, in a bathing suit, on the beach and you get a light pinkness to your skin 24 hours later, that is equivalent to about 15,000-20,000 Units of Vitamin D. Your body has systems that get rid of any excess Vitamin D that you don’t use. So it’s difficult to experience a toxicity. You only need supplement around 2000 IU’s a day. You can also get Vitamin D from wild Salmon. But being vegan makes that impossible.
Vitamin D produced in your skin lasts 2-3 times longer in your body than it does if you take it as a supplement. Don’t try to get your Vitamin D from tanning beds. The World Health Organization has classified tanning bed exposure as carcinogenic to humans. It can increase the risk of melanoma by 75% and is therefore in the highest risk category, with other Group 1 carcinogens including asbestos, cigarettes, and arsenic.
There is evidence that Vitamin D supplementation may help prevent respiratory diseases. One study found that those randomized to 1000 IU of Vitamin D a day appeared to reduce their incidence of colds and fly by 90%. Our inability to produce Vitamin D during the winter months may explain why colds and flus go up during this time period.
The Endocrine Society recently recommended that children should be on 600-1000 Units of Vitamin D a day and adults 1500-2000 Units of Vitamin D a day to prevent and treat Vitamin D deficiency. For those that are obese, you may need 2-3 times more Vitamin D, to satisfy the individual needs of your Either expose more skin to the sun or take more Vitamin D, or both. My advice to everyone is to always take the supplement, and then make an effort to get in your 30 outside minutes each day. The ideal time to make Vitamin D is between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. For our grandchildren, we call it “green time.” They have to have some every day before they’re allowed screen time.body. The older you are, the less capable your body is at absorbing this vitamin.
Iodine: For those who don’t eat seaweed or use iodized salt, a 150 mcg daily supplement is necessary. United States vegans may be at risk for low iodine intake. Iodine is critical for pregnant women to take for their unborn child’s cognitive development. Broccoli, flax, and soy contain goitrogenic substances. These substances can interfere with thyroid function. If you eat these foods, you must make sure to take an iodine supplement.
Omega 3 Fatty acids: Thanks to recommendations from the American Heart Association, many people at high risk for heart disease are supplementing with fish oil. However, the science does not support this suggestion. In fact some scientific studies suggest that those advised to eat oily fish and fish oil capsules had a higher risk of cardiac death. We consume over 100,000 tons of fish oil every year. We are overfishing our oceans for this product. Algal oils contain all of the benefits and none of the risks of fish oils. Algae is organic, bloodless, sustainable, and bioequivalent. It may even be cheaper. We need 250 mg of pollutant free (yeast or algae derived) long-chain omega-3’s daily. It is sometimes called EPA/DHA.
Supplementing our diet with certain vitamins may be essential for vegans in the highly clean and indoor environment of modern life. However there may be some supplementation that could actually be harmful to us. My next post will cover the questionable vitamins found in many multivitamins. You might be surprised which ones are troublesome.