Of the 35 years I have been writing about health, there has not been a single one where vitamins, supplements or alternative therapies have not rubbished and vilified or simply dismissed as nonsense. I often feel I am trapped in a time warp where the same argument endlessly resurfaces. The ‘debate’ about supplements is one of them and poor old Linus Pauling couldn’t get acceptance for his work on vitamin C even despite winning a Nobel Prize.
It is all about choice at the end of the day and the knocking copy rolls round the loop finding that supplements are expensive/unnecessary/misleading/dangerous – you take your pick. The latest on the bandwagon is a Which? report published on 22nd August posing the question on vitamin and mineral food supplement regulation and claims but this is hardly new, or news. Yes I am sure there are supplement companies who are less than ethical or truthful as I know there is also false claims and misrepresentation about drugs but that doesn’t seem to warrant the same attention. The problems posed by HRT and more recently statins have been around for some time but await a Which report on either.
The usual argument is over the level of essential minerals and vitamins needed to sustain health and there are two clear divisions. One side feels no one needs more than a scant minimum to keep healthy as it all comes from food anyway but others see those levels as totally inadequate (see Linus Pauling again) and given the lack of nutrients in the soil, the length of time foods takes to get to us from the far flung corners of the world that there isn’t that much nutrition left. That is without going into the irradiated food minefield – I just don’t think that fruit that can survive a month without either ripening or going mouldy is offering much in the way of good nutrition.
Your body needs vitamins and minerals to help in the release of energy from food,
keeping your body systems healthy and for the health of your brain, heart, blood vessels and nervous system.
Lack leads to poor health, historically we can go back and identify scurvy with lack of vitamin C and rickets with lack of vitamin D but are we any more aware now of how necessary they are to our vitality and to help fight disease?
The public is more aware I think than the authorities or the medical profession, but we do know that our delight in fast food, hormone treated meat, and large amounts of sugar, fat and alcohol do not keep our immune system working at its peak.
Lack of Vitamin D has had a lot of publicity in the last year but it is in plenty of company nutrient wise. A recent survey showed that even the minimum levels which the majority of the population require to maintain health was deficient for a number of minerals, in particular calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iodiine and selenium.
Those aged 11 to 18 were the worst off in terms of intake but a significant numbers of adults were affected with a fifth of adult women getting less than the minimum recommended amount for iron, while one in 10 men and one in 10 women failed to achieve the lowest level for magnesium and selenium.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another case in point: we need them for normal development and long-term health from conception throughout our life. They are essential for all the cells in the body, particularly those in the brain, retina, nervous system, immune system, and circulation The UK Department of Health (DH) recommends eating two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily but only 27 per cent of adults eat oily fish at all so the average intake of omega-3 fatty acids again falls well below recommended levels.
If you don’t like oily fish, and why should you, then supplementation is a safe and effective way of boosting your intake. UK dietary surveys continue to show that significant numbers of the population do not achieve recommended intakes of essential nutrients through their diet so taking a supplement is a sensible way of helping to maintain health.
What you can do
It is clear that if you are not having a fully organic and structured diet that you will be short of essential nutrients. Taking supplements makes sense to me and I have done so for many years but I buy high quality, well-established formulas from reputable companies. In the supplement area you generally get what you pay for so ‘buy 3 for a £1’ won’t provide what you need.
Become a fanatical label reader, or if you buy online make sure the company provides a list of ingredients – if they don’t then ask them why not? Ingredients need to have a maximum of the vitamin you need and a minimum of binders and fillers so for most of us at a good high quality multivitamin and mineral supplement is a minimum and unless you like grilled sardines 3 time a week add in some Omega 3 and personally I have vitamin C on a daily basis as I know it helps keep me health.
The UK food supplements industry works hard to ensure that all relevant legislation is complied with, including the ingredients (including additives) that are permitted for use in food supplements, the purity criteria that must be adhered to, the packaging, advertising and labelling for products and the claims that are made.
If you have any questions about supplements they have an excellent website where you can get more information on vitamins and minerals at http://www.hsis.org