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Vitamins: To Take or Not To Take? That is The Question

By Jessica Kelner, D.O. - September 11, 2018

You Think You Eat Healthy
I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "but I eat healthy, why do I need to take vitamins?"
Let's say your diet is a plant-based diet, you eat mostly organic foods, and you are sure you get enough protein.  The sad truth is that even when we eat healthy,  even when you eat all organic foods, even if you are super careful about balancing the nutrients in your food, you most likely aren't getting adequate nutrition from your food.  

Farming, Crops, and Soil
Why is this happening? We didn't seem to have these problems 100 years ago.  Over the past 100 years, farming has changed a lot in our country.  There is intense genetic selection and modification before they plant even a strawberry plant.  The farmers want to maximize their farming efforts, they want to make sure their crops survive the season, are as large, as big, or as juicy as their competitors strawberries,  that they don't get eaten by bugs, and they survive the trip from their farm to your supermarket.  So, lots of farmers will go to any lengths to beat out the competition.  This genetic selection and alteration can change the way the plant utilizes and stores nutrients.  Which then affects your nutrition when you eat the plant.  Those organic farmers that are trying so hard to create more natural and healthy foods end up with their plants getting cross pollenated by the neighboring non-organic farms strawberries.  They may not be aware it is even happening.  So, maybe they started with organic crops that slowly turn into genetically modified crops. 
There is also the concept that the nutrients once needed by the plants, over time becomes depleted in the farmland's soil.  This can lead to food that is potentially missing vital nutrients they once had. As advanced as science and research has become, we have not yet been able to artificially replace every single nutrient and compound that was in soil prior to it becoming depleted.  There are many things that scientists have yet to discover.  
Even if you eat only organic foods, your body may not be getting the correct combination to give the body the micronutrients it needs, like Zinc, Manganese, and Copper.  This is a very daunting task and even for someone with a nutritional background, it can certainly become challenging. Do you ever look at your food labels and see Copper listed as one of their key nutrients? Making sure your body gets all of its micronutrients actually requires a tremendous amount of effort and knowledge of food and nutrition. So, how do we get the nutrients our body needs to live a healthy life without going bananas trying to plan out every meal and nutrient we put in our body?  We can use VITAMINS to supplement our diet. 
Vitamins are selected nutrients the body needs that are normally found in food, formulated in a pill. They are either made synthetically or from food, and can be taken orally or can be given through an IV (intravenous).  We can give much higher amounts of vitamins in an IV (vs taking vitamins by mouth). Most people can't give themselves IVs every day, so oral vitamins are a great way for you to make sure you get your nutrients in your daily life at home. 
BUT, not all vitamins are created equal. In the last 10 years, the use of vitamins has rapidly increased. One third of adults take vitamins now. Most people buy vitamins at their local grocery store, pharmacy or online. Are these vitamins any good? The FDA does not regulate vitamins in the United States.  What that means is a vitamin company may claim "their vitamins are great for women's health", yet it may have nothing in it that does anything special for women's health.  The vitamin bottle may say "complete daily nutrients".  You may look at the bottle and see 100% of your daily value for 10-15 different nutrients, but what does that mean anyway and is that what your body needs? The 100% you see is the recommended daily value determined by the government. These numbers are sadly way lower than what most people need, but to be safe, the recommended daily values are lower than needed, so companies don't end up putting large quantities of a nutrient in your vitamin that may cause adverse issues for your body. Additionally, nutrients are not absorbed by your stomach with 100% daily value of each vitamin. With 100% of the daily value for each vitamin, there may be many of the vitamins that aren't absorbed at all.  This happens because the body absorbs nutrients in the proportions they are found in nature. Some of the higher end nutrient companies dedicate a lot of money and time to Research and Development of their nutrients.  They will often have a dedicated team of researchers with PhDs formulating their vitamins to be optimal for the body to absorb.  
If you're reading this and you just want to know "what do I buy when I go to buy my vitamins this month?" Here are some helpful tips for purchasing vitamins:
  1. Read the label carefully. Read all of the ingredients including the non-active ones. If you see chemicals or dyes in the vitamin you don't understand, don't buy it. 
  2. If you see 100% daily value for every nutrient down the list, don't buy it. Most likely the company was just trying to meet those values (so you would buy it) and may not be thinking about the absorption and utilization of the vitamin. 
  3. Don't just buy the cheapest vitamin.  The less expensive the vitamin is, the more likely it isn't a high quality vitamin. Unfortunately, vitamins can get expensive.  So, buy the best vitamin you can afford. 
  4. Some important vitamins that can help most people: Vitamin D, B-Complex Vitamins, Vitamin C, and Zinc. Vitamin D is essential for your immune system, your nervous system, and bone formation.  B-Complex vitamins are water soluble (so they don't hang around for awhile) and used up by the cells in your body during times of stress. Vitamin C and Zinc are also super important for your immune system and your skin.  These are not the only vitamins your body needs, but can be a good place to start. 
  5. Buy Methylated Vitamins with Methyl-B-12 and Methyl-Folate. These may be much more effective for your body.  Methylation is a cellular process in the body where a molecule (a methyl group) gets added to the vitamin to make become an active vitamin.  There are many people that are not able to methylate these nutrients in their cells, so taking non-methylated forms of nutrients wouldn't get utilized by the body. This can save you a lot of money (and your body some additional work). 
So how do you know which vitamins you need and which vitamins you should buy? At FORM Medical, we actually are able to test intracellular micronutrients. This tells us what your cells nutrition is on the inside of the cell.  You can then take nutrients that are selected specifically for your body's needs.  For more information about nutrients and your body's specific nutritional needs, you can check out or call us at 720-370-9559.