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Just because something is touted as being “natural” or “healthy” doesn’t automatically make it true, and such is the case with some multivitamins. You really need to check the label and know what’s what, because there can be a vast difference between a synthetic or synthesized vitamin or mineral and the real thing. Some products may also contain additives and fillers that can cause problems in large doses.
According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 percent of the US population takes some form of nutritional supplement each day, and approximately 40 percent of US adults take a daily multivitamin. But despite the fact that the U.S. spends close to $27 billion on supplements each year, the rates of most chronic diseases remain unchanged, while others are still on the rise.
If supplements are so good for us, why aren’t we getting healthier?
Part of the reason could be that many people mistakenly believe that a vitamin is a vitamin, and one form of a mineral is equal to any other, failing to understand the inherent differences between synthetic chemicals and whole food nutrients. Many also mistakenly use supplements as a way to avoid having to change their dietary habits. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, because if you eat a diet consisting primarily of processed junk food, and take cheap synthetic vitamins and minerals, you’re not likely to see a major change in your health status.
It has always been my belief that supplements should be used in addition to, NOT in place of, a sound diet. You simply cannot cover your nutritional or lifestyle “sins” by taking a handful of supplements.
Why Selenium Supplements Have Become More Popular
Selenium is an essential trace mineral found primarily in plant foods, and is known to have powerful antioxidant activity. Past studies have shown it can play a beneficial role in:
- Heart disease
- Cognitive decline
- Cataracts and macular degeneration
- Cold sores and shingles
The selenium content in whole plant foods depend on the level of the nutrient in the soil, and, unfortunately, many farming areas around the world are becoming increasingly selenium depleted. Most of the selenium is also lost when the food is processed or refined, so unless you consume lots of whole organic produce, you may be at risk of selenium deficiency.
It is because of these facts that supplements containing selenium have increased in popularity in the United States, to the extent that close to 25 percent of Americans over 40 take a selenium supplement or multivitamin that includes selenium. However, supplementing with sodium selenite and selenate may do more harm than good.
Beware of Inorganic Selenium
As explained in the featured article, sodium selenite and selenate are two potentially problematic ingredients found in many multivitamins.
According to PAN, a database for pesticide chemicals, both sodium selenite and sodium selenate are classified as “Highly Toxic,” based on oral administration trials using rabbits and rats. And according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the highest allowable level of selenium in public drinking water is 50 parts per billion, which is equivalent to 50 micrograms, dry weight.
Studies have shown that:
- Long-term exposure to selenium, sodium selenite, sodium selenate, or selenium dioxide may cause paleness, coated tongue, stomach disorders, nervousness, metallic taste and a garlic odor of the breath. Damage to the liver and spleen in animals has also been observed, according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
- According to the 1986 edition of the Handbook of the Toxicology of Metals, daily intake of about one milligram of selenium as selenite can be toxic.
- In one study, sodium selenite was found to induce substantial DNA damage in human fibroblasts.
- More recent research also indicates that too much selenium may contribute to the onset of diabetes.
It’s very important to realize that these potentially toxic chemicals are some of the primary forms of selenium sold as dietary supplements on the market today. As discussed in the featured article, such inorganic minerals cannot replace biologically active trace minerals.
Green Med Info writes:
“The selenium that is found in foods like brazil nuts, mustard seeds, and fresh produce grown in selenium-rich soil is infinitely different from the biologically inert forms being put in some multivitamins. In fact, i.e., sodium selenite/selenate can cause cancer, whereas the selenium found within food, or laboratory chelated forms like selenomethionine have all been shown to prevent and combat cancer.
The basic principle that explains this difference is that when you isolate a nutrient or vitamin out of the food complex within which it is naturally found, and where it is inseparably bound to thousands of known and unknown food factors (e.g., enzymes, protein chaperones, glyconutrients, etc.) it is no longer as beneficial to life. This is especially true in the case of vertebrate mammals who are equipped to get their minerals from the plants they ingest or through the biotransformation of inorganic minerals to organic ones by microflora in their gastrointestinal tracts.
The primary reason that sodium selenite/selenate are preferred by some vitamin manufacturers over safer, more beneficial forms like chelated or yeast-grown selenium is because it is more profitable to use raw materials of lower quality.”
Other Problematic Ingredients Found in Many Multivitamins
In the U.S., many supplement makers add so-called “flowing agents” into their capsules. Two common additives are:
- Magnesium stearate
- Titanium dioxide
Now, neither of these will cause any major harm in small doses. But they do add up over time, and magnesium stearate can cause a biofilm to be created in your intestine, which will prevent the absorption of nutrients. The only purpose of it in the supplement is to help the raw materials become more slippery and easily flow through the machines that create the supplements.
Magnesium stearate is not a supplemental source of magnesium but rather a form of stearic acid. It’s essentially chalk, and previous research has shown that it suppresses your natural killer cells, which are a key component of your immune system. Unfortunately, this chalk filler stimulates your gut to form a biofilm – a sort of sludge lining – that acts as an effective barrier to the absorption of not only that particular vitamin but all the nutrients you’d normally get from food sources as well. This is a major reason for focusing on nutritional foods rather than taking handfuls of vitamins each day.
Fortunately, once I became aware of this issue, I was able to get my personal brand of multivitamins reformulated, so they do not contain magnesium stearate any longer. Titanium dioxide is another absolutely unnecessary color agent you don’t want to see in your supplements, as it has been shown to cause autoimmune disorders.
The Problem with Synthetic Vitamins
Most natural health experts agree on one thing: No matter which foods you eat, whole foods are far better for you than refined foods. So why do some people believe the rules of nutrition would suddenly change when it comes to vitamins and other nutritional supplements?
Whole food supplements are what their name suggests: Supplements made from concentrated whole foods. The vitamins found within these supplements are not isolated or synthetic. Rather they are highly complex structures that combine a variety of enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, activators and many other unknown or undiscovered factors that work together synergistically, to enable this vitamin complex to do its job in your body.
Synthetic nutrients, on the other hand, are not natural, in that they are never found by themselves in nature. When you take these isolated nutrients regularly, especially at the ultra-high doses found in formulas today, it’s more like taking a drug. At best, they will not benefit you as much as high quality food and food-based supplements. And at worst, they may cause problems.
Nature does not produce any nutrient in an isolated form. The nutrients in foods are blended together in a specific way and work best in that format. For an isolated nutrient to work properly in the body, it needs all the other parts that are naturally present in the food too. If the parts are not all there from the start, they are taken from your body’s stored supply. This is why isolated nutrients often work for a while, then seem to stop working.
Once your body’s store of the extra nutrients is used up, the isolated nutrient you’re taking just doesn’t work as well anymore. Worse yet, a deficiency in these extra nutrients can be created in your body.
Studies also show your body treats these isolated and synthetic nutrients like xenobiotics (foreign substances). This is why your urine will oftentimes turn some shade of glow-in-the-dark yellow when you take certain synthetic vitamins, as your body simply flushes these foreign substances out.
How to Identify High Quality Multivitamin Supplements
I do believe that dietary supplements — including vitamins and minerals — can help compensate for some of the damage your body incurs through modern living. However, it’s not wise to use supplements to justify a poor diet. In my experience no amount of supplements will ever be able to substitute for healthy food choices.
There are times when supplements can be quite useful, and I believe that some supplements, such as a high quality animal-based omega-3 supplement, for example, are essential for nearly everyone. This is because the main source of animal based omega-3 fats in your diet comes from fish – most of which is now so grossly polluted with heavy metals, PCBs and other environmental toxins I can no longer recommend eating fish for optimal omega 3 levels. Another supplement that many people need is vitamin D3, unless you can get sufficient amounts of safe sun exposure year-round, or use a safe tanning bed.
Another incredibly useful supplement is probiotics, which influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner. You can get these healthy bacteria from eating fermented foods, and if you eat them enough you will keep your digestive tract well supplied with good bacteria, but there may still be times when a probiotic supplement is necessary, such as when you stray from your healthy diet and consume excess grains or sugar; if you have to take antibiotics; or when traveling to foreign countries for example.
There are other instances when supplements may be useful as well, such as in the case of CoQ10 if you’re taking statin drugs, but their effectiveness depends largely on the quality of the supplement itself.
You may also want to take one or more food-based supplements to ensure you are getting an adequate variety of nutrients. However, I strongly recommend you make whole food supplements your first choice, and steer clear of synthetic vitamins. How do you tell whether or not a supplement you’re looking at is a good choice?
For starters, make sure it has the following characteristics:
- It is as close as possible to its natural (whole food) form.
- Use independent third party labs that check the raw materials for contaminants and correct dosage.
- Follows industry standards for quality assurance including ISO 9001, ISO 17025 and Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) certifications.
- The utmost care has been taken in all phases of its production, from growing its ingredients, to manufacturing, testing for potency and quality control.
- It works! I always try to select from companies that have a long track record of providing high quality products that produce good clinical results.
If you are interested in optimizing your health your best solution is to choose the highest quality foods possible, and eat a wide variety of whole organic foods. You can use my free nutrition plan and work your way up to the advanced stage.
Once you have addressed your diet and are looking for further improvement, odds are you would likely benefit from some supplements, like an animal-based omega-3 supplement and a probiotic, for example. There are many others you could consider depending on your specific circumstances, but just about everyone would benefit from these two.
Just remember to do your homework first and use only those that come from a reputable manufacturer using whole-food, natural ingredients that are free from additives, and have gone through a vigorous quality control process.