Vitamins are the most widely used supplements worldwide. They are readily available in multiple formulations and commonly added to food and household products. It has been widely believed that vitamin supplementation is critical to human health. Much of the research on vitamin supplements has been funded by the supplement industry where data comes from trials on animals and humans suffering from immune disorders or malnutrition. Based on this data, vitamin supplementation can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and restore health. That’s apparently one side of the story. The other side is not as complementary.
What that data doesn’t tell is that in large dosages, vitamins can become overwhelmingly toxic, and the same vitamin treatment that benefits the sick may actually devastate the healthy. Given the reality that our society has been getting increasingly addicted to the habit of popping vitamin pills, it’s time to put the record straight and address questions that the industry doesn’t want you to ask.
How did our society become addicted to vitamins? How are commercial interests exploiting consumers in to believing they need to compulsivley ingest megadosages of vitamins? And what are the real effects of vitamin supplementation on the human body?
There has been a widely held perception that human diseases are caused by vitamin deficiencies. It therefore gives that supplementation with high concentrations of vitamins can help prevent disease. Though not fully supported by scientific evidence, this perception has been propagated and exploited by commercial interests. Vitamins are a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
Health authorities and the media encourage vitamin treatment in high dosages. Fitness magazines whose livelihood depends on supplement companies’ advertisements, cannot afford to go against the trend; they would never dare publish “anti-supplement” articles. Instead, they’d rather run editorials that repeatedly attack the minimum recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamins as too low. That’s in spite of the undeniable evidence that the human body is programmed to utilize vitamins in potencies which are actually below the minimum RDA.
The vitamins propaganda machine would say almost anything to increase product sales, and consumers have been falling prey to false claims and misleading information. Perhaps you too?
It is ironic that the health industry has been using military demolition terms such as “burning”, “killing”, “busting” etc., when dealing with health issues. That may explain the widely held perception that high potency vitamins have more “strength” to “kill” disease than “low” potency vitamins (most people today still believe that that’s indeed the case).
Even more disturbing is the fact that all high potency vitamins are chemically based. None of these products is natural. Growing evidence indicate that synthetic vitamin molecules can cause dependency similar to drugs. Hence, synthetic vitamins are potentially addictive. And if you stop taking them, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Yet all that has been largely overlooked and ignored as our society becomes increasingly dependent on that stuff.
How the compulsive need for megadosages vitamins has been exploited by the industry?
It has been commonly speculated that due to soil depletion, industrial food processing and often low accessibility to fresh food, it becomes imperative to supplement the diet with vitamins and antioxidants. The industry has been spreading reports that promote vitamin supplementation in high dosages as an essential strategy.
So where is the truth? Are vitamin supplements as essential as claimed? Let’s take a look at the theory behind the usage of synthetic high potency vitamins and check how that theory fits reality.
The orthomolecular theory says that there is no difference between “synthetic” and “natural” molecules. According to this theory, synthetically produced bioidentical molecules are indistinguishable from those naturally synthesized by plants or animals. The theory claims that receptors on the surface of animal cells control the uptake of individual molecules regardless of how or why these molecules appear in the blood stream. Therefore, you must support your body with the “right molecules” that are required to sustain life without any concern to where they’re derived from.
Though not conclusively proven, this theory has been adapted by mainstream health authorities who recommend the usage of supplements containing high concentrations of synthetic vitamin molecules as alternative medicine.
Millions of people today are taking vitamin supplements as the only means to prevent nutritional deficiencies, believing that that protocol actually compensates for poor eating habits and bad diets. The highest pound for pound vitamin consumers are the sick, the elderly and fitness consumers, who have been told that their vitamin requirements are higher than normal and therefore require larger dosages. However, in the midst of all this hype, vitamins consumers have been failing to acknowledge one fact –
There is NO evidence that people who take vitamin supplements are healthier than those who don’t.
In fact, there is growing body of evidence that vitamin supplementation rather increase susceptibility to disease and even shorten life span.
Research shows that vitamin supplements can turn toxic in the following cases:
The vitamin issue involves lots of misinformation. Data provided by vitamin manufacturers does not necessarily reflect the truth, certainly not the whole truth.
Our society has been fooled to believe that popping pills with hundreds of times greater vitamin potencies than those naturally occurring in food is a smart way to “outperform” nature. What the public has been failing to acknowledge is one undisputable fact:
The human body has not evolved for synthetic nutrients, or anything in excess.
This means that your body evolved for utilizing nutrients as they naturally occur in food and not in any other way. Your body is programmed to utilize these nutrients in the safest most efficient way, and at exactly the right concentrations. Human biology is ruled by nature, not by technology.
Your body has the enzymatic capacity to convert naturally occurring food compounds into bioactive nutrients – vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – all of which are absorbed and utilized through a tight feedback control. You can safely utilize naturally occurring plant carotenes into vitamin A, you can optimize your vitamin E from nuts and seeds, and get your vitamin D from dairy and marine food or through exposure to UV sunlight, all of which involve no toxicity risk.
Evolution has not prepared organisms for artificial food. Both humans and animals lack the capacity to regulate the absorption and utilization of chemicals. Chemicals spell poisoning.
Here is what likely happens to your body when synthetic vitamins are administered:
The chemical molecules bypass your innate enzymatic processing, and while rapidly hitting your circulation they give your body the signal that its vitamin pool is loaded. Your body is then tricked to believe that it does not need to utilize more of the same nutrients from food. Consequently, the enzymes that normally metabolize food’s vitamins are inhibited, and your body thus loses its ability to assimilate real food’s nutrients.
The accumulated effect of synthetic vitamins on your body could be overwhelming. Recent reports indicate that supplementation with synthetic vitamins disrupt cellular redox and diminish the body’s capacity to respond to stress.
Simply put, synthetic vitamins induce a drug-like effect, and similar to drugs they not only cause dependency, they disrupt normal metabolic functions often with devastating side effects.
Up until recently, it has been commonly assumed that only fat soluble vitamins can turn toxic in high dosages. That has to do with the fact that fat soluble vitamins (A, E, and K) are stored by the body and can accumulate in overly high toxic levels if taken in large dosages.
Toxicity Side Effects of Excess Fat Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A: abdominal pain, vomiting, headache, lethargy, eczema, patchy hair loss, edema, anemia, respitory tract infection, chronic liver disease
Vitamin E: allergic reaction, breathing impairments, swelling of the tongue, fatiuge, headache, nausea, blurred vision, excessive bleeding (anti-coagulation due to inhibition of vitamin K), increased oxidative stress, increased hypertension, decreased lifespan.
Vitamin K: supplementation with a synthetic form of vitamin K Menadione has been associated with liver damage. Some reports indicate a significant association between high intramuscular levels of vitamin K and cancer.
The belief that high potency vitamin C can cure the common cold and prolong life was given credence by the American scientist Linus Pauling (1901-1994). The premise of his theory was that there is somehow a “design flaw” in the human genome that disables us from self-producing vitamin C; that’s unlike other species such as felines and canines who are capable of producing that vitamin. According to Pauling and his advocates, adult humans need to compensate for that genetic default with 10,000 – 12,000 mg of vitamin C daily, to prevent or cure disease.
In comparison, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is only 60 – 90 mg per day. The upper intake level for vitamin C was set at 2000 mg a day for adults by the Food and Nutrition Board in 2000.
So how much daily vitamin C your body needs? And what kind of vitamin C?
Vitamin C is critically important to animals and humans. It is vital to the production of collagen, it helps recycle vitamins A and E, it potentiates iron absorption and is needed for proper adrenal functions particularly under stress.
Most notoriously, vitamin C prevents and cures scurvy disease. Scurvy causes bleeding and inflamed gums, loose teeth, poor wound healing, easy bruising, joint pain, muscle wasting and a total metabolic decline with mortal consequences if untreated. Interestingly, vitamin C cures scurvy even in small potencies such as those naturally occurring in a single lemon or an apple.
So in theory, vitamin C can help cure ailments, build tissues, counteract stress and promote great health, this is at least how it has been accredited. But in reality, not all vitamin C are the same.
There is vitamin C and there is vitamin C, one is natural and the other one is synthetic, and there is a fundamental difference between these two.
The difference between these two vitamins is in their molecular structure. Synthetic vitamin C appears as a single molecule; whereas natural vitamin C occurs as a complex molecules (complex nutrients). The point is: only the complex form of natural vitamin C can accommodate your body’s metabolic needs. Nevertheless, it is synthetic ascorbate (ascorbic acid) that has been most widely sold.
Following is a review of recent research data on the effects of synthetic ascorbate on animals and humans.
Ascorbic acid supplementation impairs muscle’s mitochondrial function and adaptability to exercise.
A recent human study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 87, No. 1, 142-149, January 2008), revealed that supplementation with synthetic vitamin C ascorbate shattered muscle performance in young men, causing impairment in mitochondrial function, loss of endurance, and inhibition of the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dimutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxide (GPX).
Other related experiments were designed to examine the effect of vitamin C on training efficiency in animals. The researchers were aware that ascorbic acid supplementation is highly popular among exercise practitioners for the simple reason that intense exercise increases oxidative stress in the muscle. It has been assumed then that administration of vitamin C ascorbate may help protect the muscle from oxidative damage.
But again, the findings left no place for a doubt: ascorbic acid supplementation caused the opposite effects than expected.
Ascorbic acid impaired muscle performance by increasing oxidative stress and suppressing critical cellular mechanisms of adaptation to exercise.
Since humans and primates cannot produce vitamin C, they evolved to be dependent on vitamin C rich foods. Accessibility to food based vitamins is a critical factor of human survivability. The naturally occurring vitamin C in food is both essential and safe. And unlike the case with synthetic vitamin C, there are no threshold limits for the intake of the naturally occurring vitamin.
So what had made the human species evolve for certain vitamins molecules rather than others?
To address this issue, we need to delve into human evolution. How the human survival apparatus has evolved? How stress resistance played into human survivability? And how all these relate to vitamin supplementation?
Growing body of research suggests that the human body hasn’t evolved for today’s world of plenty and comfort, but rather for a stressed world that existed many thousands of years ago. Anthropological evidence indicates that the human genome hasn’t changed at all since the late Paleolithic era. We still carry the same survival mechanisms of our cavemen ancestors but the world that we live in today is different than the world we have originally adapted to.
Staying alive during extreme primordial times required inherent survival skills. All species evolved with a stress response system that acts to compensate for primordial stressors such as lack of food, physical hardship and extreme climate conditions. Our species is no exception.
The human genome is programmed for living (and thriving) under stressed conditions and not the other way. Stress upgrades your survivability. Under stressed conditions, certain genes are triggered to compensate your body by increasing energy utilization efficiency along with the capacity to resist hardship, starvation and disease.
Starvation resistance is one of the most important evolutionary traits linked to longevity. This feature has been attributed to a certain genetic phenotype which likely evolved to increase organisms’ survivability during times of nutritional scarcity or famine.
Note that food shortage existed in the past and still exists today. But here is the paradox: though it presents a survival risk, it has been shown to benefit human survivability. Food shortage has been forcing human civilizations to keep innovating and improving agricultural means for yielding more food and better distribution.
The real problem today is not shortage of food but rather excess of food. Excess food seems to violate human biology and sabotage human health.
Consider this, as the human body evolved for food scarcity, it also evolved for utilizing maximum nutrients from minimum food. This enabled our species overcome cycles of famine which were common factors of life millenniums ago. Let’s face the facts –
The human body is not programmed for excess nutrients let alone overfeeding.
So how is your body designed to accept vitamins? And how do vitamin supplements affect your survivability?
Our species has been successfully thriving for many thousands of years without a single vitamin supplement. The human body cannot tolerate excess of any kind or anything unnatural. So here is the inconvenient truth.
You’d better survive living off the land, eating scarcely from a few accessible seasonal food choices, rather than living off the supermarket and eating excessively from multiple food choices.
Excess nutrients are toxic and inflammatory. Overfeeding can get you fat, bloated and sick. Similarly you can get poisoned and sickened by excess vitamins. And the same holds true for excess antioxidants.
Keeping a healthy metabolic homeostasis is top priority for your body. It’s a critical factor in your survivability. Your body is highly sensitive to changes in homeostasis. It is capable of sensing fluctuations in cellular energy and detecting changes in cellular redox. Cellular redox means the balance between oxidative and antioxidant reactions in the cell. That balance is determined by the levels of two kinds of compounds – oxidative radicals and antioxidants.
So how does that redox balance affect your body?
Here again, due to misinformation, there exists a false perception based on “good guys” and “bad guys”. The bad guys are oxidative radicals and the good guys are antioxidants. It has been commonly thought that oxidative radicals (the bad guys) increase oxidative stress, whereas antioxidants (the good guys) save us from the harmful effects of oxidative radicals. So how bad are oxidative radicals? And how good are antioxidants?
The truth is that both oxidative radicals and antioxidants can be either good or bad.
Let’s start with oxidative radicals. These metabolic byproducts of oxidative reactions can turn harmful when chronically accumulated in the cell such as due to inflammatory diseases, where they damage cellular membranes, proteins, lipids and DNA. However, under certain conditions, oxidative radicals become not only beneficial but rather critical.
Oxidative radicals play essential roles in adaptation to stress.
They act as signals to improve adaptation to physical hardship such as during exercise. In fact, a certain threshold level of oxidative radicals is needed to “tone” the cell and incredibly, this very oxidative threshold of is what keeps the muscles’ energy and antioxidant systems intact.
The dynamics between oxidative radicals and antioxidants may seem paradoxical. High threshold concentrate of oxidative radicals in the muscle, such as after intense training, is acting as a trigger to adapt and improve rather than degrade.
The free radicals threshold in the muscle is essentially what triggers adaptation to exercise.
Two of the most important effects of elevated oxidative radicals in the muscle are: increased expression of stress response genes (and antioxidant enzymes) and increased mitochondrial biogenesis. Muscle durability depends on both. However –
These beneficial effects can be utterly negated by excess antioxidants.
High dosages of synthetic antioxidants have been shown to shatter muscle adaptability to exercise, as they disrupt cellular redox, suppress mitochondrial biogenesis, inhibit antioxidant enzymes and impair resistance to stress.
Several reports reveal deleterious effects of antioxidants and vitamins on animals and humans. As early as 1921, it was shown that vitamin E supplementation in 400 iu/day (a commonly used dosage) caused an unfavorable decrease in endurance performance. In 1996 and 1997, a Scandinavian journal published 2 reports showing the adverse effects of antioxidant supplementation (Ubiquinon-10) on high intensity training performance in humans. In 2001, Coombes et al reported that supplementation with vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid depressed muscle contractile force in animals. One year later, it was shown that supplementation of racing greyhound dogs with 1g vitamin C/day for 4 weeks significantly slowed their speed.
Suffice to say that the common practice of supplementation with synthetic vitamins and antioxidants should be seriously questioned.
B vitamins are water soluble compounds, acting as catalysts and cofactors in multiple enzymatic processes involving energy production, hormones synthesis, neurotransmitters activation and stress response functions. Because of their great appeal, B vitamins are commonly added to food stuff for nutritional enrichment.
However, though largely considered safe, there is growing evidence that B vitamins could turn harmful when applied in large concentrations. It is now known that an excess of a single B vitamin not only turns potentially toxic, it can cause depletion of other B vitamins.
For instance, excess of vitamin B1 has shown to disrupt insulin production. Excess of vitamin B3 niacin has shown to cause liver damage. And while niacin megadosages have been commonly prescribed as an alternative medicine to lower cholesterol, excess of this vitamin has shown to adversely affect glaucoma, gout, liver disease and peptic ulcers. And there is more.
Excess of synthetic vitamin B6 pyridoxine has shown to cause liver damage when used in “therapeutic” dosages (over 200 mg/daily) for a long term. These so-called therapeutic potencies are currently available over the counter in stores nationwide. Even folic acid, which is considered safe and highly beneficial, could turn harmful in high doses (5-10 mg); symptoms include bloating, nausea and upset stomach. High dosages of folic acid may also result in increased occurrence of seizures among individuals suffering from epilepsy.
Why then these presumably safe water soluble vitamins turn harmful in vivo? Because like other synthetic vitamins, they lack the biological design of food based vitamins and similar to drugs, they’re absorbed in overly-high concentrations and mess with the body’s metabolism. In comparison, natural B vitamins are non-toxic and cannot be absorbed in excess.
No vitamin manufacturer in the world yet figured out how to artificially synthesize what nature has been providing us since the genesis of the human species. Regardless to how fancy, sophisticated and “advanced” a vitamin formula claims to be, it can never be properly assimilated and utilized unless its ingredients are naturally occurring as in food.
How to detect the difference between natural and synthetic vitamins?
You can detect the difference between natural and synthetic vitamins according to their claimed potencies. Synthetic vitamins’ potencies are thousand to hundred thousand and even million times higher than those of natural vitamins (grams and milligrams vs. nanograms and picograms). Natural vitamins never appear in high concentrations. When it comes down to essential nutrients, nature provides us with balance, complexity and bioavailability but not with excess potency.
Check where your vitamins are coming from. A truly natural food based vitamin product should indicate the exact natural source from which the vitamins are obtained. Note that sources for synthetic vitamins manufacturing include petrochemicals, coal tar, chemically manipulated sugar and inorganic minerals.
It may take another decade or perhaps a century for scientists to fully elucidate the magnitude of benefits we get from whole food’s nutrients vs. the harmful effects we get from synthetic nutrients, and accordingly establish indisputable principles upon which human nutrition should be based.
Until then, you need to rely on available data on human biology. Biology means “logic of life”. In today’s world you must know how to recognize and use that logic to better survive.
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