New Evidence that Foods are Better than Vitamins
The word vitamin is a marketing triumph. It speaks of vitality, it speaks of Superman, and put those ideas and feeling together and you have a winner. As a result, any chemical that can bear that name has had extraordinary success in the marketplace. About 50% of all American adults take a multivitamin every day.
This makes vitamins the #1 set of chemicals that Americans take. The question is, does taking a multivitamin really deliver? Or like any other drug, are there down sides?
A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, took a look at the fate of 38,772 women, average age 62, some who took multivitamins, and some who did not. The study looked at how each group fared over a nearly 20 year period. What they found was that the group that took multivitamins died a bit faster. The study looked at a number of supplements. The most dangerous was iron which substantially increased the rate or risk of death. Just taking Vitamin A or D had little impact on the rate of dying, but taking a multivitamin did, it increased it.
This study adds further fuel to the argument that taking any drug, even one that sounds safe like vitamins, is not nearly as good for you as eating good food.
Consider just one vitamin. This vitamin contains tetrahydroimidizalone, and is found in abundance in tomatoes. Imagine someone trying to get you take a tetrahydroimidizalone pill every day, it would be a very tough sell. All your warning flags would be aroused. What is tetrahydroimidizalone? Sounds very technical and dangerous. What side effects does it cause? And yet, about 50% of all adult Americans take this chemical every day, as long as it is called Vitamin B7, or biotin.
Now, there is no doubt that if you do not eat enough biotin, bad things happen to you. But the question is, are you better off eating biotin-containing foods, or taking a pill of it? The evidence for food is overwhelming at this point. And the reason that makes sense is clear. A tomato has lots of tetrahydroimidizalone-rich biotin in it. But it also has thousands and thousands of other compounds. Further, humans and tomatoes evolved together. As our ancestors found vines whose fruits helped us live, we cultivated those vine more. As the benefit from a food grew over time, humans helped that food prosper. The trend led to the evolution of highly complex foods that help us live. Vitamins are a part of nearly all plants that we cultivate.
And yet, with only one exception, we have found that taking the vitamin out of the plant helps us in any way. Vitamins work best when they work in concert with the tens of thousands of other chemicals in plants that we evolved to live on. The one exception to date is folic acid, which as a pill, does prevent the development of spina bifida in pregnancy.
This study of so many women adds a dramatic extra level of evidence for this point. In fact, now we can say that not only do multivitamins offer no benefit over eating a piece of fruit, but they may cause harm.
Despite the reassuring sound of the category, vitamins are like every other pill, they can cause harm. A recent study demonstrates that the harm might include dying at a younger age.
We recommend that all your vitamin needs, with the exception of folic acid, be met by eating food.
We recommend that no one take a daily multi-vitamin, unless you have a specific medical condition requiring it.
Dr. Arthur Lavin
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