A large number of people will argue various reasons for not taking supplements.
1) There is no proof these things do anything.
2) Studies come out which contradict each other constantly. You can find a study that says a good thing about a supplement and an equally persuasive thing against it.
3) They are too difficult to take
4) They cost too much money
5) They are scams. Most don’t contain what they claim.
6) My doctor says I shouldn’t take them
7) I have no idea what to take
8) I’ve never really thought much about it
9) I avoid eating bad foods so I don’t need supplements
10) I take a multi-vitamin that’s all I need
All of these reasons could be rebutted if there was good rationale for taking supplements. So, instead of rebutting these arguments. Let’s first take a look at what’s the case for taking them.
Vitamin D3 and Multi-Vitamins
The body is able to produce by itself a wide array of chemicals from air, water and almost any food. However, it is clear that if you don’t eat certain foods that contain essential “vitamins” you will get diseases which will end your life eventually. These essential nutrients that the body cannot make are medically classified as Vitamins. Most vitamins can be obtained from a wide variety of foods. The most well known problems being the need for some kind of vitamin C containing food and calcium for bone health. Most people if they eat a reasonable diet should be able to get sufficient quantity of almost all vitamins to prevent illnesses from vitamin deficiency. The main exception to this being Vitamin D3 and possibly Calcium.
Vitamin D3 has been shown in studies to be incredibly important for the immune system, for cancer prevention and cancer recitivism prevention. Simply taking Vitamin D3 can dramatically improve your health and recognition of this fact is evidenced by the recent upgrading of the RDA of vitamin D3 to 1000mcg / day.
Here is an interesting set of facts on D3 and data that 77% of Americans are deficient in D3 based on the RDA from 2010 which was much lower than the current 1000mcg. I make sure to get 2,000mcg Vitamin D3/day without exception. Most multi-vitamins may have half or less of the new recommended daily amount. Even if you get dangerous sun exposure and take some multi-vitamins you may be getting too little D3.
Vitamin D3 is hard to obtain in quantity through food but is mostly available through the sun. Unfortunately, exposure to the sun is problematic. First, some people due to climate or other reasons may find they get less sun than is needed to get 1000mcg/day intake. Second, sun exposure is bad both because of skin cancer and because of skin aging. If you don’t care about your skin then go ahead and get a bunch of sun everyday.
Vitamin D3 is extremely important, probably the most important advice I can give anybody is take D3 supplement if nothing else.
For Vitamin D3 alone I would highly recommend everyone take at least a simple multi-vitamin everyday with at least 1000mcg of Vitamin D3.
Studies have shown a small but significant enough benefit from taking a multi-vitamin. There may be a 10% overall reduction in mortality from taking a simple multi-vitamin / day. Some may say that doesn’t seem worth it, but 10% is a big number in studies of this type. I believe this is strong evidence that at least some supplementation on a daily basis makes sense because without it your body may be low in some nutrient on any given day and you don’t know it. If that doesn’t bother you then nothing I say will convince you and you can quickly disregard the rest of my articles on supplementation.
As a caveat I would make sure you get a minimum of calcium as well. Calcium has been associated in highly credible studies also with reduced cancer risk but it also carries some risk for heart disease. Therefore I would make sure not to exceed a few hundred mg / day in supplements.
My own history
I don’t know if I would have been so convinced of supplements if I hadn’t had my own personal journey. I found some time ago that I didn’t have a very good HDL level. A key ratio for this compound is 3:1 Total Cholesteral : HDL. Studies showed this ratio was a pretty important indicator of CVD (cardio vascular disease.) Both my parents had heart attacks although they died of cancer it was clear I wasn’t on a good path.
When my brother at the early age of 56 got cancer that sort of did it for me. I realized I could either accept what seemed my genetic predisposition was or I could try to do something. I could try to be pro-active. I might fail but I was not going to leave it to chance.
My argument all along was that my proactive stance might not work. I might still die at 56 even if I tried. There may be nothing we can do about things like this. I fully realize that there is very little absolute proof that this will really work for anyone. I may still for random reasons get cancer or die of heart disease. Fully half of all heart attacks occur in people with no risk factors. Cancer is to some extent random.
Therefore, one could easily take the view let things happen as they may. It may be the same as if you try. However, studies show there are definitely things you can do that decrease the risk of cancer. You could ignore that.
However, that’s not MY NATURE. I decided I would at least try to stack the deck in my favor. I have a huge curiosity about the world and I want to live as full a life as I can.
Where to start
The most common causes of death are heart disease and cancer. I was clearly not in a good position on both of these diseases. Some people may have parents who lived into their 90s and feel confident they have excellent genes. You may be blessed. I was not. In some sense having this challenge is what motivated me to try and others who may be more confident of their genes may be less motivated.
My assumption is that the most important thing to do was to reduce the chances of the 2 diseases cancer and heart disease. The first thing I needed to do was raise my HDL level and it turns out there are 3 main ways to do that.
Exercise, Niacin, Drink Red Wine
I increased my exercise routine and took niacin and drank a little more red wine. The result is fantastic. Those things combined with a couple other supplements like soluble fiber and few other things started changing my life.
My HDL went from 21 to 53. My total cholesterol went down to 155 from 212. My ratio went from 10:1 to 3:1 within several years. My cardiovascular indicators were telling me I was in much better shape. I felt lighter and somehow I felt like I was in extremely good heart health. Part of that was the increased exercise. The trick had been consistency and a scientific approach to the niacin.
There was a lot of misinformation and lack of information about Niacin when I started. What I learned was that it was most important to get my niacinamide blood levels up and various forms of niacin simply didn’t do that. As bad as flushing is a lower dose of flushing niacinamide is much more effective than a lot of non-flushing types at getting your blood level of niacinamide up. If you find yourself needing to do that then definitely look at regular niacinamide. Start with lower doses and work your way up. Also, in my experience you should be getting blood tests to both make sure the HDL is going up, LDL and triglycerides are going down and your liver enzymes aren’t going up.
The fact is that I felt a lot better and my blood results proved it worked. This led me to study more and more about supplements.
Doctors say it’s not proven
This is one of the most common arguments and being a man of science I certainly am skeptical. So, I needed data, blood results, real results I could measure.
What I realized is that just because something hasn’t had a study to prove it is efficacious doesn’t mean it isn’t. I had proved that already myself. Yes, anecdotal evidence is terrible but there is real evidence that many supplements do something.
After I had researched and figured out the best things known about heart disease and cancer I realized there were life prolonging factors that were potentially interesting. An entire discipline has grown around life extension. There are supplements that can help exercise, with sex life, with quality of life in general like hearing, vision. There are simple things that help prevent diabetes type II, keep your blood sugar in control, your PSA in control, your liver in better shape. I am not saying any supplement is going to improve your myopia but you can take things which have been shown to help the eye stay healthy.
Prevention is EVERYTING
What I have come to realize is that almost all medicine is focused on what to do after the body has sustained an injury. You go to the doctor because you aren’t feeling well. You usually already have DAMAGE.
This is bad. By the time you have damage your body has been fighting the problem and losing for some amount of time. Finally it has reached the point where the damage is so severe that your body can’t fix it anymore. Now you call on the doctor to give you medicine, go in and do surgery or both to “fix” the damage.
As you know when your car becomes damaged it rarely recovers to how it was before the damage.
Our bodies repair themselves pretty well up until age 25 or so. After that it is well known that the repair mechanism works less and less efficiently. For whatever reason your body is simply not able to bring a damaged situation back to perfection again.
The solution the doctor may have will probably leave you with some problems you will be dealing with for the rest of your life. If the problem for instance is type 2 diabetes you could be facing severe dietary controls increased risk of loss of limbs, eyesight and numerous other complications. If it is cancer you could look at much higher chances of death from cancer in the future as well.
Everything you do everyday, the environment and even the “good” foods you eat have some negative consequences. Your body sustains a massive amount of damage everyday it has to repair. So, I am not as worried about eating something like a donut or whatever because it is my belief that my body will get some good things out of whatever I eat and it will need to repair what negative things happen. I just want to make sure it has all the chemicals and material it needs to fix everything as best it can.
I know it is unavoidable and will happen but clearly all I’m saying is prevention is much more important than 99% of people realize. PREVENTION PREVENTION PREVENTION.
You can’t eliminate all damage and it isn’t a good life to try
You can try to prevent every damaging thing that could happen to your body but that leads to a life a lot less interesting.
People say, I will not do this or that. I think in most cases they are lying. However, if they are acting so saint-like and not doing anything bad then I worry they are not living the kind of life I want to live. I want to travel to places, try new things, enjoy life. I don’t want to be an ascetic. Maybe my theory of damage vs consistent supplementation is not valid but I haven’t seen a good argument against it.
Consider that just being in the world is damaging. Exercise is good for you but it is also damaging. Yet the body somehow in the end fixes the damage and ends up better. So, the answer cannot be prevent all risk of damage.
Variety and Diversity
People suggest that it’s important to eat this fruit or vegetable. These people usually do this for a week. It is very hard to consistently follow any diet and consume a wide variety of materials every day that provides a wide variety. It is very hard to keep your diet consistent enough to qualify as “good.”
Most people are trying to keep weight off. If you consume all the materials your body would need you’d probably eat too much food overall. So, you choose to eat this today. That tomorrow. You go a whole week and then have an apple. Your body can’t possibly benefit from one day a week of an apple.
It needs consistency so it has what it needs everyday. That’s my theory and it is impossible with regular food eating to balance things to get everything you really need.
We are left with no choice. Supplements are the only answer. Consistent use of supplements is the only way to guarantee your body has all the nutrients it needs everyday.
Actual Experience is the proof
What has convinced me beyond any logic or any article in any magazine or anything anybody has told me is the actual results of taking supplements I have taken. I am 100% convinced these things work. Not everything. But the process of stepwise refinement and scientific approach to taking supplements has yielded at least for me a big improvement in my quality of life.
I used to have allergies. I don’t anymore.
I used to be congested large parts of the year. I am not anymore. I don’t even have the allergy medicines or decongestants I used to. I haven’t taken them in more than 10 or 15 years.
I never get colds anymore or get sickness. I used to always get colds anyone had, get them from planes and traveling. I don’t anymore. It’s remarkable. I used to take the flu shot and still get flu. I don’t take the flu shot anymore. I don’t get sick.
My immune system seems extremely healthy. I just don’t get sick.
I have a very healthy sex drive and feel very good physically. I used to have back pains and neck pains, foot pain, joint pain.
My father had arthritis and while I don’t and never had arthritis I frequently felt joint pain. I just don’t feel that anymore.
I am not an ascetic. I eat pretty much what I want when I want it. I do what I want. I get near sick people. I travel and I eat things I don’t know where they came from sometimes.
I feel this is much better than deceiving myself that I can eat a balanced diet everyday, avoid everything bad for me. The fact is it works. My blood levels, general health is as good as it has ever been or better. I definitely believe supplements can improve your quality of life and possibly extend life.
Systematic, Consistent, Diverse Supplementation is Key
I believe the body with nutrients at its disposal can produce the material it needs to fix things if it can. If the body doesn’t have those nutrients then it works imperfectly. The day it doesn’t have the ingredients it won’t repair do something as well as it could leaving it to a future day or for the damage to accumulate.
This may not be life threatening to the point the medical community recognizes is a disease but over time a series of small imperfections keep building till something major happens.
So, it seems to me that consistent supply of all the nutrients your body needs is key. It has to be. Some nutrients the body can store for days but frequently it needs them daily. Also, it is clear that we don’t know how the body works and so it would be prudent to supply things regularly and frequently so there is less risk of a nutrient being unavailable.
Since we don’t know exactly everything a body needs to be completely healthy and maintain itself it is prudent to assume a diverse set of supplements and chemicals are needed by the body.
I have a spreadsheet pointing to studies for some 50 supplements I have studied. Referring to hundreds of studies I have data both for and against almost any supplement including Vitamin D3. You can see this spreadsheet here. You can also do your own research.
I look at articles I find everywhere. The important thing is to identify the quality of the data. Some studies are simply “common sense” studies that make inference based on people’s anecdotes or what seems to make sense. These are the kinds of studies that can change and easily refuted. I don’t give these as much credit. There are double blind studies that are quite powerful evidence too but these are rare. I give these a 2. Most studies are somewhere in between so I give a +1. Those that have bad results or neutral results. These get a -1 or -2. I look at what supplements and what conditions each study related. I now have 300 studies or other basis to decide which supplements are good for what things and what are not likely to be as good. It would be hard for you to replicate this work but it is not perfect either.
Where I can I look for results in my own blood work or my own experience to validate anything if I can. Some supplements it’s not possible and you just have to hope that it’s doing something to prevent cancer for instance. You just can’t know since we really don’t have good markers for cancer.
Most other things we can figure out if I am more resistant to disease, my heart disease risk is better, I am getting stronger faster or feeling more focused from direct evidence. If something isn’t working it gets crossed off.
I also make sure where possible that the supplier is either tested with ConsumerLabs.com or I have high faith in the quality of the company or evidence the supplement works.
Doing your own Research
I highly recommend the following sites as places to get good scientific information on supplements:
Consumerlabs – independent validator of supplements and their contents (I highly recommend a donation to this site)
Eurakalert.com – collection of scientific articles on all topics including health
Examine.com – Presents studies that have been done on supplements with ratings on the quality of the studies
Wikipedia.com – independent useful information on everything
There are other sites but these are the most reputable sites I know of that collect real scientific information on supplements. Believe it or not there is real scientific information on these things. It’s not all wives-tales and hand waving.