The first step is to have a healthy diet, but even if we manage to achieve it, in most cases we’ll still fall short of the micronutrients it provides us.
Supplementing our diet with added vitamins will make it easier for us to obtain the amount we need to be in an optimal state of health. To carry out this supplementation properly, we need to take into account certain important factors, such as whether supplements with vitamins in suitable doses are safe in the long term or whether it is advisable to tailor what we take individually according to our specific needs.
Dr. Iván Moreno – Neolife Medical Team
Are vitamin supplements really necessary? Can they replace a healthy diet?
Vitamins are essential for the proper functioning of our body. Without them the enzyme processes that keep us alive don’t work properly and diseases appear. We’ve evolved in a medium in which these molecules were part of our diet, and therefore (despite their importance) in general we can’t synthesize them in sufficient quantities and we need to consume them as part of our diet.
Classically we obtained an adequate amount from our food, and our instinct and our ancestral knowledge taught us how to feed ourselves properly. Discussing which plants, fruit or animals are beneficial for our health has always taken up a good deal of time in our conversations and interests, and still does so today.
The first step to optimal health is a proper diet, based on real food and not on processed foods, with priority being given to variety and fresh products. This is the optimum way to consume the nutrients and vitamins that we need, with many more benefits than the contribution made by the vitamins we know of. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of simply reducing the benefits of eating an orange to its amount of vitamin C or eating fish to the intake of omega-3. The benefits come from eating whole healthy foods.
In this case, we might ask ourselves if vitamin supplements are really necessary…
Vitamin supplements have had a curious history, like many of the trends in medicine; from becoming the new “Bálsamo de Fierabrás” that used to be essential to take if one wanted to be healthy (regardless of individual needs) to being something that is almost demonized, and whose consumption is said to pose at worst a serious risk of toxicity, or at best an unnecessary waste of money.
These trends are sometimes supported by simplistic approaches in the conduct of clinical studies, in which a vitamin supplement, whatever its composition, must demonstrate a benefit to a group of people under study, no matter how different their nutritional states or needs might be.
The truth is that there are numerous reasons why we should consider the possible use of a multivitamin supplement as an addition to our diet (never as a substitute), and for which supplementation shouldn’t be done without the guidance of a professional :
1. The agricultural revolution has led to a reduction in the quality of our food.
The exploitation of agricultural soils and intensive livestock farming have resulted in our food having less nutritional density, i.e. fewer nutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements) than the crops and animal products of a century ago. However, foods have a similar caloric density (calories per 100 grams) or, in the case of processed foods, an even higher one.
2. The nutritional content of foods varies geographically.
Even with the same methods of agricultural production, the nutritional content of the food can vary a great deal between different regions.
3. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is not the maximum amount, it is the amount needed to prevent a person from becoming ill.
The RDA has been defined with the minimum doses so that an individual doesn’t become ill due to lack of a vitamin or mineral, it is certainly not the limit around which a healthy diet should be built. The RDA is too low!
With stress and the current lifestyle, needs are increased, as they are in periods of convalescence, surgery, or physical or mental stress.
At the same time that our nutrient requirements have increased, our need for calories has become lower because we have more sedentary jobs and lifestyles. Because food is less dense in terms of nutrients and more so in terms of calories, this leads us to the dilemma of either putting on weight or having nutrient deficiencies.
4. It is not easy to reach the minimum nutritional requirements.
There are studies demonstrating that even individuals who took vitamin supplements in their diet were unable to reach 100% of their requirements.
5. There are some micronutrients that, in greater quantity, have more positive effects on health;
for example, vitamin D, in which it has been found that people who had higher levels (between 60-80mg/dL) of what is traditionally considered as normal (30ng/dL), had less shortened telomeres.
In addition, vitamin C taken in high doses for a situation involving physical stress (such as a serious infection or surgery) has shown benefits in terms of survival.
6. They are safe products.
Prolonged intake of vitamins at doses above the RDA and below the upper level have been shown to be safe in the long term.
7. The requirements are variable depending on the nutritional status, individual needs, diseases or medication, etc.
We can’t generalize the taking of vitamin supplements for the entire population. We need to assess what the actual intake is (not what we would like to be able to ingest), and what the individual requirements are, if we’re going to establish a diet, what our level of stress and physical activity is, etc.
The recommendations need to be looked at on an individual basis. Not everyone needs supplementing, and not with the same vitamins. This is why, when studies are conducted in which we give supplements to the entire population, there are no clear results in terms of improvement, although there has been a tendency towards a reduced appearance of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
To sum up:
- There is a need for a correct contribution of vitamins to the diet in order to maintain a correct state of health.
- This contribution is hampered by the lower quality of the food and by the diets that we end up adopting, due to bad habits or the constant stress of our lives.
- There are situations where demand is higher, such as when faced with restrictive diets, stress, pollution or intense physical activity.
- In adequate doses, vitamin supplements are safe in the long term.
- We recommend individualizing the contributions according to the specific requirements needs.
Ideally, we should have a diet that is healthy and rich in fresh foods, but often when we are going to adopt a more restrictive diet or our needs are increased, supplementing our diet with a contribution of micronutrients will help us to obtain the amount we need to be in an optimum state of health.
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