Do I need a Vitamin Supplement
This article will really help provide new insights on this question, and give you a new way to look at this topic objectively. It is not only for vitamin supplements, but all supplements. This is an important read.
Far too often we see people on one side of the debate saying “Absolutely not, there are enough vitamins and minerals for most people if they eat a healthy diet”.
And far too often we see supplement companies trying to sell their vitamins and other supplements without any real solid reasoning behind what they are saying.
This article aims to give you a solid understanding of what is really going on here, and give you the insights to make your own decisions. It’s not an easy question, and there is a lot more to this than almost everyone acknowledges.
Let’s first go through some terms and analyse the way they are determined. Please read this entire article and think through it for yourself. We encourage some healthy scepticism. See if it makes sense to you and please draw your own conclusions.
What is RDA?
The “RDA” for vitamins, minerals, and other supplements refers to the “Recommended daily allowance” for these vitamins and minerals.
So this is the amount each person is supposed to get each day from their diet in order to achieve optimal health.
The “RDA” was originally conceived in 1941 during world war 2. The purpose was supposedly to give the western troops some kind of major health advantage over their opposition. This was war time, and the government and their scientists were looking to obtain any edge they could. Healthier troops and a healthier population at large meant a higher chance of winning the war.
An interesting history no doubt, but we’re well into the 21st century now and we really need to examine this system and scrutinize it in detail if we’re truly interested in optimal human health.
In fairness, the RDA is updated every decade or so, but as you’ll see in the rest of this article, the methods for calculation it are so far off from achieving optimal health that it’s almost frightening.
Have you ever wondered, who makes these “recommendations”, and what are these recommendations based on?
The vast majority of people just assume that these recommendations are probably set by a top group of doctors who use data from scientific studies to determine the optimal amounts of each vitamin and mineral for humans, and then just report on those numbers to come up with the RDA. Well… Unfortunately that is not how it works. Not even close.
How is RDA calculated?
In order to really understand how the RDA is calculated for each vitamin, mineral, and other supplement, it’s important to first understand how this is NOT calculated.
Think about it. If you really wanted to know how much of a vitamin or mineral to recommend people consume each day for optimal health, you would first need to know the long term health of a large sample of people taking a certain daily amount of a certain vitamin or mineral (say magnesium), and compare that to the health of equally large groups of people taking different amounts of magnesium. Then you would basically recommend the amount corresponding to the healthiest group.
But there is a MAJOR problem here. There is absolutely no data for this. We have no long term health data for groups of people taking 5mg per day of magnesium, 10mg per day, and all the way up to a huge amount like 5000 mg per day. It doesn’t exist. So in many important ways, the RDA is simply a wild guess, and it is therefore quite useless.
So how do they calculate it then?
Well, in sticking to our example with magnesium, they really just look at how much magnesium the general population gets from a fairly balanced 2000 calorie diet. (They make slightly different RDA suggestions for children, women, and the elderly, but this is just a basic idea of what’s going on). Then they recommend this amount if it seems adequate for 97.5% of the population.
And the way they determine “adequate” is just if these people are healthy in the sense that they have no obvious illnesses and are generally able to function. Their standards for “health” are just the absence of an obvious disease. This is not true health by any means.
So if most people (97.5% of them) generally consume X amount of mg of magnesium from their average daily diet, and seem “OK” in the sense that they aren’t rushing into the hospital with illnesses directly related to this amount, then the government will just “recommend” this amount.
You can see that it’s hugely problematic in the sense that this recommendation isn’t at all designed to be an optimal amount. It never was. And it’s important people know what’s going on here and understand the major limitations of these numbers.
It’s not at all logical to assume that a typical well balanced diet would contain the optimal amount of each vitamin or mineral for humans. Sure, these amounts are fine in the sense that most of us are consuming these already and don’t seem “sick”. But what if we were to consume 3-5 times the amounts found in a typical diet? Might we not be even healthier? Of course, this amount might make no difference, and it might be worse to have this amount. But it’s absurd not to be open to the possibility.
There is unfortunately no large scale data for different amounts of each vitamin and mineral, so the government just errs on the side of caution and “recommends” pretty much what is found in a diet. That’s it. And that’s a big problem for anyone interested in incredible human health and vitality.
What about the UL?
In addition to the “RDA”, you’ll also come across the “UL”. This is the “Upper Limit” of a vitamin or mineral the government regulators say is “safe” to take on a daily basis. Having more than the UL, they claim, is increasing one’s chances of negative consequences or side effects.
It is important to have an upper limit and know what is safe for us to consume. The problem once again, however, is that the UL is largely made up and isn’t based on solid scientific data. This is because the data doesn’t exist. The government again errs on the side of caution, and if there are some reported cases of adverse reactions to specific amounts of a vitamin or mineral, they will use these numbers to set a “safety limit”. Unfortunately, these numbers are not well determined because of lack of data. This is why all of these numbers are so hotly debated in the health and wellness community.
Many naturopaths and nutritionists will see from their own patients that taking 5 times the UL of a certain vitamin or mineral sometimes has hugely positive effects on those people’s health and lives. But they can’t use these experiences to get the numbers changed.
Many people who take large doses of certain vitamins or minerals will swear by their large doses too. But all too often the medical community will be warning these people of major health risks, and arguing that the benefits they are claiming to experience must be a placebo or from something else.
While it is very true that individual claims about the effects of supplements can not, and should not be taken as scientific facts, it’s also true that we should all be open to hearing about their experiences and trying to replicate them in real studies to see if more people benefit. This is a much better approach than what is all too common now, which is telling people that they are taking huge health risks and only experiencing placebos rather than anything real.
I’ve seen far too many times that “most people get all the nutrients they need from a well balanced diet”.
How does anyone know this? And what do they mean “all they need”? Often times more of a vitamin could very well be worse. But it could potentially be better too. And just because you don’t have a “deficiency” in something does NOT mean you are consuming an optimal level of it.
Don’t forget, a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral is basically defined as an amount so low that you get physically ill from. And you need more if you want to get rid of the sickness. It doesn’t mean “any amount which is below optimum”.
It’s true that people can “function” without being “sick” on relatively low levels of many vitamins and minerals. It’s also true that people may not “need” supplements. But so what. We want to discover the amounts of vitamins, minerals, and supplements which will propel us all to superb health, not just accept levels which allow us to avoid extreme diseases.
It’s important we’re all aware that the recommended amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements are primarily based of the amounts of each the majority of the healthy population consumes over the course of their typical diet.
These recommended amounts are not based on a wide range of scientific studies because the data does not exist. They always err on the low side when making these recommendations.
Also be aware they are viewing “health” as the “absence of being sick” rather than truly looking for optimum health and vitality.
Many of these recommendations are “safe” but antiquated. If you are legitimately interested in optimum human health and vitality, you need to be constantly educating yourself in this field and being open to new research and ideas. It’s important to keep pushing the envelope of your understanding and paying attention to new scientific knowledge coming in all the time.