The Value of Vitamins
Against the backdrop of the continuing misleading information regarding vitamins, I am repeatedly answering questions from patients regarding the usefulness and safety of vitamin supplementation. I have heard everything from “vitamins don’t work” to “vitamins play a role in causing various forms of cancer.” In response to these rather erroneous comments, I’d like to clarify some important information about vitamins and their essential role in maintaining our lives:
What is a Vitamin?
Quite simply, vitamins are organic substances necessary for life. Our body requires vitamins for growth, vitality and general being. Only small amounts of vitamins are required to carry out these vital functions but as a general rule, the body cannot produce most of these vitamins internally. We must therefore obtain vitamins from natural foods or from some type of dietary supplementation.
What Vitamins Do?
It is impossible to sustain human life without all the essential vitamins. Vitamins perform many tasks including the promotion of good vision, the formation of blood cells, the creation of strong bones and teeth, and ensuring the cardiovascular and central nervous system function properly. While vitamins do not provide energy directly to our bodies, they do aid in the conversion of food products into useable energy.
Thirteen vitamins are considered essential: these vitamins are A,C,D,E, K and eight vitamins often referred to as B-Complex (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, pantothenic acid, biotin, folacin, and B12). If any of these vitamins is lacking in our diet, a specific deficiency symptoms or disease may result.
Who Should Take A Vitamin Supplement?
Based on the above information you could draw the sensible conclusion that since vitamins occur in all foods, if you ate the “right” foods in a “well-balanced” diet you could surely get all the vitamins that you need. In fact you would be absolutely correct, however, very few of us with our lifestyle are able to stick to such a complete diet.
To those lucky few of you who are able to recognize which of the natural food groups each of the 13 essential vitamins come from and are so finely in tune with your body to realize if a single vitamin deficiency exists, my hat goes off to you as you stand as role models for the rest of us. But for those of us who have yet to reach such a nutritional nirvana, I introduce you to the wonderful world of vitamin supplementation.
Statistics dating back to 1988 show that the nutritional supplementation industry is a multi-billion dollar venture in North America. An estimated 33 per cent of all North Americans take a vitamin product on a regular basis. It is interesting to note that healthy people with a positive outlook on health generally take supplements. It is ironic that those individuals whose health stands to benefit the most from vitamins use them the least. It is also an interesting fact that as educational level increases in our society, the use of vitamins also increases. Research also shows that the average Canadian diet still lacks in many essential vitamins and minerals. This then begs the question: who creates this dogma and speculation regarding the need and the efficacy of vitamin supplementation, especially considering the apparent need to aid our average Canadian diet?
My guess is that it is the same group of people who want us to take something else when we are sick to mask the overt symptoms of disease and to fool our body into actually believing that it is healthy. It is probably the same group of health care folk that have not picked up with the times to practice preventative health care and are still entrenched in reactionary sick care. It is probably the same ones that stand nothing to gain from maintaining your health and everything to gain from caring for you only after you are sick.
The decision to practice preventative health on the road to an optimum state of wellness parallels the decision to take vitamin supplements. Using vitamins does not pose any type of health risk to the general population if taken properly.