Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board
Vitamin supplements are a goldmine for the manufacturers of these products. More than 30 billion dollars a year is forked over for these pills. The irony is that most people taking supplements follow good dietary habits and don’t need them. But are there situations that demand supplementation?
Supplements are any combination of nutrients taken in varying doses in addition to your usual diet. The role of supplements is to plug nutritional gaps into the diet and supply the immune system with the fuel it needs to defend the body against disease.
Vitamin deficiencies can have irreversible consequences which include brain damage due to lack of vitamin B1 in people who abuse alcohol, birth defects form folate deficiency, blindness from vitamin A deficiency and nerve damage from B12 deficiency
Quirky diets alert nutritionists and doctors to the need for well balanced meals and at times supplementation. Steve Jobs received accolades for his computer skills and being leader of the computer giant Apple, but his dietary habits were less than stellar.
Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs Simon & Schuster, 2011 describes Jobs’ bizarre eating habits. He would eat carrot and apples for weeks and weeks, make carrot juice and at one point turned “a sunset orange hue.” He would subject his body to long fasts and purges. For one week he only ate apples and at other times broccoli was solely on his menu.
Jobs fancied himself as fruitarian, eating fruits and fruit juices which can be high in fructose. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which eventually caused his death.
Vitamins and mineral supplements are no substitute for a well-balanced diet. Yet there are situations where they are invaluable for good health.
Who Can Benefit from Supplements?
- Quirky and habitual fad dieters
- Elderly people with poor appetites and poor diets
- Individuals on certain medications, e. g., antacids interfere with vitamin B12 absorption
- Newborns lack sufficient vitamin K. They are routinely given vitamin K at birth.
- Breast fed infants may benefit from vitamin D and iron.
- Lactose intolerant individuals need calcium.
- Women who anticipate becoming pregnant need folic acid before pregnancy
- People with malabsorption problems due to illness or weight loss surgery
- Those with wasting diseases such as HIV
- Strict vegetarians
- Drug and alcohol abusers
- Post-operative patients, people with certain illnesses, burn patients
How do you navigate through the fog of hype and false claims by this poorly regulated industry? If you unquestionably have to supplement your diet, look for manufacturers that affirm the quality of their products. Purchase only the vitamins and minerals you need to address your deficiency. Avoid the hype and add-ons such as herbs. Decide in what form you wish to take the supplement be it in tablet, chewable or liquid form.
One or more supplemental pills will not cure cancer or heart disease. But supplements may bring your nutritional needs close to a normal range so your body can more effectively fight chronic diseases. There are true indications for supplementation. Knowing what’s best for your body and what to do about it are the first steps to good health.
- Walter Isaacson; Steve Jobs; Simon & Schuster, 2011
- Anticaglia, Joseph R; Vitamin Basics; Doctor’s Column, HC Smart, 2019
- Sizer & Whitney; Nutrition; The Vitamins; Cengage, 2017
- Anticaglia, Joseph R; Why We Need B Vitamins; Doctor’s Column, HC Smart, 2019
This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.