I grew up thinking that science was perfect and we knew about all of the vitamins we needed to survive. We would one day make a pill that gave us all of those vitamins and then we could eat whatever we wanted and still be healthy.
Vitamin research was very important earlier in the century. A lot of disease was cured with what has become known as vitamins. British sailors used to suffer from a devastating disease called scurvy. It turned out to be a nutritional deficiency of what would become known as “vitamin C.”
Similarly, other substances were discovered that when not present in the diet caused horrible disease. As each of these substances were found, they got their own vitamin letter. To be a “vitamin”, a substance had to be a single chemical and had to be necessary to the diet or disease would result.
Mistakes were made. Vitamin D is perhaps the most notorious mistake. It doesn’t qualify as a vitamin because you don’t actually have to consume vitamin D. In fact, it can cause some serious problems of its own if too much is consumed. It shouldn’t have received “vitamin” status because the body can and does make it’s own vitamin D under the right circumstances. Those circumstances include exposure of bare skin to sunlight.
Rickets was the disease cured by consuming vitamin D which is present in raw milk and added to milk. Perhaps that is why we came to the bizarre conclusion that we must drink the milk of another animal for proper nutrition. The fact is that we are much better off getting 10 or 15 minutes of sunshine every day… perhaps more… perhaps less… depending on our skin color and where we live in the world.
Our bodies know how to stop producing vitamin D once we have enough. If we consume it, we can easily overdose and cause problems worse than rickets. All of the other vitamins discovered were extremely useful when they were discovered. Those who were poor and not receiving good nutrition were suffering from some horrible diseases. Vitamins cured those diseases.
Over time though, thoughts about vitamins became much more superstition than scientific. People began talking about anti-oxidants and how vitamins can prolong our life and make us much healthier… when taken above and beyond the amounts needed to cure the diseases that led to their discovery.
Most of the establishment merely shrugged and considered this kind of thinking to be relatively harmless. Although the diseases that are caused by vitamin deficiency don’t really exist in the developed world any longer… what’s the harm in taking a daily vitamin to make sure that you are always covered?
In fact, nutrition has been steadily degrading especially in the U.S. and Europe. Eating processed breakfast cereal, a fast food lunch with no vegetables or fruit and… boxed dinner also with nutritionally void rice, noodles or processed mashed potatoes… may eventually lead us back to having nutritional deficiencies and the diseases associated with them.
A multivitamin can be insurance. Right?
More than shrugging… over time… doctors and nutritionists themselves began taking vitamins… and in much higher dosages than what is required to avoid nutritional diseases. It became very popular to imagine that mega-doses of vitamins help prevent heart disease and slow down aging.
Most doctors now assume that is the case and take vitamins themselves. One result is that doctors have a much shorter life expectancy than the average population. There are other explanations for that, but recently many doctors and scientists stopped shrugging and taking their vitamins.
There is a massive epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and… other afflictions that doctors always assumed that vitamins may help alleviate or avoid. They didn’t really know, but they assumed that the affect would either be neutral or positive for these diseases.
A number of studies have therefore been performed using vitamins against a placebo control as a treatment for these epidemic diseases. The results surprised a lot of scientists and doctors. In almost every case that vitamins had any effect at all… it was negative! We don’t yet know the end of the story. It could be because most vitamins are now made with synthetic materials.
In another 10 years, we may see that vitamins actually are good, but they should be made from foods and not in a laboratory. However, we should remember how vitamins were discovered. It was discovered that the human body needs a minimum of these chemicals to stop certain diseases.
We never saw any advantage in any scientific studies for giving more than that minimum amount. And the “insurance” excuse really doesn’t work either. The diets involved that resulted in these diseases were extremely poor. These were people eating nothing but white rice or nothing but beer and a tack made from dried ground wheat.
The diets were extremely limited and were limited for months or years before the disease manifested. In today’s world, we still some some of these nutritional diseases in famine stricken countries in Africa. A single drop of some of these vitamins protects children from blindness.
But in today’s developed world… these nutritional diseases simply don’t exist… even among those eating only fast food or drinking a gallon of soft drinks and a box a candy every day. Even with the worst imaginable diet in the western world, the diversity of food available… and the quantities of food available… seem to completely eliminate the possibility of developing one of the nutritional diseases that vitamins were discovered to cure.
Have you ever heard of someone having rickets (vitamin D deficiency) or scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) or… beriberi (vitamin B deficiency)? Of course not. The diets that lead to these nutritional deficiencies is extremely limited. All of these diseases come into being in extreme poverty, famine or aboard ships at sea for an extended period of time.
Vitamins are not something you should worry about. In fact, every recent study has shown that those who consume vitamins did the same or worse than those not taking vitamins. Social groups that were most likely to religiously take vitamins every day (such as doctors) have a shorter life expectancy.
One vitamin in particular does seem to have a huge impact on weight. It’s impact can be positive or negative. The name of this vitamin is Niacin. It is one of the B vitamins. The addictive component of cigarette smoke which is called nicotine is closely related to this vitamin. In fact, some claim that they are very similar in their effects on metabolism.
This substance is used routinely to create diabetic mice for use in laboratory experiments. The metabolism pathways are very similar for this substance in humans. Almost all scientists agree that one could easily make a human diabetic by giving them large doses of Niacin… just as they do mice for experimentation.
The link between diabetes and obesity is well established. In fact, I challenge you to get an A1C test or at least a laboratory test for fasting blood sugar and/or insulin as soon as possible. If you are obese, you are extremely likely to also be diabetic or pre-diabetic. It is useful to know where you currently are on the path to devastating diabetes.
The link between smoking tobacco and diabetes is also well established. Oddly, most doctors seem to think of the cause of diabetes as being obesity and not the other way around. Whereas for smokers, they tend to think of smoking as one of the contributing causes of diabetes and… recommend quitting smoking to help with diabetes blood sugar control.
I tend to think of the root causes of diabetes and obesity as being the same thing… diet. But if one had to think of either obesity or diabetes as the cause of the other… I would tend to think of diabetes as the cause of obesity and not the way most doctors think about the issue. In any case, I would urge extremely caution with the vitamin called Niacin. It has a dramatic affect on blood sugar, insulin, and weight gain or loss.
If you are taking a multivitamin currently, I recommend talking to your trusted health professional about discontinuing it… especially if it contains Niacin… and almost all multivitamins do contain Niacin. If you already have pre-diabetic or diabetic blood sugar levels and you absolutely insist on testing Niacin… watch both your weight and your blood sugar levels as you do your tests.
A phantom weight loss of a pound or two using Niacin might not be worth it to you… if you know that you are causing a dramatic rise in blood sugar levels and all of the damage that causes to your body.
Regardless, I think you can see why I don’t recommend taking vitamins. However, my thoughts on minerals are very, very different. It is odd that most people don’t think very much about minerals.
The developed world might not have any issues with vitamin deficiency, but… we can see dramatic differences in mineral consumption over the last century… and especially in the western world. We soften our water (removing minerals), grow food with fertilizers which cause dramatic growth… while lowering the mineral content in our produce. Farm land has been “used up” in terms of mineral content and we generally ignore these nutrients.
When I explained that I consider there to be four basic food groups… plants, animals, dirt and water… a lot of people probably thought that was nuts.
Who eats dirt? Historically a lot of civilizations actually did eat dirt. Certainly they got ash (which is just another name for minerals) on their food when cooking in open fires… and pouring those ashes in the fields where their vegetables were grown was very common. This replenished the mineral depleted fields.
All plants and animals contain minerals. If you want to see exactly how much, burn some organic matter until it is consumed. A log from a tree in a wood stove is probably the easiest way to do that. The heat produced from burning that organic material is what we call calories.
In the wood stove, you are literally burning the protein (if any), carbohydrates (wood has a lot of these) and fat (if any). If you burned some animal instead of a log, you would be burning more protein and fat. The result would be the same. The heat is produced by consuming the organic material whether it be protein, fat or carbohydrate.
The metabolism path in a wood stove is a bit more simple than in your body. As the burning is taking place, water in the organic material is heated up and turned to steam. So it is released as well and goes up the flu.
When you are finished completely burning the log, there is something left on the bottom of the wood stove. We call it “ash.” Ash is another word for “minerals.” Ash is not organic (meaning it doesn’t contain carbon atoms) and elemental… meaning that you can find it on a periodic table.
In that ash is copper, iron, magnesium, calcium and a lot of other elements you find on the periodic chart. Your body needs these for all kinds of metabolic processes. It can not create them. They are elemental. It would take an act of alchemy to turn something you eat that isn’t iron into iron. That just isn’t going to happen in your body.
So you absolutely need these minerals. And the amount that we are consuming today is a lot less than it was in the past for a lot of different reasons. There haven’t yet been a lot of studies on mineral intake and disease.
However, there are a lot of meta-studies on different geographies and their relative mineral consumption… and that can be correlated with longevity. One can see clear correlations between those who live at high altitudes and therefore drink high mineral content water and longevity. In fact, the only three high longevity countries that have population at low altitudes (sea level) are Japan, Norway and Ecuador. All three happen to have mountains rising dramatically from the shoreline resulting in mineral rich water available even at sea level.
That mineral rich water results in mineral rich fields and plants. The mineral rich plants result in mineral rich animals. Fish also play a large part in all three of these long living countries. Two are also relatively wealthy. Wealth is actually the highest correlation we have found with longevity.
So there are a lot of factors at play, but minerals are likely one of those factors. Should you take a mineral supplement? The jury is out on that one. It is completely unknown if mineral supplements in the form of pills are assimilated at all. The minerals are often literally the elements and are not extracted from a food. It seems likely that it is a better idea to get your minerals from food.
But how? We already covered one way. Eating real food will dramatically increase your mineral intake. Eat actual plants and animals and not stuff in a can, box or bag. At best, the processed foods contain mineral additives. At worst, they contain no minerals. Eating wild foods also helps.
Farming and ranching lead to very low mineral containing plants and animals. Eating game meat, wild fish and plants from your own garden or a local coop can dramatically increase your mineral intake. Of course, you also want to get rid of that water softener. Hard water means mineral rich water. The minerals are good for you.
If you have your own garden, you can also manually add ash from fires to the dirt. That will increase the mineral content in the soil and the resulting plant will then have more mineral content.
That’s why I don’t take a multivitamin supplement. And it is why I try to eat mineral rich foods.