To supplement or not to supplement is a question that seems to be a major topic of conversation as people become more nutritionally aware.

To supplement or not to supplement is a question that seems to be a major topic of conversation as people become more nutritionally aware.  Articles are being written and each author has a different opinion, which adds to confusion.  

            Most people ask their doctors for health advice and they are likely to be told they don’t need to take supplements—they are a waste of money.  S/he also may tell you that it doesn’t matter what you eat.  At the same time you may be handed a prescription for a drug.  Medical doctors study medicine, not nutrition. Mainstream medicine teaches physicians to treat symptoms with drugs and it seems most Americans accept that as the only way.

            Reports saying multiple vitamins are of no value always say that those who eat mostly vegetables and fruits need no supplements.  I read one report that said if we stick with the nutrition “pyramid” we have no need to take additional nutrients.  Unfortunately, the pyramid (published by the government) says most of what we eat should be breads and cereals.  Our bodies are made to get nutrition from foods.  However, over ninety percent of what Americans eat is processed (including breads and cereals) and it contains virtually no nutrition except a few added synthetic nutrients.  Other studies show that a multiple vitamin does help people stay healthy.  All multiple vitamins are not created equal.  A multiple vitamin made from whole food concentrates is totally different from one made in a factory from chemicals.  Whole food nutrients are absorbed as the body is meant to absorb foods.  Studies mean nothing if they don’t tell what kind of multiple vitamins were used.  

            Everyone is alike in some needs and each of us is an individual in others.  For example, some people have higher need for B vitamins than others.  Have you noticed that alcoholics who “go on the wagon” usually turn to sugar.  It does the same thing for them, but to a lesser degree.  Some alcohol treatment centers have started giving clients a B complex to help them give up the drug and it can also be beneficial for sugarholics. 

            Yes, vitamins can create imbalances, it you take them without knowledge.  All B vitamins are not alike.  They need to be in balance, meaning they don’t need to have 100 mg of B6 and 25 mg of B2.  Too much of one can create a deficiency of the other. 

            One argument used against supplements is that studies show they are not effective against diseases.  Way back in 1969 Dr. Evan Shute published a book entitled Vitamin E and Heart Disease.  He advocated high doses of vitamin E to heart patients and they had good results.  He explained the increase in heart disease when white flour was made and wheat germ (the richest source of vitamin E) was discarded.  Now we hear vitamin E can actually do harm to the heart and other things.  Dr. Shute recommended the natural form of vitamin E, not the synthetic.    Adelle Davis, who also wrote books back then said to never take synthetic vitamin E.  She was so adamant about this that she told how to tell the difference.  In the small print on the label, if it says d-alpha tocopherol , it is the natural form.  If a tiny l is slipped in after the d, making it dl alpha, it is synthetic and should not be taken.    Today you may find some that has no such labeling, in which case, you can be pretty sure it is synthetic.  The recent studies finding vitamin E worthless were done with the synthetic.

            Another argument against vitamin E for heart patients is that it should not be taken with blood thinners because it is a blood thinner and the blood can become too thin.  Interesting---why then is it not used as a blood thinner instead of the very toxic and dangerous drugs used to thin blood?

            You are likely to read that a problem with supplements is they are not regulated by the FDA and they may not contain what is claimed on the label.  Never mind that the Food and Drug Administration allows outlandish mislabeling of foods and many drugs they have labeled as safe have later been pulled off the market when they caused serious consequences, including deaths.

            Can we trust an agency to regulate our vitamin supplements when they allow over 14,000 man-made chemicals to be added to our food supply, many of which have been banned in other countries?  Food additives are not natural nutrition for humans.  Children suffer most because of their exposure from infancy.   The reason they are still allowed in the often the “revolving door” which allows “scientists” who go back and forth between industries that profit from these chemicals and the FDA.  They work for the FDA long enough to push additives through to be on the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list and go back to industry where they are richly rewarded.  

            How can a person make wise decisions about both supplements and food?  Learn!  Investigate manufacturers and learn which ones actually have public health as a priority.  Grow or buy food locally as much as possible.  We must start thinking for ourselves!

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at