We live in a global environment: any news flies around the planet in seconds and that includes fake promises, expectations and lies about healing miracles. It is quite difficult to distinguish between scientifically proven truth and assumptions on which many potential cures are based.
Why does that happen? We have to understand that in nowadays profit-taking world it is not consumers’ health that always comes first. While many companies which intend to manufacture health promoting products start out honestly, there are also very many companies that use the consumers’ trust in miracles in their favor. TV and media advertising do not promote only good and well-tested products: they will advertise anything that looks like it might be true and brings in money.
Considering the epidemic obesity rates, which include early childhood and young age obesity, abnormally high numbers of patients with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular, as well as heart diseases, not to mention cancer epidemics, people need something promising. TV, phone, laptop and computer screens scream to us: vitamins and supplements are the answer!
This era is also characterized by extreme efforts trying to maintain youthful look and energy, as well as live and stay active longer. There was no long-term research present when the first statements about the beneficial use of synthetic vitamins and supplements as our daily routine were made publicly available. Since the naturally occurring vitamins, amino acids and minerals played such an important role in functioning of our body and mind, it was simply believed that more of these nutrients are better. It was believed that the source of these nutrients was not the most important aspect.
For how many decades now have you heard from your doctor: just take some multivitamins, use omega-3 or fish oils, don’t forget vitamin C and E; obviously we all suffer from lack of vitamin D and calcium, so these should not be forgotten either? That has become such an indisputable healthy life-style feature that you will find hardly any person in the developed countries who hasn’t been on lots of vitamins and supplements at some moment of their life.
The CONCERN ABOUT OVERUSE OF SYNTHETIC VITAMINS and SUPPLEMENTS is growing with every new clinical trial that has been carried out to observe whether there are any significant benefits from such synthetic supplement use. The findings are shocking at some point. While almost everybody knows by now that multivitamin use did not result in any health benefits, not everybody is still aware that over-the-counter supplements do not do what they are supposed to, as well.
Millions of people reach every day for their calcium or vitamin D3 pill, or combination thereof. Here is a quote from Science Daily (summary of a clinical trial): “Taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage, although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears be protective, say researchers at conclusion of their study that analyzed 10 years of medical tests on more than 2,700 people.”
Almost everybody over 50 believes that taking calcium supplements will aid in avoiding bone fractures and loss of bone mass and its mineral density: osteoporosis. That is not the only review; there are quite a few clinical trial conclusions that state the same: calcium in the form of a synthetic supplement does not provide with the same effects as consumption of dietary calcium, calcium naturally occurring in food products.
Meticulous testing showed that most of calcium taken as supplements did not even get to the bones: it was partially excreted with urine (hypercalciuria was quite common among calcium supplement users) and also calcium spikes were observed which does not happen with calcium-rich food intake. Judging by tests which showed no improvement with bone density, researchers believe that the other part of synthetic calcium dose is absorbed by soft tissue which explains arterial plagues and calcification of arteries. Calcium spikes were also responsible for heart conditions. Strokes and coronary artery blockages occurred much more frequently in those taking high doses of synthetic calcium supplements. Moreover, there was not observed decrease in fractures or osteoporosis.
Quote: “Because of the widespread awareness and treatment of osteoporosis with calcium supplements among older adults, this population would appear to be at greater risk of developing the adverse consequences of positive calcium balance, including vascular calcification.”
“Calcium may be involved in pathogenesis of CVD (cardiovascular diseases) through multiple pathways, including through influences in lipid metabolism, insulin secretion and sensitivity, inflammation, thrombosis, regulation of body weight, and vascular calcification.”
The same goes for so much widely popularized omega-3 or healthy fatty acids. The evidence from many clinical trials exploring different conditions, such as omega-3 effects on cardiovascular and heart diseases, strokes and heart attacks, impact on brain function and delays of age-related dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and quite a few others, is very unconvincing. The widespread assumption that fatty acids may help delaying onset of some heart conditions, eye degeneration, brain malfunction and prevent cancers has no strong scientific evidence. It was noted that people who lived far north and consumed mostly fish suffered less from the above mentioned conditions. It wasn’t taken into account that their physical loads may be way different or their environment might be almost pollution-free. Therefore, it was soon assumed (and that was based on the facts that human body does not produce omega-3 fatty acids, therefore they have to be consumed) that synthetically processed omega-3 might contribute to higher levels of absorbed omega-3 fatty acids. We know by now that more is not better. MORE SUPPLEMENTS that exceed the daily allowance for such doses can cause significant health risks. Omega-3 fatty acids interact with medications, as well. If you are taking fish oil, especially fish liver oil, vitamin D and vitamin E, you are at significantly higher risk for bleeding. When all these supplements are combined with blood thinning medications (anticoagulants) that many people take to prevent thrombosis or heart attacks, the outcome might be seriously bad because the blood clotting will be significantly affected.
None of the previously carried out clinical trials about benefits of supplemented omega-3 use has provided with statistically significant proof that such use is beneficial for any of these conditions, but healthy life style and consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from clean food sources is. Therefore, it is much more advisable to eat good food and stay away from supplements, unless your doctor has prescribed them. That might be a drug form that is different from the over-the-counter form and, therefore, it might work for you. Uncontrolled use of any kind of supplements when somebody is already on prescription medications can be DANGEROUS and it CAN AFFECT THE WAY YOUR PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION WORKS. Always consult a doctor, assuming your doctor is aware of the newest scientific discoveries and follows up on developments in the area of synthetic vitamins and synthetic supplements.
The truth is that synthetic supplements have a different chemical composition; it is not the same respective vitamin or mineral which we are absorbing from food. Therefore, the metabolism pathways and the way this supplement or vitamin act and behave in the body are not completely known. It is also believed that vitamins and minerals from natural sources work the way they do because food usually contains a set or combination of minerals, amino acids and vitamins in their natural form which is recognized by the body; and this recognition is due to the program which is set by our very individual DNA.
Next articles will review the problems with synthetic antioxidants, vitamin E (the only synthetic form which is available at pharmacies: alpha-tocopherol), vitamin C and some other supplements. If you do not know where to look for supplement and vitamin recalls (there are quite a lot of them), google Health Canada and FDA websites. Such lists are publicly available.