Are Vitamin Supplements A Commercial Con?

At the start of the twentieth century among the industrialised nations, the life expectancy at birth ranged a mere 40 to 50 years. The top killers were infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and diarrhea, not heart attacks or cancer. People worked hard yet material goods were proportionately more costly to access. To earn enough for a bicycle took 260 hours of labour (7 hours today) while equivalent effort now would buy a car. Processed sugar consumption averaged 2.5 kilos, while we annually eat and drink a staggering 60 kilos worth.

The 1920s were not only the time of the flapper, speakeasy and the new slang term ‘cool’. Antibiotics were invented and our major killers seemed about to be defeated by science. By the next decade the development of pesticides was further proof of our growing prowess against nature, promising the end of world hunger.

Like dancing on the Titanic, these sentiments now seem naïve.

We are living longer but the critical twentieth century improvement that made this possible was not a glamorous new vaccine or pill. It was due to an understanding of the importance of personal and public hygiene measures. Due to these for instance, woman and infants for the first time in history were not so likely to die from infection-spreading, unwashed hands and equipment. Our lifespan today is also abetted by interventions that allow people with chronic conditions to survive longer, but with questionable quality of life. Viruses and bacteria have proven to be as determined to adapt and live as we are. Excessive use of antibiotics has made these organisms mutate into ever more dangerous and resistant strains. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis are on a rapid increase in affluent cities once thought immune.

One Inseparably Entwined Ecosystem

Our lives require less physical exertion so we become obese (in the 1950s people consumed more kilojoules but were leaner). Highly processed, artificially modified, low nutrient foods that were once occasional treats – if available at all – are consumed with rapacious frequency, and we wonder why illness ‘mysteriously strikes’. Selected fertilisers promote fast luxuriant plant growth but neglect to replenish the soil of numerous other vital elements (since the 1950s the vitamin and mineral levels in many vegetables and fruits have diminished up to 40%). Agrochemical residues are eaten directly, or seep into waterways and thus affect all plants, animals and humans.

So extant are these substances throughout the food chain that they are found in industrially distant Arctic polar bears and fish. Heavy metal pollutants fill the air we breathe (and the amalgam in our mouths), kick out needed bone minerals, lodge there instead and weaken the skeleton. Our homes, cars and places of work ‘out gas’ endocrine disrupting chemicals from paint, resins, plastics and more that can trigger hormonal changes including subfertility and cancer. We cover ourselves with multitudinous toxic lotions, cleansers, deodorants, fragrances, and wear clothes and sleep in sheets washed with harsh additives. These can penetrate the skin and have a joy ride through the bloodstream before being stored in fatty areas such as the brain. And this is just the short list.

Removing the Blinders

Apparently people raised in concentration camps, or the vast rubbish dumps of the developing world’s mega-cities think of their lifestyle as ‘normal’. Whatever we are born into, and that which surrounds us and our fellows will not seem odd or unreasonable – until an entirely different outer environment (or inner psychological one) is experienced. The modern industrialised world has many splendid freedoms and resources for those who access them. It is also biochemically manipulated in ways previously unimaginable, and philosophically disrespectful. We foul the ecosystem at every level, get ill and miserable in consequence, then produce more militaristic medications and earth management techniques to ‘fight the problem’ – when the real problem is a selfish, short-sighted, isolationist attitude that few people observe, question or address.

Recognising the ‘bad news’ part of the situation is essential, to shake us out of passive acceptance and denial. To take up residence there however is hardly productive. The focus of this article is on personal health, although this is a gateway responsibility that often leads to greater awareness about the larger physical, social and political environment. See The Shape Diet for how to achieve a healthy lifestyle and choose foods specific to your body-type and needs. And consider supplements.

It Heals, It Detoxifies – and It Waxes Your Car!

As with any big business there are unscrupulous purveyors. Some companies’ advertisements imply that by taking a pill you can turn into a super model. Forget about ageing and death – these are just foolish lifestyle options by those ill informed. Many people swallow buckets of tablets on the advice of a cousin of a friend of their neighbour. If asked as to why, what dosage, what brand, or how effective this has been over time: there is head-scratching uncertainty. Then there are those who refuse supplements because “a healthy diet is sufficient”, or “getting nutrition from pills isn’t natural”, or “it’s just a commercial con job”.

If our air, water and soil were healthy then a good diet and regular exercise would substantially suffice. However, there is very little that is natural and unsullied about the modern world. Even when we go to the trouble of carefully selecting quality foods, if there are insufficient minerals in the soil, the same is true for the plants that grow there, for the animals that eat them, and for the human beings who eat the plants and the animals. Factor in the insidious, omnipresent, ever growing chemical assaults that challenge us, and we need all the help we can get. Vitamins, minerals, herbs and other botanicals cannot replace a healthy lifestyle, but they can greatly and swiftly assist one.

The most likely deficiency in clients who come to see me is: minerals. This is evident in the pattern of symptoms which tell their story, and again confirmed if they get one of my tissue sample analyses done (see the SERVICES page). Minerals can compete with each other for absorption. For instance, high levels of calcium or phosphorous will diminish magnesium, while too much copper will decrease zinc and vice versa. Symptoms of iron deficiency can be the same as iron overload: fatigue, paleness of skin, and susceptibility to infection. Iron and copper are pro-oxidants, so in excess they can promote disease.

Benefit From Expert Advice

Professional input is ideal to appropriately tailor individual needs, dosages and formula types – like different fuel choices for different vehicles. In the field of nutrition, one size DOES NOT fit all. Have supplements recommended by a qualified nutritionist or naturopath (check for years of NZQA-approved training, and annual registration). Keep dosages small to moderate to prevent new imbalances. Micronutrients – and all body systems – always work as team players. By employing several small synergists, the overall effectiveness of each component is substantially enhanced. Large doses and their complications can then be avoided. Just as it takes a cluster of factors to initiate disease, co-working support factors can have magnified positive results.

Supplements are a growth industry. Pharmaceutical companies and global corporates who might specialise in herbicides, have turned to profit from this commodity. Start by using local, or otherwise visible and easily accountable firms, with origins grounded in the natural health philosophy. Avoid brands that market on low price, or make exaggerated claims. Read the label and follow instructions for storage and the timing of the recommended dosage. Check for statements about synthetic or natural food sources, fillers, or ingredients you may have an intolerance to.

Good companies have resident health practitioners who will answer any questions. If a supplement proves helpful, take consistently for one to three months (it takes three months to re-establish the storage of bone minerals for instance) and then trial its benefit by discontinuing. If your symptoms resume (changes in hair, skin, nails, eyes, and nasal function are particularly like dashboard lights signalling worse engine problems beneath) then re-start supplementation.

This same sensitivity and careful evaluation should be applied when choosing which foods to eat and when, whether your tired body is crying out for rest, or for the invigoration of exercise. The process of alertly observing small, shifting signs not only helps prevent disease; it increases personal understanding, and an analytical and intuitive mastery that accrues benefits throughout your personal ecosystem and beyond.

Maria Middlestead Reg.Clinical Nutritionist, Auckland Call Today!

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