Are Vitamins Bad for You?

I don't often post about specific things you should or shouldn't do to protect your health (beyond doing Tai Chi and Qigong), since I believe that taking charge of your own wellbeing is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself. All the information you could possibly need to help yourself is out there, but lately I've become more aware that it is sometimes hard to sort through the vast field of research. I also think it's more and more important to add my voice to the chorus of those encouraging people to take charge of their own health and healing.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical doctor. I'm writing this based on my personal experience and on the writings and research of people much more knowledgeable about the science of nutrition, for what it's worth. However I am an excellent critical thinker and on every level this information makes so much sense to me.

There has been a lot of stuff in the media lately about the supplement / vitamin "controversy" - largely stirred up last fall by some news outlets that reported on some studies and editorials that claimed that taking vitamin supplements can be detrimental to your health. I am not a scientist but I have a PhD in English literature, so I know how to analyse sentence structure and argumentation very well. "Docs Say Stop Taking Multivitamins" is not a good title or primary claim for an article that quotes one doctor. It makes it sound as though every single doctor out there agrees that multivitamins are bad for you.

The problem is, in part, one of the appeal to authority. When it comes to your health and wellbeing, we might expect that medical doctors would be the best authority. Makes sense, right? Here's the thing: have you considered that medical doctors are trained in techniques and approaches to health that are very specific? What I mean is that when it comes to acute care - broken bones, major physical emergencies - modern medicine is second to none. But what about those chronic conditions - your arthritis pain, your fibromyalgia, your feeling of dis-ease with one thing or another? This is just not the focus of modern medical training. Neither is prevention. Neither is optimal health.

The fact is, medical doctors receive relatively little training in nutrition. According to this article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "most graduating medical students continue to rate their nutrition preparation as inadequate." The average amount of time medical students have with nutrition instruction is 23 hours. That might sound like a lot, but seriously I've spent at least that in the past three weeks educating myself on the correct dosage and numerous health implications of a single mineral, and I've only just scratched the surface. What you take into your body on a daily basis is the singlemost important cornerstone of your health. Without the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients, the body can't function the way it's meant to. Exercise takes a close second, I'd say. We are meant to move.

I once had a raging debate with a friend of mine who had just graduated from med school about what happens to your body when you don't take in the right amount of nutrients. His claim: you would have to eat nothing but Twinkies and ice cubes for a month in order to suffer nutrient deficiency that would impact your health.

When you look into many of the studies vaguely referenced in these articles that argue against vitamin and mineral supplements, you'll find that the supplements they're talking about are low-dose, low-quality synthetic vitamins, that the studies are over twenty years old, or that they were done on specific populations or people with specific medical conditions that might require a different course of treatment.

These studies often say nothing about what taking higher-dose, high-quality supplements, tailored to your personal needs, can do for you.

The thing that concerns me most is the undertone of much of this argumentation. There's a grand sweeping theme that seems to want to undermine people's attempts to do right by themselves. The message is, whatever steps you might be taking to take charge of your own health, you should give up, that taking care of yourself is not something you can do or should try to do. I've seen the same tone in comments on internet articles about supplements for health. Many people have accepted the message that you can't take charge of your own wellbeing, and even go so far as to try to police other people who are making positive efforts to give themselves the best chance at better health.

I'll leave it to Dr. Mercola to make the case for supplements in general, and Jonny Bowden to rebut one of the more pernicious cases of attack on vitamins, but I do want to say that before you remove any potentially helpful thing from your personal health program, investigate it thoroughly. Do your own thinking. (And do some Tai Chi or Qigong.)

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