In health class many of us were taught that if we have a varied diet that includes a variety of ‘healthy’ foods, then our body will not be able to use a multivitamin, and we will just eliminate it as waste.
Was this notion a way to support the food pyramid, and the complex political/corporate history that went into it? Or was it solid advice, allowing us to save the expense and trouble of taking a multivitamin every day?
Our health classes were taught by well-meaning teachers that were teaching to the best of their knowledge. We now have a better understanding of foods, vitamins, and nutritional needs, so we can do better.
Personally, I take a multivitamin and give one to my children daily. It is important to understand that a multivitamin only supplements some of the nutrients that our bodies need to function normally. Taking a vitamin should be seen as a supplement, and not a replacement for consuming healthy whole foods.
What influences our need for vitamin supplementation?
Ideally, we would have healthy bodies that easily extract all the nutrients that we need from the food we eat. In reality, our digestive system doesn’t always function properly, our food isn’t always as full of nutrients as we need, and outside factors can increase our need for certain vitamins.
Just because we are alive doesn’t mean that we are functioning at our best. The goal is to be full of energy, have stable moods, a robust immune system, and growth as needed for children or adults building strength and stamina. Getting the proper vitamins and other nutrients from food helps us to be our best.
A major reason that we don’t absorb the vitamins we need from our food is that our gut is damaged, and the balanced ecosystem that is normally present in healthy individuals isn’t there any more (source).
Our gut flora is essential in helping pre-digest our food so that we can absorb the nutrients from it. Healthy gut flora secretes enzymes needed to break down vitamins into their usable forms (source). Gut flora also excrete essential vitamins into our system as they break down the food (source).
I love how Dr. Justin Marchegiani on Able James’ podcast sums it up:
Good bacteria eats poop and poops nutrition. Bad bacteria eats nutrition and poops poop. Bad bacteria actually adds more toxins to your gut, but good bacteria adds more nutrition to your gut.
The second reason that supplementation of vitamins and minerals is becoming increasingly necessary is that our soil is depleted. Modern agriculture has resulted in plants’ containing less nutrition than they used to (source).
Does the vitamin quality and type matter?
Yes! Yes the type and quality of our vitamins matters so much that I would prefer you skip vitamins completely unless you can buy a brand that you know contains the most absorbable type of vitamins.
Buying expensive vitamins, even from brands that have natural-looking packaging or claim that their vitamins are from food sources isn’t enough. There is a popular ‘food-based’ vitamin that is sold as a multi-level-marketing product that yes, contains lots of vitamins that are derived from food, but they also contain folic acid that is NOT. The folate in this vitamin it is the less absorbable kind that can cause harm in our bodies.
Incorrect vitamins can cause more harm than good
If you’ve been following Health Home and Happiness for a while, you know that I have some regrets about taking my prenatal vitamin (read more about that here). Vitamins come in different qualities, and some are easier for our bodies to digest than others. Some vitamins, like vitamin B9 (otherwise known as folate or folic acid) can make our system messed up when we consume the kind that we can’t digest.
When the less absorbable or un-absorbable form of the vitamin is consumed, our body recognizes that yes, we have this vitamin, and therefore there is no more need to try to extract it from food. But then our metabolic process isn’t able to use the vitamin efficiently, or at all, and our entire body is affected. This isn’t just folate/folic acid (source), this is true with many vitamins including iron (source), calcium (source), vitamin C (source), and many others that I haven’t looked into.
Using an absorbable form of certain vitamins also is essential for our body to metabolize other nutrients from foods, such as the case with vitamin C and iron absorption (source).
Important stuff. This is why it’s important to really research the vitamins that we consume- assuming that we will just ‘pee out’ anything unneeded from a lower quality vitamin is a myth. Consuming the wrong form can prevent us from absorbing the correct form from the healthy food that we’re eating.
I am thankful that there are supplement companies that DO the research and put out vitamins that first, do no harm, and second correct deficiencies due to genetics, gut flora, depleted soil, and more. See below for the company that I use.
What we use for multivitamins
I use half the dose of Seeking Health brand multi vitamins for my family. Seeking Health takes care to formulate their vitamins with the most absorbable form of different nutrients, even though they are more costly to produce.
We use a half dose because I do not see a difference between consuming the recommended amount and half the recommended amount, and I am confident that my children are absorbing their food well and eating a varied diet.
I also supplement with probiotics for gut flora, dissected liver for iron (me), Spirulina for energy (me), collagen for protein (when I feel our protein intake is low), magnesium in the bath (my oldest, or anyone who isn’t sleeping well or is getting muscle cramps) and amino acids for different mood needs (all of us), and cod liver oil when we aren’t consuming much fish or getting much sunshine.
These supplements all work for our family, but I always encourage you to first spend money on quality food if money is tight, and then move on to supplements if you feel that your family could further benefit from them.
You may be able to get away with a much lower dose than recommended on the packaging. The amount needed will depend on your health, nutrient needs, and other factors.
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