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supplements

Contrary to the claims of many sellers of supplements (including bad advice from health food stores), we should strive to get most of our nutrients from produce not pills, though there are rare diseases that require supplementation.

There are tens of thousands of phytonutrients in plants that can display synergistic effects and have not been successfully isolated efficaciously in supplement form. For example iron, which is important during pregnancy, may be harmful in pill form. Similarly, folate in beans and greens is preferable to folic acid in pills. Flax seed, but not flax seed oil, lowers cholesterol. Citrulline supplements may aid erectile dysfunction, but a better source is watermelon. Similarly, eating soy foods, rather than taking soy supplements, may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. And it is whole produce, not pills, which has been shown to increase physical attractiveness.

However, for those on plant-based diets, there are two vitamins not produced by plants that may require supplementation. They are vitamin D from sun but not from tanning beds (see also here, here, here, here, here, here, here) and vitamin B12 (see also here, here, here, here, here). Among vegans, B12 deficiency is an epidemic if no supplements are used, which can have devastating consequences for their infants (see also here). Vegetarian’s myelopathy is a syndrome coined to describe vitamin B12 decficiency, which can result in paralysis. Another nutrient vegans should keep an eye on is iodine, which is especially important during pregnancy (though harmful in too too great quantities).

One of the most commonly used supplements is fish oil. It has been found to contain DDT as well as other industrial pollutants, including high levels of dioxin, PCBs and mercury (which are neural and cardiac toxins). This includes distilled fish oil, cod liver oil and those labeled ‘Toxin-Free’. Instead, there are safe plant sources of omega-3; alternatives include algae and yeast derived EPA and DHA, which also lower inflammation.

While there are some harmless vitamin supplements such as vitamin C and Airborne supplements, others may do more harm than good, such as multivitamins, which may actually increase breast and prostate cancer risk, and antioxidant vitamin supplements such as Vitamin E that may shorten one’s lifespan.

A variety of other potentially harmful supplements exist including: Herbalife (for its liver toxicity, possibly due to vitamin A), Juice Plus+ (which is really just another vitamin supplement), glyconutrient supplements, lutein pills, creatine, copper supplements (which may contribute to Alzheimer’s), zinc gel, kombucha tea, noni juice, and rice bran. Ayurvedic medicine (see also here) has been found to contain lead. Spirulina and blue-green algae supplements may contain neurotoxins and/or liver toxins (a safer alternative is chlorella).

See also the related blog posts: Vitamin D: Shedding some light on the new recommendations, Multivitamins and Mortality, Vegan B12 deficiency: putting it into perspective

Topic summary contributed by Eitan.
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Watch videos about supplements

  • Too Much Iodine Can Be as Bad as Too Little
    Too Much Iodine Can Be as Bad as Too Little
    Excessive intake of kelp (kombu) or thyroid-containing sausages can lead to iodine toxicity.
  • Pregnant Vegans at Risk for Iodine Deficiency
    Pregnant Vegans at Risk for Iodine Deficiency
    Disinfectants used to sanitize cow udder may provide a source of iodine for dairy consumers but can also increase the concentration of pus in milk from cows with staph infection mastitis.
  • Vegan Epidemic
    Vegan Epidemic
    Vitamin B12 deficiency is common among those eating vegetarian and particularly vegan diets because of failure to take B12 supplements or eat B12-fortifed foods.
  • American Vegans Placing Babies At Risk
    American Vegans Placing Babies At Risk
    Vitamin B12 is an imperative for those eating vegetarian and vegan diets, especially during pregnancy and infancy.
  • Did a Vegan Diet Kill This Baby?
    Did a Vegan Diet Kill This Baby?
    Vitamin B12 deficiency can be life-threatening.
  • Convergence of Evidence
    Convergence of Evidence
    Profile of an editorial published by Dr. Dean Ornish in the American Journal of Cardiology describing the optimal diet and how simple choices can be as powerful as drugs and surgery.
  • Vitamin D Pills vs. Tanning Beds
    Vitamin D Pills vs. Tanning Beds
    A reclassification of tanning beds as a category 1 carcinogen underscores the importance of vitamin D supplementation for those at risk for deficiency.
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    Is Kombucha Tea Good For You?
    Case reports of people ending up in a coma after drinking kombucha tea.
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