Popping a pill is easier than eating an apple, so should we take supplements?
Generally speaking, Mother Nature’s powers cannot be stuffed into a pill. Studies have repeatedly shown that antioxidant supplements, for example, do not seem to have any beneficial effects on respiratory or allergic diseases, underscoring the importance of eating whole foods rather than trying to take isolated components or extracts in pill form. The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, for example, found that women who obtained high levels of vitamin E from a nut-rich diet appeared to have nearly half the asthma risk of those who didn’t, but those who took vitamin E supplements saw no benefit at all. Who do you think did better? Asthma patients who ate 7 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, or those who ate 3 servings plus 15 “serving equivalents” in pill form? Sure enough, the pills didn’t seem to help at all. Improvements in lung function and asthma control were evident only after subjects increased their actual fruit and vegetable intake, strongly suggesting that consuming whole foods is paramount.
By getting our nutrients from unprocessed plant foods, not only may we minimize exposure to harmful food components, such as sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, but we may maximize our intake of nearly every required nutrient: vitamin A carotenoids; vitamin C; vitamin E; the B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, and folate; as well as magnesium, iron, and potassium, not to mention fiber.
However, given our modern lifestyles, important shortfalls need to be corrected. For example, vitamin B12 is not made by plants; it’s made by microbes blanketing the earth. But in this sanitized modern world, we now chlorinate the water supply to kill off any bacteria. While we don’t get much B12 in the water anymore, we don’t get much cholera either—that’s a good thing! Similarly, we evolved to make all the vitamin D we need from the sun, but most of us are no longer running around naked all day in equatorial Africa.
Thus, I recommend a regular, reliable source of vitamin B12 for anyone eating a plant-based diet: for those 65 and younger, 2,500 mcg (μg) vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) at least once a week (or 250 mcg a day), and up to 1,000 mcg daily if over 65. I also recommend that people unable to get sufficient sun take one 2,000 IU vitamin D3 supplement daily, ideally with the largest meal of the day.
Image Credit: Pat_Hastings / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Supplements
All Videos for Supplements
Evidence-Based Weight Loss – Live Presentation
In his newest live presentation, Dr. Greger offers a sneak peek into his new book How Not to Diet.
Is Fasting for Weight Loss Safe?
The reasons why fasting longer than 24 hours, and particularly three or more days, should only be done under the supervision of a health professional and preferably in a live-in clinic.
Are Keto Diets Safe?
The effects of ketogenic diets on nutrient sufficiency, gut flora, and heart disease risk.
Dairy & Cancer
How do we explain the increased risk of prostate cancer but the decreased risk of colon cancer associated with dairy consumption?
Can Saunas Detoxify Lead from the Body?
How much does sweating via sauna or exercise get rid of lead and mercury?
Best Food for Periodontal Disease & Gingivitis
What would happen if you stopped brushing your teeth but ate healthier?
Dietary Supplements for Autism
Vitamin C, vitamin D, and omega-3 fish oil supplements put to the test to improve the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
Best Supplement for Canker Sores
Vitamin C, turmeric, beta glucan fiber, and vitamin B12 are put to the test for recurring canker sores (aphthous ulcers).
Detoxifying with Chlorella
Chlorella is put to the test for liver disease, cholesterol, and detoxifying carcinogens.
How to Treat Jet Lag with Melatonin-Rich Food
There may be a way to get the benefits of over-the-counter melatonin supplements without the risk.
How to Treat Jet Lag with Light
A cheat sheet to figure out exactly when and how to treat jet lag using light exposure and light avoidance at specific times of the day, based on which direction you’re going and how many time zones you cross.
Benefits of Blueberries for the Brain
Blueberries can significantly improve cognitive performance within hours of consumption.