Throw Away Your Multivitamins and Antioxidants! | Chris Kresser

Throw Away Your Multivitamins and Antioxidants!

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of supplements. I’ve always believed that it’s preferable to get the nutrients we need from whole foods, as they’re found in nature, rather than from isolated, synthetic sources like calcium supplements.

Unfortunately, modern medicine is obsessed with isolated, synthetic nutrients and has convinced itself that they have the same beneficial properties as nutrients found in whole foods.

A gigantic dietary supplement industry has arisen from this misguided belief. A 2006 National Institute of Health (NIH) conference (PDF) revealed that 20-30% of Americans use a multivitamin daily, forking over $23 billion a year to supplement manufacturers for the privilege. Many more Americans effectively take a multivitamin by eating fortified grain products, like Shredded Wheat cereal and Wonder Bread.

Most Supplements Don’t Work

With these statistics in mind, you might be surprised (or even shocked) to learn that clinical trials have shown that most of these supplements not only don’t work as intended, they actually make things worse.

The NIH conference examined the efficacy of 13 vitamins and 15 essential minerals as reported in long-term, randomized clinical trials.

First the positive results:

  • A combo of calcium and vitamin D was shown to increase bone mineral density and reduce fracture risk in postmenopausal women.
  • There was some evidence that selenium reduces risk of certain cancers.
  • Vitamin E may decrease cardiovascular deaths in women and prostate cancer deaths in male smokers.
  • Vitamin D showed some cardiovascular benefit.

Um, not too impressive considering the near universal faith considering how many people are popping these pills on a daily basis.

Now for the negative results:

  • Trials of niacin (B3), folate, riboflavin (B2), and vitamins B6 and B12 showed no positive effect on chronic disease occurrence in the general population
  • There was no evidence to recommend beta-carotene and some evidence that it may cause harm in smokers.
  • High-dose vitamin E supplementation increased the risk of death from all causes.

Then there’s the now infamous JAMA meta-analysis on antioxidants. They looked at 68 trials with over 230,000 participants. Here’s what they found:

Treatment with beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality. The potential roles of vitamin C and selenium on mortality need further study.

Oops!

(Re)-Introducing the Concept of Food Synergy

It’s crazy to me that so many health care practitioners – both conventional and alternative – tell their patients to take multivitamins and antioxidants when their is little support for that position in the medical literature.

That’s why I was so happy to come across a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition addressing this issue. It’s called “Food synergy: an operational concept for understanding nutrition” and it’s one of the most encouraging pieces of research I’ve seen in a while. I’m relieved to learn that their are researchers working in the nutrition field that don’t buy into the synthetic nutrient hype, and understand the importance of whole food.

Since it’s such a great article, I’m going to quote from it and riff off of a few passages.

A person or animal eating a diet consisting solely of purified nutrients in their Dietary Reference Intake amounts, without benefit of the coordination inherent in food, may not thrive and probably would not have optimal health. This review argues for the primacy of food over supplements in meeting nutritional requirements of the population.

This is the crux of the authors’ argument, which I’m 100% behind. They congratulate science on the discovery of fundamental nutrients such as vitamin C, and clarifying their role in health and disease. The realization that scurvy is caused by vitamin C deficiency has saved a lot of lives. But, the approach to nutrition that is fundamentally guided by nutrients has a dark side:

The aspect of science that reduces to fundamental principles, however, can lead to oversimplification and ultimately stifle understanding and progress.

Translation: reductionistic thinking can get us in trouble if we’re not careful.

The concept of food synergy is based on the proposition that the interrelations between constituents in foods are significant. This significance is dependent on the balance between constituents within the food, how well the constituents survive digestion, and the extent to which they appear biologically active at the cellular level.

Yes! It makes me so happy to see this in a major, peer-reviewed journal. The authors go on to define several aspects of food synergy:

  • A buffer effect, i.e. the effect of a large intake of a particular nutrient may vary depending on if it is taken in concentrated form or as part of a whole food.
  • Nutrients can affect each other’s absorption, such as copper-zinc and magnanese-iron. These interdependent nutrients tend to appear together in foods, but not necessarily in isolated supplements.
  • It matters whether the nutrients have been produced by technologic or biological processes. Trans fat produced in ruminant animals (such as conjugated linoleic acids in dairy products) are beneficial to health, whereas trans fats produced in the processing of industrial seed oils are highly toxic.

Then they provide evidence that whole foods are more effective than supplements in meeting nutrient needs:

  • Tomato consumption has a greater effect on human prostrate tissue than an equivalent amount of lycopene.
  • Whole pomegranates and broccoli had greater antiproliferative and in vitro chemical effects than did some of their individual constituents.
  • Free radicals were reduced by consumption of brassica vegetables, independent of micronutrient mix.

Note: In the supplement world, the idea is that “a nutrient is a nutrient, a molecule is a molecule” regardless of what source it comes from. These folks claim that it doesn’t matter whether a nutrient comes from a whole food complex or a laboratory.

Did you know that most vitamin B1 supplements are made from derivatives of coal tar? That ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is made by reacting high-fructose corn syrup with sulfuric acid? That many iron supplements are made from rusty nails? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat some meat and vegetables to get those nutrients.

Should we all take a daily multivitamin as “insurance” against nutrient deficiencies? Here’s how the authors respond to that question:

In our view, the better “insurance” would be to eat food with a broad coverage of nutrients and take no supplements at all, unless they are deemed necessary to fix a specific medical problem.

Hallelujah! I’d like to buy these researchers a beer.

Okay, Not All Supplements Are Bad

Now that I’ve made my point (or at least I hope I have), I need to add a qualifier or two.

There are a few supplements that I do recommend – in certain situations.

Vitamin D may be necessary for those who live in northern latitudes, especially during the winter months. Low vitamin D is associated with so many diseases that it’s probably a good idea to keep levels up. The first choice would be to do this by eating seafood, but that’s not always practical or desirable for a number of reasons. Cod liver oil is my second choice for maintaining D levels. But note that this is more of a whole food than it is a supplement. In some cases when people are very deficient, i.e. under 25 ng/ml, I may suggest adding a D3 supplement in addition to the cod liver oil.

Fish oil has been shown to provide great benefit for cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory conditions. My preference here is that people reduce their intake of omega-6 fats and simply eat cold-water, oily fish a couple times a week to meet their omega-3 needs. Unfortunately, people have been scared away (unnecessarily, which is a topic for a future post) from eating fish, or perhaps it’s difficult for them to find or afford wild fish on a regular basis. In this situation I may recommend a fish oil. I recommend Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil from Rosita as my preferred cod liver oil product. It is real Norwegian cod liver oil that is fresh, raw & handcrafted from wild livers using a very rare ancient extraction technique which uses nature to separate the oil from its liver. No chemicals, solvents and mechanical devices are ever used during the extraction process, and it is free of heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs, and other contaminants (verified by independent testing on Rosita’s website).

Magnesium is one of the most crucial nutrients in our diet, and many people are deficient. It protects against nearly every modern disease, and can be therapeutic for difficult to treat inflammatory conditions such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, etc. Seaweed and various nuts and seeds are high in magnesium, but occasionally supplementation may be useful. I suggest using a highly-absorbable form such as magnesium glycinate.

Vitamin K2 has recently been revealed as an important nutrient in protecting against heart disease. It does this by telling the body to put calcium in the bones and teeth where it belongs, and not in the arteries and soft tissue. K2 is found in the fat of grass-fed animals and certain fermented foods like natto and hard cheese. I recognize that not everyone eats these foods for various reasons, so if someone has heart disease or is at risk for it I may recommend either Cod Liver / Butter Oil, and/or an MK-4 supplement. For more on vitamin K, see my post Vitamin K2: The Missing Nutrient.

But even in these cases, I only suggest that people take these if they need them, and if they can’t (or won’t) get the nutrients from foods.

119 Comments

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  1. Organism, in my opinion, if you don’t get enough Vitamin A from your diet, you’re eating way too few vegetables.
     
    Qualia,
    Chris is pretty much correct in this article, actually: studies show that getting most vitamins from supplements does not prevent disease and can actually cause problems. If someone is deficient, that’s not good, but if supplementation doesn’t help the problem but causes more problems, that can’t be called a solution.

    • This is from 10 months ago but I’m going to answer it anyway because I think people’s health is suffering from an incorrect assumption. Mine certainly did. I love carrots and sweet potatoes, but I still wound up vitamin-A deficient, which hurt both me and my daughter.

      “How well do you convert beta carotene?” http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2001/010323.htm

      The article doesn’t say whether all the study participants were healthy. It is known that diabetics (regardless of type), people with hypothyroidism, infants, and young children cannot convert beta carotene. If all these study participants were free of chronic disease (they were already adults) then add 40-50 percent of the healthy population onto the chronically diseased population already having trouble.

      By the way, there’s been a similar British study that has had similar results.

      If it weren’t for the fact that people think beta carotene and vitamin A are the exact same thing, we would have already seen vitamin A become the next fad nutrient. And it might yet happen. Vitamin A not only nourishes the immune system but is also vital in reproduction and embryonic development. Particularly it is necessary for bilateral symmetry of the outside of the body (and proper asymmetry of internal organs), and important in the development of the embryonic ureteral bud into ureter and nephrons. Guess what one of the most common classes of birth defect is in the developed world? Urinary tract. End-stage renal disease is one of the conditions that automatically triggers Medicare coverage in the United States, and the effects of vitamin deprivation tend to be cumulative across generations if uncorrected, so our false equivalence of BC and vitamin A and the mainstreaming of veganism may have interesting implications for public health spending in the future.

    • I don’t think this is true of minerals. They don’t disappear out if the food from as it gets old. A mineral doesn’t deteriorate like vitamins can. It is either in there because it was in the soil and was able to be taken up by the plant or it isn’t because it wasn’t. Vitamins are more complex molecular structures that can form because of the right conditions but can deteriorate and unform as the food ages and deteriorates.

      Qualia: I totally agree with you and believe your philosophy is far more sound. A high quality mv/ mm and eat as well as possible is the best most practical for most people, like the pure encapsulations one I take that Chris recommended. I have tried the totally nature worshipping earthy crunchy if we just all eat natural foods, Weston price way and it didn’t get me where I needed. So I added supplementation and have healed my colitis, hypothyroid and pms. I think I have vitamin d polymorphism because I only do well on really high dose like minimum 8-10,000 iu. At this level or even a little higher my thyroid starts working, plantar fasciitis and other joint bone teeth problems go away. When I drop back down for awhile to 4-5000 iu I start having symptoms again. I take k2 as well.

      I think Weston price organization can be a bit extreme and put out stuff that is garbage at times making ridiculous statements like b supplements didn’t cure beri beri or pellagra can’t remember but that rice polishings did in some outbreak. I was skeptical so I researched it and only found info saying that high dose b supps greatly speed cure from bb or pellagra over food alone.

  2. ok, apparently i wasn’t clear enough. here is what i mean:
    you: ” I’ve always believed that it’s preferable to get the nutrients we need from whole foods, as they’re found in nature, rather than from isolated, synthetic sources (i.e. supplements).”
    me: a) show me a single person on this planet who doesn’t think it’s preferable to get all needed nutrients from their food. duh..
    b) “from whole foods as they are found in nature” -> well guess what, that’s exactly why most people take MVs, because they actually became aware that they do NOT have access to unadulterated, nutritionally-dense food anymore. most soil is not what it was anymore, even for organically grown food.
    you: “Unfortunately, modern medicine is obsessed with isolated, synthetic nutrients and has convinced itself that they have the same beneficial properties as nutrients found in whole foods.”
    me: pure, unproven propaganda. no one is “obsessed” with isolated, synthetic nutrients, and no one believes that  “a single synthetic nutrient” has the same effect as “nutrients found in food”. this comparison doesn’t even go together logically (the former is singular, the latter a multitude of “nutrients”)
    you: ” A 2006 National Institute of Health (NIH) conference (PDF) revealed that 20-30% of Americans use a multivitamin daily, forking over $23 billion a year to supplement manufacturers for the privilege. Many more Americans effectively take a multivitamin by eating fortified grain products, like Shredded Wheat cereal and Wonder Bread.”
    me: a) 20-30%? yeah, that’s bad indeed. it should be 100%, considering how depleted and poisoned todays food is. no comparison to what our ancestors got from the same amount of food, as you know very well. and yeah, i guess we the should abandon iodine fortification as well.. because you know, it’s so synthetic and singular..
    you: “Vitamin D showed some cardiovascular benefit.”
    me: i guess diabetes, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis was not good enough for you to list as a (huge!) benefit of D supplementation..   http://is.gd/chWey
    i could go on and on. as i said: your post is biased, populist, imprecise, and partially untrue.  what i could agree with as recommendation would be “eat as healthy as possible (depending on the available resources you have), but as we all know, today’s food doesn’t come nowhere near the nutrient-density our bodies where designed for, so it’s certainly a good thing to take a potent, high-quality (!) MV/MM, including some fish oil, and at least 3’000IU of vitamin D (even better, do a D3 blood test), just to be sure.  and yes, there ARE crappy and worthless supplements. but thats true for all mass produced goods. buy quality – whether it’s food, or your supplements.
     
     

  3. i’m new to this blog (not to the topic), and i have to say, that’s probably one of the worst and most naive title and blog post about this topic i’ve ever read. it’s like saying, “hey, if you’re not dehydrated, you really don’t need to drink water! so throw away your evian bottle alrady! but you know, if you don’t have enough water, you really should drink some!”.  or stated otherwise: “you really all should throw away your MV/MM supplements, because you know, i’m sure your diet is already perfect and all as you exclusively buy organic and grass fed you definitely do not lack any single nutrient, because i tell you so. also, all MVs are from the devil! HOWEVER, if you think you lack something, you really should rely on some serious supplements, you know.” whaaaat?  seriously? too simplistic for my taste, thank you very much 😉
     
     
     
     

    • Let me guess: you take a lot of supplements? This is the typical response I receive from people with a drawer full of them. The point of the article is clear: taking supplements is not the same as getting the nutrients from food. There are a few nutrients that are difficult to obtain from food, and are so important to health, that they may require supplementation.

      What’s your point? You haven’t made one yet.

  4. I agree with all of the supplements in your list. But I might consider additional supplements:

    Natural vitamin E or wheat germ oil – Vitamin E is hard to find in food.
    Zinc, if you don’t eat enough red meat or oysters, but please balance it with copper.
    Vitamin A, if you don’t consume liver or fish liver oil. Don’t take too much of synthetic vitamin A, because synthetic, water-emulsified forms of vitamin A is highly absorbed.
    Coenzyme Q10 or ubiquinol, if you’re over forty years old while not consuming enough food containing this.

    Coconut oil and unrefined salt should be supplemented, but that may be too  far-fetched because they are not usually categorized as “supplements”.
    The reason that I don’t include iodine is because it’s found in kelp, which is cheap to buy. And iodine without accompanying with selenium is toxic because selenium’s antioxidant activity protects iodine from damaging the thyroid. Selenium is rich in western American soils, but poor in the eastern parts.

  5. Yeah, I know.  Love that cold cereal in milk.  All of it is not too good, I agree.  My only point was that, given cereal consumption being what it is, Shredded Wheat is probably one of the best of the entire group.  Just did not want anyone knocking my childhood favorite!  <VBG>

  6. Okay, my ignorance surrounding the small differences between cold cereals has been exposed.

    However, I can find about a hundred other reasons to knock any cereal that comes in the box.  The first is that they’re all made by extruding grains, which alters the proteins and makes them toxic.  Second, most people are probably gluten intolerant so eating Shredded Wheat isn’t a good idea in general – even if it wasn’t extruded.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

    This is coming from someone who used to LOVE cold cereal as a kid.

  7. Wait a second.  Shredded Wheat is just that, wheat.  No added vitamins or other nutritive additions.  That cereal and maybe Grape Nuts are probably the most natural and least modified items on the market.  Yes, grains are a problem for many, but don’t go knocking Shredded Wheat.  Knock Total, with its cheap vitamins, or other MUCH more heavily processed cold cereals! (I got a soft spot for SWheat – always liked those big woven biscuits as a kid).

  8. I pay attention to the ones listed in my article.

    Your example is a case in point, for me.  Rather than take vitamins when I feel like I’m getting a cold, I drink large amounts of kefir (made from raw milk) and kombucha, eat homemade bone broth (chicken) with plenty of garlic and ginger and boost my intake of CLO.  75% of our immunity is in our gut, so boosting probiotics is the best way to protect against a cold.

    No synthetic nutrients required.  If I’m feeling really on the edge, I will take herbs but those aren’t synthetic supplements either.

  9. I don’t know if you pay attention to individual vitamins, but when I do take them (not often) I take Garden of Life’s raw/food based vitamins.  The only exception is a CoQ10 Vitamin I buy from another big “natural” company, though I have fogotten the brand off the top of my head.  They are usually only found in WFs or health food stores and have an orange label on everything.

    Anyways, I usually only take them when I start to feel stuffy.  A while ago I caught something that I couldn’t kick.  I took a slew of suppliments after being miserable for two weeks and felt better over night.  Now when I start to feel stuffy I take at least D3 (raw) and the CoQ10 and I feel better over night, no matter at what time of my illness I take the vitamins.  It does seem that they are helping.

    I don’t take them on a regular basis though, with the exception of FLCO, but I have been slacking on that lately.

  10. This is another good article, as per usual on your site. I’ve been formulating whole food supplements for years and am amazed at the fact that isolates and synthetics are called “nutrition.” Nutrition is what we get from food, not from isolated chemicals. Plus, few people know that most of the vitamins supplements today are manufactured by Big Pharma. And they are used in the same way as drugs — pharmacologically. In other words, these pills are used to quell, stimulate or suppress a symptom, but not to offer real nutrition.

  11. Well, I was looking for a study I remembered reading with the conclusion that in general those people taking any types of supplements were healthier…but instead I found this scary abstract that concludes: “Multivitamin use was associated with a statistically significant increased risk of breast cancer.”
    http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/ajcn.2009.28837v1
     
    In any case, thanks for the thought-provoking articles and healthy advice!

    • Jim,

      That study you mentioned wouldn’t prove that supplements were responsible for the better health. The difference could simply be due to the fact that overall those who take supplements are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle, eat better, exercise more, etc. than those who don’t. In fact, it’s even possible that the supplements on their own would increase mortality but the other factors (diet, exercise, not smoking, etc.) were more significant and had a net positive effect. Without a study that actually controls for those variables, we have no way of knowing.

  12. Sounds like what Pollan was preaching in “In Defense of Food”.  Glad to see the establishment catching on.
    And I can vouch for magnesium supplementation.  I was having a lot of odd problems, heart palpitations being one of them.  After much googling I came across a chat board where someone suggested magnesium deficiency for similar symptoms.  Not long after starting to take it, the palpitations went away.

    • Hi there, I’m having heart palpitations currently that are bothering me. Do you mind sharing which form of magnesium supplementation you used (brand, type)?

  13. The study on Vitamin E and Vitamin A that caused increased mortality was faulty as the researchers had a poor understanding of vitamins.

    The Vitamin E they studied was the synthetic Vitamin E not the Gamma E which is the natural Vitamin E.  Second the dosage on the Vitamin A was lower than the RDA for Vitamin A.

    B Vitamins do reduce your homocysteine level.  My level was cut in half once I started supplementing B Vitamins.

    My research shows that generally Vitamin studies are poor conducted, poorly designed and the researchers have no idea what they are doing.

    The best way to study the effects of Vitamins is conduct a n=1 study on yourself and see if it affects important blood markers.

    • Some of the studies have been conducted poorly, but many have been well-designed. And if you think studies are done poorly, consider how most supplements are manufactured. You may be aware that synthetic E is not the same as Gamma E, but many consumers are not. They just get the cheapest multivitamin or antioxidant combo from Walgreens or Wal-Mart, and assume that they’re helping themselves. There’s no reason to take E or B supplements when you can get those nutrients from food. The same for every other vitamin and mineral, with the possible exceptions of D, K2 and magnesium.

      • This is absolutely not the case for someone with a problem processing folic acid. These people may need supplements in the methylated form in order to lower homocysteine. The dosage necessary is typically high than that one would obtain from food. Methyl folate is the most typical chemical needed followed by need for methylated B12 and B6.

        Here is just one article about genetic polymorphism and folate metabolism, in this case related to choline depletion and liver function

  14. Awesome post, Chris!

    It’s great to see your continuos fight against reductionism in medicine.
    Some notes and comments:
     
    Vitamin D: In line with your general line of thought, I now think that the suggested 80 ng/ml target for vitamin D blood levels for cancer protection as suggested by the Vitamin D Council seems dubious. As far as I know no study has ever checked levels in hunter gatherers, and absolutely no-one has controlled for numerous potential contextual factors. A post at Hyperlipid discussing how the amount of meat in the diet may modulate the need for vitamin D, e.g, rickets only occurring when meat intake is low, really got me thinking. (I’m now happy with my 50 ng/dl level, and will not try to ramp up to reach 80.)

    Iodine: What do you think of iodine? American soils seem to be particularly deficient in iodine, and ironically when we start eating less salty processed foods we are also less exposed to the involuntary iodine supplementation that goes with that territory. (As far as anecdotes go, I think there is a thyroid epidemic going on.)

    Cod liver oil: What’s your stance on the vitamin A content? There is a confusing argument going on in regard to if vitamin A is either synergistic or antagonistic to D. The ancestral template suggests that A in levels available in foods like liver is perfectly fine, but is cod liver oil, as a concentrated source, an ancestral food?

    Liver: This seems to be nature’s own multi vitamin and mineral “supplement”. The problem I see with it is that unless it’s obtained from pristine sources, it may also contain a large amount of toxins. (Think CAFO beef liver vs. grass fed beef liver.)

    Anti oxidants: I note that the more sensible supplement promoting organisation Life Extension Foundation has gradually replaced isolated compounds with various plant extracts in their vitamin products. I use their “Life Extension Mix” occasionally (and in combination with a fatty meal) as if it’s just another food in my fridge on the premise that my diet is probably a bit low in fresh vegetables and organ meats.

    The need for micro nutrients vs. inadequate supply: I think that one could argue that with the assault of “novel” compounds that our bodies have to deal with today, the need for adequate nutrition, including getting enough of the various trace minerals that are used in detox-pathways, has never been higher. Unfortunately, our food supply has gradually become more and more inadequate in terms of meeting this need. The question then becomes how to bridge the gap in a practical, affordable way. The task seems daunting since we can’t even know if foods that traditionally have provided adequate levels of the nutrients we need are really doing so today. (Food for thought!)

    • Vitamin D: In line with your general line of thought, I now think that the suggested 80 ng/ml target for vitamin D blood levels for cancer protection as suggested by the Vitamin D Council seems dubious. As far as I know no study has ever checked levels in hunter gatherers, and absolutely no-one has controlled for numerous potential contextual factors. A post at Hyperlipid discussing how the amount of meat in the diet may modulate the need for vitamin D, e.g, rickets only occurring when meat intake is low, really got me thinking. (I’m now happy with my 50 ng/dl level, and will not try to ramp up to reach 80.)

      I don’t recommend 80 as the target, as there is some research suggesting levels that high may cause harm. 50-60 is probably a good range in line with historical levels.

      Iodine: What do you think of iodine? American soils seem to be particularly deficient in iodine, and ironically when we start eating less salty processed foods we are also less exposed to the involuntary iodine supplementation that goes with that territory. (As far as anecdotes go, I think there is a thyroid epidemic going on.)

      This is a tricky one. Yes, soils are deficient. But people eating a SAD are probably getting more than they need through fortified foods and iodized salt. The other problem is that 90% of people with hypothyroidism actually have autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD). I know some are big on supplementing with iodine in these conditions, but that could potentially exacerbate the autoimmune attack and worsen the condition. I think the answer to this one really depends on the person and their situation.

      Cod liver oil: What’s your stance on the vitamin A content? There is a confusing argument going on in regard to if vitamin A is either synergistic or antagonistic to D. The ancestral template suggests that A in levels available in foods like liver is perfectly fine, but is cod liver oil, as a concentrated source, an ancestral food?

      The vitamin A studies suggesting antagonism demonstrate correlation, not causation. Have your read Chris Masterjohn’s articles, here and here, on the subject? Fish liver is an ancestral food for some populations, and liver from other animals as you know is the most nutrient-dense food on the planet. Liver from all animals is high in vitamin A. I trust the wisdom of nature and thousands of years of evolution better than a few studies that don’t even demonstrate causation.

      Liver: This seems to be nature’s own multi vitamin and mineral “supplement”. The problem I see with it is that unless it’s obtained from pristine sources, it may also contain a large amount of toxins. (Think CAFO beef liver vs. grass fed beef liver.)

      Yes, although more toxins are stored in fatty tissue than in the liver. I would be more concerned about eating CAFO fat than I would about CAFO liver (but I wouldn’t really go for either).

      Anti oxidants: I note that the more sensible supplement promoting organisation Life Extension Foundation has gradually replaced isolated compounds with various plant extracts in their vitamin products. I use their “Life Extension Mix” occasionally (and in combination with a fatty meal) as if it’s just another food in my fridge on the premise that my diet is probably a bit low in fresh vegetables and organ meats.

      I’m not convinced at all of the need for antioxidant supplementation, above and beyond what we get from fresh foods. I am very skeptical, also, of even the “whole-food” supplements, knowing what I know about some of them. My understanding from talking to people in the field is that not all nutrients in these products need to be in their whole-food complexes. What often happens is they put synthetic nutrients in a base of rice bran or something like that, and then call it “whole-food”. Another way to scam people.

      The need for micro nutrients vs. inadequate supply: I think that one could argue that with the assault of “novel” compounds that our bodies have to deal with today, the need for adequate nutrition, including getting enough of the various trace minerals that are used in detox-pathways, has never been higher. Unfortunately, our food supply has gradually become more and more inadequate in terms of meeting this need. The question then becomes how to bridge the gap in a practical, affordable way. The task seems daunting since we can’t even know if foods that traditionally have provided adequate levels of the nutrients we need are really doing so today. (Food for thought!)

      I do agree that toxic loads in the environment and in our bodies are higher these days. I’m just not convinced that addressing this through supplements is the best way to go about it. In my mind it further raises the importance of medicinal foods like FCLO, seaweeds, organ meats, seafood and shellfish, etc. which are more than capable of supplying us with the nutrients we need. As for someone who can’t or won’t eat these foods, then yes, perhaps an argument for supplementation can be made. I say “perhaps”, because of all the caveats I explained above in this comment and in the article.

      Thanks for your comment, Christian.

      • I have used liver as a dietary supplement for years (I say supplement because I can’t stand the stuff). I also take fish oil.

        Occasionally, when I eat something that makes me feel terrible I take some supplements as “insurance”. I’ll feel more confident after reading this post to just let my body and the whole foods I eat do the job.

        Thanks for the insight!

        • Hmm – how to like liver?
          I just do not understand. Liver is delicious. Really. OK, you gotta make it right.

          Use Virgin Red Palm Oil. Yeah, the strong flavored stuff. Sautee at low heat whole onion (dollar slices) to half done. Then add sliced/cut garlic (at least a handful). THEN put the liver in the center. Cook on low heat two 2/3 minutes, flip, cook two more minutes to Medium Rare only.

        • Yes a thousand years of wisdom yet we didn’t advance until the last hundred and rapidly advanced in the last 50. What makes medicine, supplements left out of these advancements? Why are some ok to take to inhibit disease while others are not? Our average lifespan has increased by some 20 years over our great-grandparents so does that mean their whole foods diet was worse then today’s supplemented diet or is your argument wrong? As we advanced more in the last 20 years then humans did in thousands of years I’m sure this debate will go on.

      • Seaweed is the key! 72 vitamins and minerals in a natural whole food delivery. The powdered juice of Kombu is an amazing thing!

  15. Hm, interesting. From where have humans gotten their K2 historically, if it’s not in very many foods?

    • As I said in the article, from the fat and organs of grass-fed animals primarily. Then from fermented foods like hard cheeses, kefir, etc.

  16. Also, I thought bacteria in the gut made enough vitamin K for us?

    That is a myth, and vitamin K and K2 are different vitamins entirely.  The only adequate vegan source of K2 would be natto and possibly sauerkraut, though I haven’t seen any data on the latter.

  17. Good post. Most of what I hear from scientists and scientific-minded physicians is that vitamin supplements are generally useless, but it seems the media and many doctors are still catching up.
     
    I’ve given up taking most supplements, though I’m taking some calcium/vitamin D combo at the moment because I heard of some benefit. Also, as a vegan, it seems wise to take a Vitamin B12 since there isn’t much of that in my diet. For omega 3s there is algal oil instead of fish oil, though I haven’t noticed that taking or not taking it affects me at all, but maybe it does invisibly.
     
    Also, I thought bacteria in the gut made enough vitamin K for us?

  18. I haven’t seen much specific evidence that mineral supplementation causes harm, but nor have I seen convincing evidence that it provides benefit.

    It is true that soils are significantly depleted today and don’t contain the same level of nutrients they did a hundred years ago.  However, we can maximize nutrient intake by buying local, organic produce and consuming it as quickly as possible after buying.  The longer a vegetable is out of the ground before we eat it, the fewer nutrients it will contain.

    I don’t know your specific situation, but in general I don’t recommend that people take synthetic minerals unless they have a specific reason to do so.  If you’re eating local, fresh and organic I think you’re probably getting what you need.

    • The idea that storage would specifically reduce the mineral content of fruits and vegetables is absurd. Minerals are neither volatile nor unstable organic compound, they are physical elements. You can eat rotten vegetables and get the same amount of minerals from them as if you eat them fresh from the field.

    • Honestly, I have a PhD in pharmacology/toxicology. Worked in research was also involved in regulation of pharmaceuticals. I joined here because I found some great articles but this article is appalling. I honestly do not know where to start but will try. While you have correctly quoted results of some studies, your conclusions that supplements are of no use is a very broad generalization to make. To say that, in general, low levels multivitamins, which most of these studies employed, are of little use is a more appropriate conclusion. To refer from these studies that no supplements are useful is absurd. There are countless articles in peer reviewed journals on vitamin E alone showing that it is helpful for a number of maladies, typically in a higher dose than what is in a multivitamin and also in different chemical form than that found in most multis. Up to a third of the population is not good at converting cheap folic acid to the methyl folate, the active form found in nature. The former is the man made form found in most multivitamins and enriched flour. So up to a third would get little benefit from this. On the other hand this same population would get great benefit from a supplement that contained the active form of folate, methyl folate. This is the form typically found in high quality supplements. Phosphotidyl choline has repeatedly shown value in treating liver ailments albeit at higher dose than what one would imagine in a multivitamins if it were even included. I could go on for a very long time.

      To say that cheap multivitamins may be of little to no use and even detrimental is an acceptable interpretation of the current data. To extrapolate from this data that supplements are of no value at all goes against thousands of peer reviewed articles in your own field. And BTW minerals are do not degrade. This is basic chemistry.

      • Hi, I have much interest in the supplements that are being advertised as doing such wonderful things for us.

        What do you think of Companies like Life Extension and their research and products..

  19. Thanks for the analysis. I’ve wondered about the supposed benefits of supplements for a long time. Certain supplements such as Vit B6,B12, E, and A make me feel horrible even in low doses if I take them for more than 3 days. I can only conclude that they’re not doing anything good for me and me even be doing damage, hence I avoid them. I do however take Vit D and cod liver oil without any ill effects.
    I do have a question about minerals. I hear a lot of stories about how our depleted soil will lead to mineral deficiencies. I currently take a multi-mineral as “insurance”. Is there any evidence that supplementing with minerals can have negative effects?
     

    • Toxicity is possible if taking in too much of a specific vitamin/nutrient, that is between intake of the food source and/or the supplement, this can cause too high a level on a particular day or days when you took in too much and the body hasnt used it or flushed it out and/or body has has stored it. Back off on the supplements is my advice if your food intake is adequate and contains the nutrients you seek….