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Controversy with Nutrients from Supplements


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Nutrients from supplements or food? Image courtesy of Live Science

The controversy of obtaining nutrients from supplements rather than from healthy food is widely discussed. The overall consensus is that eating natural, organic, healthy food to obtain nutrients is preferred over supplemental nutrition. However, even all the experts say there are exceptions. 

For example, in an article published by the Harvard Health Letter, discussing this controversy says, "The evidence about the benefits of multivitamins is mixed." [1] The consensus is that eating a healthy diet is the best way to obtain nutrients. The counter argument is that if one is suffering from a disease, whether age related or not, is it possible that nutrient supplements may improve or at the very least assist in improving the disease? The overall consensus to this question is yes. For example, what if an individual is on a long trip and has no access to fruit with vitamin C? Yes, eating limes or lemons is preferred, but obviously taking Ascorbic Acid at the very least would help prevent scurvy from developing. 

Consumer Lab answers the controversy with nutrients from supplements by stating, "It is generally best to get your vitamins (as well as minerals) naturally from foods or, in the case of vitamin D, controlled sun exposure.," but qualifies this with some examples of how nutrient supplements actually do help, i.e., "two B vitamins," then discusses the controversy of synthetic vs natural supplements concluding, "Sometimes synthetic forms of vitamins offer advantages over natural forms."

The Mayo Clinic in an article under 'Nutrition and healthy eating' writes, "Supplements aren't for everyone, but older adults and others may benefit from specific supplements." [2] This underscores the point that since rosacea often develops in older individuals that possibly something in the diet is either contributing to the development of rosacea or something, i.e., a nutrient, is lacking in the diet?  The article continues that nutrients may be recommended in certain women and in individuals 50 years and older. [2]

Time magazine wrote on this subject and concluded, "Most experts say that if you’re eating a healthy diet and don’t have an underlying health conditions that interferes with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from your food, you generally shouldn’t need to take supplements. The same vitamins and minerals are often available in food." [3] Again, if you "don’t have an underlying health conditions" so if you have rosacea, is there a supplement that can improve your rosacea?

The NY Times article on this subject had some insightful thoughts, such as, "Crops and animals will not grow properly if soil or feed is missing critical nutrients. Some nutrients are lost in shipment and storage and even more in processing, but generally not to the point that the food becomes nutritionally worthless. Far greater nutrient losses generally occur in kitchens than in food processing plants.....Considering the symptoms of marginal nutrient deficiencies - malaise, reduced appetite, sleepiness, insomnia, irritability and reduced attention span, among others - it's easy to see why so many people turn to supplements as a cure-all." [4]

Scientific American has an article [5] discussing the difference between pill nutritional supplements vs nutrients in food stating, "Foods contain substances other than vitamins and minerals for good health. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain phytochemicals, or plant chemicals, that can help to fight the development and progression of many chronic diseases, including cancer." The article discusses the absorption value of pills vs food and states, "With only a few exceptions, the vitamins in pills are utilized and handled by the body just as efficiently, or more so, than the vitamin forms found in foods. Indeed, some of the vitamin forms (called vitamers) found in foods are less active and less easily converted into activated forms than the vitamers used in pills." [5]

The Journal of Nutrition concluded, "Without enrichment and/or fortification and supplementation, many Americans did not achieve the recommended micronutrient intake levels set forth in the Dietary Reference Intake." [6] This is a strong indicator that supplemental nutrition is worthy of consideration. The article concludes, "Health professionals must be aware of the contribution that enrichment and/or fortification and dietary supplements make to the nutritional status of Americans." [6]

Nutrition.gov has four Questions To Ask Before Taking Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.  

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, Fox News, points out, "Nutritional supplements can be helpful if: you don’t eat a balanced diet; you are a vegetarian or vegan; you are a woman who is pregnant or may become pregnant; or you are an adult over the age of 50. It is recommended that adults over the age of 50 take a supplement of B-12, either separately or in a multivitamin. Women who are pregnant should take iron supplements either separately or in a prenatal vitamin, and women who may become pregnant are advised to take 400 micrograms per day of folic acid." [7]

The general consensus of health and nutritional experts agree with Ms Zuckerbrot's statement above. However, is the above the only times nutritional supplements are helpful?  Are there nutrients that rosacea sufferers are deficient in?  The answer to that question is the subject of another post

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End Notes

[1] Should you get your nutrients from food or from supplements?, Harvard Health Letter, May 2015

[2] Supplements: Nutrition in a pill?, By Mayo Clinic Staff

[3] Foods You Should Eat Instead of Taking Vitamins, By ALEXANDRA SIFFERLIN March 30, 2015, Time


[5] Do vitamins in pills differ from those in food?, Scientific American, Christine Rosenbloom, Health

[6] J Nutr. 2011 Oct;141(10):1847-54. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.142257. Epub 2011 Aug 24.
Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients?
Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer J.

[7] The Truth About Vitamin Supplements, Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, Fox News, FITNESS + WELL-BEING, 

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