Vitamins…a 27 billion dollar folly?


An April 13 article by Madison Park on CNN.com led off with the following: “As more than half of U.S. adults are popping vitamins and supplements, the question remains — has it made Americans healthier?”

Americans take $27 billion worth of vitamin supplements every year, yet have by far the highest cost of health care (disease care) in the world.

The short answer is NO. While the use of vitamins has been steadily increasing in recent decades, there has been no corresponding improvement in health. Just the opposite in fact. Everyone knows that obesity and type 2 diabetes are both on a meteoric rise while cancer and heart disease both continue to take their horrific tolls.

That rise (in vitamin use), from 42% in 1988 to 53% in 2006, has fueled the growth of the supplement industry to a $27 billion behemoth, according to Consumer Reports. The most popular supplements are multivitamins, used by 39% of U.S. adults in 2006. (See link to complete article at the end of this post.)

In addition to the obesity and chronic disease, Americans continue to use prescription drugs in record numbers. What’s wrong? We all know down deep inside that we’re eating a very unhealthy diet — and then we’re offered offered all these vitamins that we are led to believe will take care of the nutrients that were not getting from our food. WRONG! As the article said…

Some consumers mistakenly view supplements as a way to make up for a poor diet. “It’s a Band-Aid approach to think you can eat poorly and just take a vitamin and you’ll be equal to another person who eats well and exercises and takes care of their health and gets regular checkups,” Avitzur said. “There’s no substitute for a healthy lifestyle.”

As for evidence that our massive use of vitamins is doing any good, the article reported: “Several epidemiological studies showed there was no significant difference between people who take supplements and those who do not, said Anding, a registered dietitian and director of sports nutrition at Texas Children’s Hospital.”

Bottom line. As Dr. Campbell and all five of the enlightened physicians featured in our book will tell you, “Our bodies were designed to derive our nutrients from our food.” Dr. Campbell often talks about the “symphony” of chemical reactions that take place in the body when you feed it the natural diet for our species — whole plants in nature’s package.

So what, if any, vitamins should we take? From the research we did for our book, I concluded that I would follow the simple advice of Dr. T. Colin Campbell:

  • Since plants don’t contain B 12, it might be a good idea to take a supplement.
  • The body is supposed to get vitamin D from the sun. But, in the winter up north, it might be a good idea to take a supplement. (See related post)

Dr. John McDougall doesn’t entirely agree with Dr. Campbell on this topic. He shares his views, particularly on Vitamin D, in this short video.

Everyone must choose what they feel is best for them and their families. In my own case, I take an occasional vitamin D tablet in the dead of winter in New England. Recently, Dr. Campbell told me that the only vitamin that he takes himself is an occasional B12 — at the insistence of his wife Karen. He spends his winters in relatively mild North Carolina — as compared to New England or to his home of Ithaca, NY.

A word of caution. Not only is it very doubtful that our vitamin supplements are doing us any good, there is evidence that some of them are doing some damage. Noting that you can’t always believe what you hear on the evening news, in his book The China Study, Dr. Campbell commented on omega-3’s from a 1999 Harvard study: “Contrary to the predominant hypothesis, we found an increased risk of breast cancer associated with omega-3 fats from fish.”

What is the answer? Moving as quickly as you can — back to the natural diet for our species….a diet that derives the vast majority of its calories from whole plant foods — still in nature’s package.

J. Morris Hicks, author and activist. Working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

If you like what you see here, you may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4-Leaf page. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

If you’d like to order our book on Amazon,  visit our BookStore now.

—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com

PS: Occasionally an unauthorized ad may appear beneath a blog post. It is controlled by WordPress (a totally free hosting service). I do not approve or personally benefit whatsoever from any ad that might ever appear on this site. I apologize and urge you to please disregard. 

Entire April 13 article on vitamin supplements – CNN.com.

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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4 Responses to Vitamins…a 27 billion dollar folly?

  1. Marleen Govaert - Nauts says:

    Thank you very much for your elaborate reply!

  2. Marleen Govaert - Nauts says:

    1. What do you think about the Moringa plant as a natural source of vitamins and antioxidants?
    2. Do you think Chia seeds are a useful addition to our diet?
    3. If plants don’t supply us with vitamin B12, doesn’t this implicate that man can’t live on plants alone and that our body needs at least a little milk or cheese from time to time?
    I really don’t want to take the synthetic form of vitamin B12.

    • jmorrishicks says:

      Since I have not studied the Moringa or the Chia, I can’t really comment on their nutritional qualities. But as for your B12 question, here is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of our book:

      To start, it should be pointed out that we don’t need very much vitamin B12. Our body can store it for a long time, and we can go as long as three years without consuming any. Still, it seems strange that nature would not include a source for every essential nutrient in the natural diet for our species. Vitamin B12 is a specialized nutrient, not made by either animals or plants, but by bacteria that live in the intestines of animals. Our prehistoric ancestors derived enough of that bacteria from the plants grown in soil containing that bacteria.

      Nowadays, there are two obstacles to the natural production of B12 in the human body. Many crops are grown in lifeless, over-fertilized soil. In addition, modern hygiene practices remove all traces of dirt and bacteria prior to eating.

      The solution to this problem is very simple for people that eat only whole plants. Many experts recommend an occasional B12 supplement. Dr. Neal Barnard recommends another source; stating that you will also find it in many “fortified products such as breakfast cereals and soymilk.” A quick check of the Nutrition Facts box on the side of a cereal box will show you. To give you an idea how common this practice is, a random check at the grocery store showed that four out of five cereals picked out were fortified with Vitamin B12.

      As for vitamins in general, I follow the simple example of Dr. Campbell and take an occasional B12 sublingual supplement and take some Vitamin D in the winter when my sun exposure is limited. That’s it.

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