The People's Perspective on Medicine

Should You Fortify Your Life With Vitamins and Minerals?

Do you take vitamins and minerals? Many health professionals think you are wasting your money. What's the story on dietary supplements: healthy or harmful?

We continue to hear from many health professionals that vitamins and minerals are a total waste of money. This popular refrain has been repeated for decades: “If you take vitamins and minerals all you will get will be expensive urine.”

Here is a classic example posted by “Orac” on ScienceBlogs on December 19, 2013:

“I remember during medical school that more than one of my faculty used to have a regularly repeated crack that the only thing that taking vitamin supplements could do for you was to produce expensive pee. My first year in medical school was nearly thirty years ago now; so it’s been a long time. During the nearly three decades since I first entered medical school, I have yet to see any evidence to persuade me otherwise. If you eat a well-rounded diet, you don’t need vitamin supplementation.”

Should you wish to read Orac’s complete article: “Supplements: Flushing your money down the toilet in expensive urine,” here is a link.

We Respectfully Disagree:

The entire basis for the expensive urine argument is based on the premise that people are eating a “well-balanced diet.” What does that even mean?

Now please do not get me wrong. I absolutely think food is the best source of nutrients. When people avoid processed foods and shop locally at their farmers’ markets they are doing everyone a favor. Preparing real food at every meal and steering clear of packages with impossible-to-pronounce ingredients is totally sensible. It’s also unrealistic for many people.

Moms who have to get their kids out the door for school often rely on sugary breakfast cereal or something that was frozen. People in a hurry grab-and-go at fast food joints or take-out restaurants. Actually taking time to cook a real meal has become a luxury a lot of families don’t feel they can afford.

Deficiencies: More Common Than Realized

Tieraona Low Dog, MD, has been studying nutrition for decades. In her wonderful book, Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More, she provides insight into the vitamin and mineral controversy. She points out that 16 million Americans are deficient in vitamin C. Dr. Low Dog reports that the CDC estimates that “at least 66 million Americans have low levels of vitamin D.”

Doctors like Orac rarely consider how many people are now vegans. These individuals may be deficient in riboflavin (vitamin B2) because they do not consume dairy or meat. And by the way, they are also likely to be low in vitamin B12. Many people who are not vegetarians avoid dairy because they are lactose deficient. Those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity must steer clear of wheat, barley and rye. Such grains supply important nutrients.

And speaking of vitamin B12, people who take the diabetes drug metformin or the acid-suppressing medications called PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) may also be low in vitamin B12. PPIs like Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec may deplete the body of magnesium and other minerals. People with high blood pressure are almost inevitably put on diuretics. Millions are also taking ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors like lisinopril. Such drugs can deplete the body of zinc. Many doctors monitor potassium, but magnesium and zinc are often forgotten. When levels of magnesium fall, every cell in the body can be affected negatively.

Dr. Low Dog has a fabulous section at the end of her book listing medications that can cause drug-nutrient depletions and interactions. People who regularly take medications should consult this section and show it to their physicians.

When Doctors are Dogmatic Patients Shut Up:

Cindy says it eloquently:

“I have totally given up on EVER even MENTIONING natural supplements, food remedies, vitamins, etc., to any regular doctor. This is because every time I ever did, I was met with a blank stare and/or complete dismissal of the idea that ‘natural remedies’ were anything but a bunch of hooey.

“I have reached the age of 68 in very fine form and most people think I’m about 45…more than 20 years younger than I actually am!

“That said, it IS incumbent on people to do their own research! And you have to get lots of opinions from lots of sources, so you can ‘average them out’ to find the best representation of ‘truth.’

“By the way, ISN’T IT STRANGE that so many people seem uncomfortable with ‘natural remedies,’ saying, ‘yes, but they could be dangerous’…when prescription medications are the ones with the most dangerous and debilitating side effects! Sheesh.”

We cannot think of three better books to consult on such matters than those written by Tieraona Low Dog, MD.

Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More

Healthy at Home

Life Is Your Best Medicine

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Low Dog and these amazing publications, visit her website:










You can also listen to Dr. Low Dog on The People’s Pharmacy radio show. She was our guest on the topic of boosting the immune system and medical controversies about statins, hypothyroidism and vitamins and minerals. You can listen to Show 1057: How Can You Improve Your Immune Response for free at this link.

Let us know what you think. Are vitamins and minerals a waste of money. We really would like to get your opinion in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Although we are often told to get our nutrients from a well-balanced diet, the drugs we take and the way we eat may mean we need supplements.

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Use common sense. If you need magnesium or Selenium eat a few Brazil nuts, organic at Heath food store. Drink organic apple juice with a tablespoon of cider vinegar. It’s amazing for so many reasons. Never buy vitamins at chain stores or grocery stores. Most are made in China or India etc. There are so many natural ways to feel better without drugs. Check out products at health food stores, for sluggish adrenaline, low energy, mood, and sleep. Ask your local health food store for help with specific issues. At 70 I take zero pharmaceutical medications. Don’t trust them. Most are made in China, Pakistan, and India with little or no oversight. When the public demands to have cheap free drugs, you get pure trash.

I have been taking supplements for over 20 years and several were recommended by my rheumatologist who unfortunately has passed on. Some of us not only have celiac disease and absorption problems. One doctor had me taking B12 injections. So not all doctors are against supplements. All of mine ask for my list and I give it to them plus strength and dosage. Ordering from Puritans Pride is also much cheaper than shopping at a local pharmacy or supplement store which will really get expensive.

I was diagnosed with osteopenia then osteoporosis and was told by MD I had to go on fosamax or boniva due to severe bone loss. Instead, I changed my thyroid regimen to the middle of the nite (most people do not know that there is a 4 hour window restriction with thyroid). I also alternate natural thyroid (armour) with synthnetic thyroid as they metabolize differently. Also, I went on a calcium regimen that includes various types i.e. coral calcium, bone calcium etc and carefully take only 500 mg 3 times per day with food. Also, to aid in absorption I use strontium citrate and kelp. The last bone density test showed I increased 5% and no longer osteoporosis. So I believe taking vitamins and minerals sensibly can be useful. I was a home economics teacher and in college was told the same rhetoric. If we ate all that food we would be as big as a mountain.

I really believe that if you take Vit. c, echinnacha, zinc & garlic at 1st sign of a cold, you might stop it in it’s track.

For a long time I accepted the advice that supplements were unnecessary, but then I decided to analyze my own diet to see if I was really consuming the full RDA of necessary nutrients. I have an ultra-healthy diet: no red meat, no sweets or added sugar, no refined grains. I eat at least half a pound of fruit, a pound of vegetables, and 3 to 5 servings of whole grains per day, as well as low-fat dairy, legumes, fish, poultry, and nuts. I cook most meals from scratch, primarily using fresh ingredients. I figured that I was as likely as anyone to meet the requirements.

For one week I scrupulously recorded everything I ate and drank. (This took FOREVER, by the way.) I then used food packaging information, the USDA Foods List, and Bowes and Church’s “Food Values of Portions Commonly Used” to calculate my intake of 11 vitamins and 6 minerals, as well as protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber. I found that while I got an abundance of some nutrients, I barely squeaked by with others–and that’s assuming that I fully absorbed all the nutrients in the foods I ate.

If I’m barely getting enough of some nutrients, surely no one consuming the typical American diet is doing well. And there are other considerations: calorie-restricting regimens, medications, health conditions, and even advancing age can interfere with nutrient absorption.

I cannot understand why so many health professionals continue to insist that supplements are unnecessary. I have even asked the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter (which I like a great deal) to publish a sample diet that in their opinion offers full nutrition. They have so far not responded to my request.

I now take a minimal multivitamin/multimineral supplement. I feel much more confident that I’m truly getting everything I need.

I became a type 1 diabetic a little over a year ago, at age 54. I’ve always been very aware of my nutritional intake and exercise needs, so that part of diabetes management was easy for me to adhere to. However, due to my insulin sensitivity, many foods that are nutritionally healthy are no longer on my menu. Fruits and grains are virtually gone. Also, my portion sizes have shrunk. After a year, my fingernails started to split and break. I had terrible muscle cramps. After some research, I added a multivitamin, B Complex, and Magnesium (taken at night). In 4 months, my nails are back to normal, and cramps much reduced. I was always a naysayer about supplements when I could eat what I wanted. Now, with a restricted diet, I am a believer. Thanks for this article!

I have been taking several supplements for years, and as a female age 73 I am in pretty good health. I read many items like this one, recommending a variety of supplements. My question is HOW MUCH of each should I take. It’s easy to say “take magnesium, zinc, potassium, etc….but HOW MUCH of each should I take daily? I buy the bottle at Walmart, and take however many milligrams are in one capsule. Is that the right amount? Should I be taking twice that much, or half that much? Sometimes there are two or three strengths available. Is more better? Isn’t there someplace I can see not only WHICH supplements to take but HOW MUCH? Thanks

Dr. Low Dog’s book, Fortify Your Life, provides answers to your questions. That is why we recommend her book so highly.


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