The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1124: Should You Be Taking Vitamin Supplements?

How healthy is your diet? On June 2, 2018, listen to the experts explain why some people should take vitamin supplements while others may not need them. Call in your questions.
Tieraona Low Dog, MD
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Should You Be Taking Vitamin Supplements?

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What is the value of vitamin supplements? There is no consensus on whether most people would benefit. Much of the research on multivitamins does not show a strong effect in preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer. Consequently, doctors often conclude that vitamin supplements are unnecessary.

What Is a Well-Balanced Diet?

Instead, they suggest that everyone follow a well-balanced diet. That is certainly good advice, but it doesn’t seem to be practical for all Americans. For one thing, not all experts agree on exactly what constitutes the healthiest eating patterns. How do you define a well-balanced diet? Do you think you meet the criteria most of the time?

The Experts Evaluate Vitamin Supplements:

We talk with two outstanding physicians in this arena, with very different perspectives on whether vitamin supplements can be helpful. Dr. JoAnn Manson is heading two large studies on supplements, but she believes that most people don’t need them. Dr. Tieraona Low Dog is one of the country’s leading experts on supplements; on the contrary, she says, too many Americans don’t eat properly and could benefit from multivitamins as nutrition insurance. Both agree that people taking certain medications such as acid-suppressing drugs really benefit from targeted supplementation such as vitamin B12 and magnesium.

Call Us:

Listen to our experts explain their approaches and think about whether or not you would benefit from a multivitamin or other supplement. Ask Joe and Terry about whether your medications create special nutritional needs and tell us about your experience with supplements. 888-472-3366 on Saturday, June 2, 2018 from 7 to 8 am EDT or email

This Week’s Guests:

Tieraona Low Dog, MD, is the founder of Medicine Lodge Ranch: A Natural Medicine Academy. She is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements, herbal medicine and women’s health. Dr. Low Dog is a founding member of the American Board of Physician Specialties, American Board of Integrative Medicine and the Academy of Women’s Health. She was elected Chair of the US Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplements/Botanicals Expert Committee and was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Council for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Her books include Healthy at Home: Get Well and Stay Well Without Prescriptions and Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More.  The photo is of Dr. Low Dog. Her website is

JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, is chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I’m 81, was raised in a family who went to naturopaths and chiropractors, didn’t see a medical doc til I was pregnant with my first child, age 18. Very healthy, take vitamins every day and always have, low b.p. Refused warfarin when I was hospitalized with broken leg as my vitamin A takes care of that. A chiropractor friend many years ago said he’d first thought vitamins were unnecessary but changed his mind over the years.

Keep on with your good work educating us about every type of medical issue!

I don’t think vitamins can hurt you – I take them because I know I don’t eat well and I figure that vitamins provide me with what my body isn’t gettng in the way of food.

They actually can hurt you. I read extensively about diet and vitamins. It seems that there are a wide array of phytonutrients associated with the vitamins we know by a single letter, i.e. Vitamin E. When you take a supplement, the artificial vitamin binds to all the receptors in your cells for the vitamin. Then your cells won’t absorb all the nutrients they need from good fresh fruits and vegetables. How foolish we are to think we can create something better than, or even equal to, what nature has already provided for our bodies.

I want to see educational info on synthetic B9 (folic acid) in drug store B vitamins and multivitamins. When taken by those with a mthfr gene mutation, it can result in folic toxicity because the body isnt metabolizing (breaking down) folic into a usable form (folate). The metabolism required is a long process involving many proteins, amino acids and enzymes.

It can be halted near the beginning of the chain. Folate B9, as well as many other processes in the metabolic chain, are critical to the nervous system. So many foods have folic acid because of the FDA requirement of being added to flour. That means bread, cereal, pasta, pizza, baked goods, gravy — anything with regular (enriched) flour.

Very confusing genetic mutation that is very common! And very hard for people with the problem to figure out what to eat. Also hard to decide what to do about vitamin supplements and finding a doctor aware of the problem or who believes it’s real and can provide guidance.

This is the kind of dull comment made by dimwitted people who read too much and understand too little. Just stop trying to appear smart or informed.

I keep shaking my head at all this properganda put out by….who? I can make a good guess.

Let’s see….vitamin supplements are dangerous and cause harm. Harvard school of Public health has assessed that when properly proscribed and taken as directed, the lowest established death toll from PHARMACEUTICAL drugs is around 85,000 people a year.

High estimate is 106,000 people a year.
According to AAFCO there have been 13 alleged deaths from vitamins in 31 YEARS.

Above taken from Marcola site. Have not heard anything g about this from the good doctor who claims supplements are bad for you.

After reading the book “Are your prescriptions killing you”by Neel, jr PharmD CGP, I have come to the conclusion that most doctors are unaware of the harm they are causing. Thank you for your site and radio program. May you always be there.

There is a lack of ability to utilize some forms of B vitamins in 10-20% of the population. This condition is caused by defective MTHFR genes. I cannot utilize folic acid and Cyancobalamin (B-12) because both are synthetic forms of the vitamins. I CAN utilize the natural forms of both, folate and methycobalamin. The worse I felt, the more I took of the wrong forms. I found this out late in life and now avoid these synthetic forms in my vitamins. Folic acid and cyancobalamin are found in “enriched” grains and found even in commercial coconut milk. There can be a link to various health conditions because of this defect. If you have a chronic condition you might want to be tested for this defective gene with a blood test. Before vitamins and processed foods, this was not an issue for humans as far as I can tell.

I am not religious about taking supplements, but I do not trust the foods I eat to give me what I need. So, I do take them from time to time. As we age, we are unable to absorb vits and mins in any form as well as we did when younger. Also, the quality of vits and mins makes a big difference. Some forms are not readily soluble by the body and are wasted. Most doctors get no useful training with supplements. Vits and mins can’t hurt and certainly are more helpful and much safer than drugs, which can’t make you healthy.

I agree with all of the above: supplement with the highest quality possible, and use only what’s right for you. A naturopathic or a functional doctor can be helpful in this process.

Hi, I just want to change your reasoning a bit. Stastics is based on a flip of the coin ie 50% heads and 50 % tails. The human body is based on certainty ie probability of 0.996 to 1. Let them take those big studies and scale them back to the lowest number where the data remains the same. You will find it takes a lot lower n to give you confident results. The Ca/Mg patient of one may have some significance to it. If you contract your arm, the bicept is contracted, Ca, and the tricept is relaxed, Mg. Everything alive with muscles has it. It’s design! Ca/Mg does supplement what is necessary to deter cramps in all only if the cramps are caused by a deficiency. And tell that unknowing MD/host that n=1 may be valid and should not be dismissed.

I can’t imagine relying on the traditional SAD to stay healthy. Statistics are proving people are not [necessarily] eating “healthfully,” so to suggest not taking supplements is ill advised. Since the ’80’s I’ve studied integrative health, been a longtime follower of People’s Pharmacy/Drs. Weil and Tieraona Low Dog. Throughout this time I’ve taken vitamins based on my needs. As a vegan (today), I couldn’t imagine not supplementing my diet — generally speaking I eat *very* healthfully. Thanks for all the great information you provide. I believe people who want to take control of their health [best they can] will do so, and should carefully consider their health condition, any meds they take, etc *before* embarking on incorporating supplements. [Also carefully consider the sources of that ‘information’ you find on the internet on vitamins and supplements!]. Our health and quality of life is that important.

Doctors miss the point that vitamins are chemicals that the body requires. Whether you get this from food or a supplement the given chemical is a chemical. Why all the unbelief by the medical community? Now they say it is the “micro nutrients” that make the difference in food but never say what they are or how they make a particular vitamin in food better than a vitamin taken as a supplement.

As we grow older all body functions becomes less efficient so supplements makes up for these deficiencies. You just can’t eat the amount of food to get the amount of vitamins your body requires. I have gone ON/OFF vitamins many times and there was a noticeable effect. So there is no doubt in my mind that vitamins are required as we get older.

I thank goodness for vitamins. I found a UNC psychiatrist that had me read the book Nutrient Power by Wm Walsh. Had my blood levels tested and my copper was extremely high and zinc low. (Also common with post partum depression). This was regulated and now I’m a normal content person. I lost 25 yrs of my life on antidepressants, lithium, and anti-anxiety drugs. There’s no medical money in vitamins and the medical profession are only puppets of “medical marketing” and we’re the wounded. It’s great to be alive again. Thank goodness I found a great doctor!!!

Jill, I’d like the name of the doctor who had you read the book. I am looking for a great doctor and if the UNC you are referencing is in the Chapel Hill area, please let me know who this is.

Amen to this. My mother took a multi-vitamin every day and lived to be 92 with few problems. My doc tells me to be sure to take your “D” and also the “B-12”. I could not live without those two. I could not get over the energy that B-12 gave me when I started to take it. Money or no money, I’m taking my Vitamins !!!!

Is it possible to summarize the podcast as a printed article? I can’t hear podcasts.

It would be enlightening if when you visited your doctor’s office, they would immediately do a test to determine your levels of vitamins/minerals. That way there would be an analysis of what you need. This is never done because vitamins and minerals are not seen as important (financially for sure). Only medications are the answer. This is absurd and also a dangerous way of thinking regarding health.

As far as mulits are concerned, they were never designed for treating disease, only to possibly fix what you are deficient in. Of course without testing no one will ever know.

I am 91 years old and have taken vitamins my whole adult life. I don’t have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, have good hearing, and my mind is still sharp. I know the vitamins have contributed to my good health.

I always ate eggs, even during the no egg period, and just use my common sense in eating. My mother also took vitamins and lived a good life to 97, and my brother was 100 on Dec. 29, also in good health.

Ever since I can remember the medical profession has been trying to discredit vitamin taking as dangerous. A cardiologist who was treating my husband gave me a tongue lashing about that some years ago.

I see all the ads for drugs that overwhelm us on TV, and listen to the side effects listed, and then hear them say, “Ask your doctor.” I can’t believe it!

Because of losing my gall bladder, and subsequently developing Bile Salts Malabsorption, I have a very strict diet and eat the same things every meal of every day. I haven’t found a multi-vitamin that works for my digestive system, but I do take several other supplements to try to fill in any gaps nutritionally. My yearly lab work is usually on target.

For the last 50 years, my contention is that our bodies are nothing more than a mobile chemical factory….We take in various chemicals and minerals and our body processes them to convert them and make other chemicals, etc, for our body to use…

It’s true, that science has come a long way in understanding some of this, but I afraid we’re still in the learning stages of the process of how the body functions…

Big Pharmaceutical Companies spend untold millions doing research on products they want to sell at a profit…
Little, if any money is spent, doing research on vitamins, and minerals that are already available in the market place, and have already been used by generations of people…

Doctors, seldom, if ever promote supplements of any kind…simply stating that there has not been any research to prove any of them are reliable …

Yet, hundreds of thousands of people die every year from prescription medications. Prescription chemicals that are toxic to our bodies…

I guess it boils down to the same old adage..

First I want to compliment tou for such timely health information safely dispensed for all our benefit. We the Millers went into the vitamin kick after looking at listing of what Centrum Silver had listed as ingredients . used it as a shopping list to order thru such mail order outfits like Swanson and Puritans Pride our own selection of vitamins. . now we don’t take forty vitamins each day but space it out over a week trying to mimic a varied diet like ancient ancestors would experience if very lucky. Daily intake of B-12 Magnesium L-Carnitine Zinc Potassium and Omega 3 Fish oil .We are happy that we picked a good number of heart friendly vitamins to take daily . Hopefully we are getting true vitamins and not some worthless substitute . I want to stress that included is Vitamin E for me but not my wife as it runs contra to some of her medications . We caution our friends that Vitamins are not harmless can be over consumed , everyone’s biology is different so be flexible in deciding what is best for self and always check with medical adviser … We are both in our 70s and in reasonably good health. I quit Smoking 17 years ago and only regret is ever picking up the habit /addiction . I wish to end with a thank you for providing so much great information that we find both interesting and very useful . even our healthcare provider enjoyed our discussion on white coat effect on blood pressure readings.

Doctors need patients in order to stay in business. Since they get next to nothing in any training concerning the viability of vits and mins, they will mostly stick to drugs as a form of health care. Weigh the costs of giving drugs verses the costs of vitamins, and you can see why the medical industry will always push drugs, especially when Big Pharma is calling the shots in most areas of medicine and health care. There is no profit for them in keeping you healthy.

Tom M., I agree that medical practices are businesses, too. And there are only two reasons for business to exist: to make a profit and, if traded, to keep the stockholders happy. It is such a shame that Medicare approves so little, and pays medical providers so very, very little. That is why medical visits, procedures, etc. are so very expensive! They have to overcharge to get any payment at all for their hard work. Hopefully, they get a kickback from some Big Pharma companies! LOL… I remember when drug salesmen (who visited doctor offices with their wares), were known as “Detail Men”!

Tom M, you hit the nail on the head. Everything you said I could not agree more.

Most of us eat the western diet so I am guessing most of us supplement. I admit to my share of fast food, or junk food. I do not eat plants and beans all day. I wish I did but I dont. Therefor I supplement hoping it does make up for the short comings in my diet.

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