10 shocking things you should know before buying vitamin or mineral supplements
When we go to the store or search online for a vitamin or mineral to purchase, our first inclination is to choose a product that appears to have healthy ingredients, is made by a reputable company, and looks overall trustworthy.
What many of us don’t realize is that there’s a lot more to consider when it comes to choosing a good product.
The three main reasons why people take supplements are:
they don’t believe their body is absorbing the correct amount of vitamins and minerals from the food that they eat;
they believe that supplements will provide more antioxidants than they could possibly receive from food alone;
they hear about other people receiving some type of benefit that they too want to experience.
Some people go to the extreme and think that taking megadoses of a particular vitamin or mineral will boost their health and override their bad eating habits.
What's a megadose supplement?
Example: Let's say a person hears that vitamin C is a good antioxidant and chooses to take a 1,000 mg capsule of vitamin C each day. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin C for an adult female is 75 mg per day. This means the person is now taking 1333% more than the recommended daily dose.
The National Institute of Health states that most people can tolerate 2,000 mg of vitamin C each day. This tolerance level is called the "Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)." Tolerable, meaning, as dose increases, safety decreases. People who test their upper limits with higher than needed supplement doses also test their body's ability to utilise and eliminate the supplement.
Can you imagine eating 1333% more calories than you need in a single day or giving your car 1333% more fuel? No. So why should anyone pop a pill that contains way more nutrients than their body requires?
The simple answer is — everyone wants a quick fix. What most people don't realize is that ingesting more than the recommended daily allowance of any one vitamin or mineral may actually cause more harm than good as time goes by.
According to Consumer Reports, a company dedicated to unbiased product testing, "megadoses of vitamin C, for example, can cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and other side effects. And [overloading on] supplemental vitamin A in the form of retinol can increase the risk of birth defects and liver damage." (1)
Pharmaceutical Companies Are Getting The Last Laugh
What's funny is, people take supplements as a way of ending or escaping their dependence on pharmaceutical drugs. But guess who owns the most well-known, "trustworthy" supplement companies? You guessed it, big pharma and corrupt Fortune 500 companies.
What these companies would never want you to do is eat more salad and maybe juice a few carrots. Nope. They want everyone dependent on them, sick or healthy, because they need our money to continue to expand (and control the world).
I will never understand why people would choose to take a supplement without fully knowing if they're deficient in the vitamin or mineral they're consuming. While certain supplements, like B12 and Milk Thistle, are generally safe to take daily, unless you’re allergic to them, most other vitamins and minerals are not.
As an example, think about what happens to people who receive adequate amounts of iron from the food they eat. These people probably wouldn't consider adding an iron supplement to their diet. Why? Because we’ve been trained to be afraid of "heavy metal toxicity" — and rightfully so!
What people don't realize is that iron isn't bad because it's a metal; iron is bad is because you can't just pee or poop it out of your system.
We underestimate the intelligence of our bodies. We also forget that our bodies are running on ancient programming. Back in the hunting and gathering days, it was much easier to gather than it was to hunt. Animal meat is the most iron-dense food to consume, but back in the day, eating animals didn’t happen very often. As a result, the human body learned to store away nutrients derived from animal flesh (i.e., iron, cholesterol, fat, etc.) as a way of preventing deficiencies when food became scarce.
This same fact holds true for vitamins and minerals that are fat soluble (i.e., can't be excreted and are instead stored in fat cells). If your body is not deficient in nutrients, your cells have the potential to become overburdened by nutrients that can't be excreted. Then people wonder why fatty liver disease, heart disease, and diabetes are on the rise. We are truly testing the “upper limits” of our organs!
To really drive this point home, researchers pooled data from 19 trials, involving over 190,000 participants who were taking vitamin E supplements (which is a fat soluble supplement). What they discovered was shocking: people who ingested 400 IU or more vitamin E daily increased their risk of death by 10%. (2)
In case you're wondering, the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin E for adults is 22.4 IU per day. People consuming supplements containing 400 IU are taking 1785% more vitamin E into their body than what is required each day.
So, What Does This Mean?
This means you have to be as critical about purported supplement benefits as you are about pharmaceutical benefits. Corporations don't care about us. They just want us to believe in what they're selling in order to turn us into their customer. They'll fund research to make their products sound great and seed the comments section of online retailers with five star reviews to make us trust them.
Online Reviews and Comments Lie
Now that we know who's at the top of the supplement supply chain there's no wonder why people have little faith in anything these days. To make matters worse, corporations know how to market to us and get inside our brains.
As I was reading review after review about supplements and their suppliers, I began to notice trends. Here are some good things to know before you decide to buy a supplement based purely on what other people say about it.
How to spot spam comments online:
Scroll through a few pages worth of reviews to see how many people submitted a quick five or one star review. If they didn’t give any details about why they either loved or didn't like the product, it's probably spam.
If a product has a number of reviews, all given within the same day and time frame, it's probably spam.
When you read a negative review that talks about a competitor's brand, it's probably spam.
When you read a negative review that has little to nothing to do with the product, yup, spam.
Still Want to Take a Supplement?
Go to your doctor and ask for a blood test to check for vitamin or mineral deficiency before handing your hard earned money to supplement manufacturers Nestle, Pfizer, Clorox, etc.
I’m not saying that taking supplements is bad. I personally take a few myself: B12, Milk Thistle, vitamin D, and Zinc (on occasion). Studies do show that supplements can be beneficial to people who have nutrient deficiencies, but you should treat taking supplements as you would any other medication.
Be extremely critical of what you hear and read and always tell your doctor about your supplement dosing. What’s good for your friend may not be good for you. Some supplements do interfere with medications, so there is no such thing as a one-size-fits all product for everyone. Always speak to your doctor about possible supplement and drug interactions.
Supplement Additives May Cause Illness
From Starr R. R. (2015), it is “estimated that at least 1 in 12 US adults takes botanical dietary supplements known to cause kidney damage; other dietary supplements are known carcinogens, hepatotoxins, hormone modulators, and sympathomimetics. Dietary supplements may be adulterated with dangerous compounds, be contaminated, fail to contain the purported active ingredient, or contain unknown doses of the ingredients stated on the label; be sold at toxic dosages; or produce harmful effects as a result of their interaction with other drugs.” (3)
Believe it or not, there are a surprising number of inflammatory chemicals and processing methods used in vitamin and mineral supplements; even when they claim to be “organic” or “natural."
After researching which supplements are best for people with thalassemia (sign-up for my newsletter to read the guide), I realized that people need to be careful when making a purchase.
To be honest, I was shocked at what I discovered.
Beware of Natural Flavoring
Natural flavoring is an ingredient found in supplement powders and food products that contain "organic" and/or "natural" vanilla, lemon, lime, berry, caramel, or other flavoring.
“About 95% of the 16,000 ton of vanillin [vanilla] produced annually worldwide is made synthetically, largely from guaiacol, a petrochemical, or lignin, a byproduct of the paper industry.” (4)
“Additives such as vitamins or flavor molecules are commonly used to enhance body and taste in flavour reactions and composition in food products. The problem with using these additives, however, is that they are not considered as being natural as they are typically obtained first by purification or chemical synthesis involving one or more non-natural processing steps such as elution from impurities with using chemical eluents, or chemical synthetic reactions.” (5)
"In early 2007, Quest International unveiled a new range of berry fruit flavours thanks to the discovery of new flavour components that precisely replicate the flavours of real fruit at various stages of ripeness. Berrysense is the product of two years of research and comprises strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, cranberry, blackberry, gooseberry, blueberry and mixed-berries flavours." (6)
Beware of "Organic" Sweetener
People are really up-in-arms about corn syrup these days. As a way to sweeten organic food products without using corn, companies are instead using organic brown rice syrup as an “organic sweetener.”
Sweeteners, obviously, help make powders tastier to drink and foods more delicious to eat (which also makes us want to consume them daily). For people wanting to be healthier, it’s unfortunate, but organic brown rice sweetener has been found to contain high concentrations of arsenic.
Jackson, Taylor, Karagas, Punshon, and Cottingham (2012) state: "There are currently no U.S. regulations applicable to arsenic levels in food, but our findings suggest that the organic brown rice syrup products we evaluated may introduce significant concentrations of arsenic into an individual’s diet. Thus, we conclude that there is an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food." (7)
Read Third Party Reports Before Buying Supplements
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review and approve dietary supplements based on their safety and effectiveness. This means anyone can create and sell supplements. In fact, I've seen history and art students on Instagram hawking vitamins. All it takes is a pretty label, cute name, and rich dad to fund the project.
This is why you should always read third party reviews of supplements before buying anything. You'd be surprised how many brands falsify:
the dose people are actually consuming (sometimes leading to overconsumption or higher dosing than the label states);
the amount of toxic substances like lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium in some products;
the inability of a supplement to be break down and/or be utilized by the body; and
the potential for the supplement to be ineffective (i.e., falling short of its claim). (8)
Citric Acid (Extends Shelf Life of Products)
Citric acid is a food additive that corporations use in supplements to 1) increase a person's appetite, 2) provide a sharp, tangy taste, and 3) make items last longer in grocery stores.
What people don't realize is that citric acid is not produced from citrus fruits. Unfortunately, citrus fruits do not yield enough citric acid for all of the food products that use them.
Mass manufacturing of citric acid is instead scientifically derived by fermenting a mold called Aspergillus niger. Citric acid from this mold has a low pH and is therefore acidic to consume.
"Too much acid in your blood can affect the amount of oxygen that reaches cells within your body, ultimately affecting your cells’ ability to function. Highly acidic foods also can contribute to health complications, including inflammation and metabolic acidosis." (9)
Magnesium Stearate (Stops Ingredients From Sticking Together)
Magnesium stearate is a scientifically manufactured salt derived from the combination of stearic acid (from bovine or coconut/palm saturated fat) and magnesium. Companies use it to insure the equality of ingredients being placed into each tablet. This anti-caking, emulsifying agent is also used in makeup products, deodorant, and the iron chelator Deferasirox (along with various other chemicals). (10)
The FDA considers Magnesium Stearate to be "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) and is exempted from the usual Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) food additive tolerance requirements. In other words, studies haven't shown it to be toxic in small doses or mouse studies. The question is, how do people know if they're consuming a "safe" daily dose of this chemical if it’s found in so many different products? Also, what are the long-term effects of daily consumption of this chemical? Again, our organs are paying the price (and taking a beating).
According to Hobbs, Saigo, Koyanagi, and Hayashi (2017), "the health effects of cumulative exposure to magnesium via multiple sources present in food additives may be of concern and warrant further evaluation. Infants are particularly sensitive to the sedative effects of magnesium salts and individuals with chronic renal impairment retained 15–30% of administered magnesium, which may cause toxicity. Moreover, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal effects have been observed with excessive magnesium intake resulting from use of various magnesium salts for pharmacological/medicinal purposes." (11)
With all of this said, I hope you consider Earth's natural resources (i.e., plant-based whole foods) before reaching for a supplement to improve your health. Train yourself to eat a citrus fruit instead of reaching for a vitamin C capsule. Grind up some flax seeds and sprinkle them into your oatmeal before reaching for a vitamin E tablet. Get 10 minutes of sunlight a day to decrease your need for vitamin D supplements.
Consider the fact that fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, etc. are given to us from nature, packaged with a perfect balance of vitamins and minerals (that work synergistically together), and best of all, do not come from a scientist’s laboratory.
Not only that — did you know that most supplements on the market are created from genetically modified (i.e., inflammation causing) corn? These supplements are not considered to be GMO simply because they’re so highly processed that there’s no trace of the food it was once derived from.
If you care about your health, you'll think about all of these facts and fall in love with fruits and vegetables. They are your natural antioxidants that will nourish you and hydrate all of the cells in your body. This is the secret that big corporations don't want you to know, because it's the only way to truly thrive and best way to end your reliance on them.
To your good health,
2) MULTIVITAMINS: What to avoid, how to choose. (2006 02). Consumer Reports, 71, 19-20. Retrieved from http://ezalumni.library.nyu.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.alumniproxy.library.nyu.edu/docview/217493950?accountid=3384
3) Starr, R. R. (2015). Too little, too late: Ineffective regulation of dietary supplements in the united states. American Journal of Public Health, 105(3), 478-485. Retrieved from http://ezalumni.library.nyu.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.alumniproxy.library.nyu.edu/docview/1656052092?accountid=33843
4) Waltz, E. (2015). Engineers of scent. Nature Biotechnology, 33(4), 329-332. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3191
5) Helge Ulmer, Josef Kerler (2016); Patent #US20180303124A1: https://patents.google.com/patent/US20180303124A1/en
6) New Hope Network: https://www.newhope.com/supply-news-amp-analysis/new-ingredients-1
7) Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup Brian P. Jackson , Vivien F. Taylor , Margaret R. Karagas , Tracy Punshon , and Kathryn L. Cottingham Published:1 May 2012: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/ehp.1104619
8) J. Agric. Food Chem. 2003, 51, 5, 1307-1312: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf026055x