In my years as a clinician, I have heard many "myths" that are spoken as fact in regards to what supplements can be used for, when they should be used and if they are needed at all. I hope to shed some light on several of the more common myths so you are equipped to make the best decision for you and the overall health of your patients.
"If I take supplements I don't have to worry about diet and exercise." This is a statement that I have seen practiced by many people and it could not be further from the truth.Supplements are just that, a supplement to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eating well everyday and getting daily activity or exercise are the foundation of health. If your patients are not practicing a healthy lifestyle, they will likely never reap the tremendous benefits of the potent combination of healthy lifestyle and appropriate dietary supplement use.
"I can get all the nutrients I need from my diet." This myth is at the opposite end of the spectrum from myth #1. Many people still feel that a healthy, well balanced diet will provide enough of the correct nutrients to allow the body to work at its full potential. As much as it pains me to say, this is no longer possible, as our food is too weak to build up nutrient stores in a nutrient depleted body. The data gathered over the last 50-70 years on the nutrient content of fruits as vegetables show a "median decline of 5% to 40% or more in minerals, vitamins and protein in groups of foods, especially in vegetables."
When looking at this data, you would have to eat almost two times the quantity of food that you currently eat to get the same nutrient intake as during the early 1900's. This would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do and still take in an appropriate quantity of calories. If that is not convincing enough, just take a look at the dietary reference intakes (DRI) values set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compare them to the level of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) ingested per capita per day reported by the USDA.
You would see that on average, the general population is not meeting all of their nutrient needs with diet alone. This should be rather alarming, as the DRI is the minimum level set to prevent the occurrence of the diseases associated with a gross deficiency of each of the nutrients, not the level to promote optimum function.
"All multivitamins are the same thing, so I should just buy the least expensive option." The body's biochemistry is complex, including how it absorbs and utilizes vitamins, minerals and other nutrients regularly found in a multivitamin formulation. The differences in the ability to absorb different forms of nutrients found in a multivitamin are quite staggering. For example, let's consider calcium. When looking at calcium within a multivitamin, you may see calcium carbonate, calcium citrate or many other forms.
There is a difference is the amount of actual calcium (called elemental calcium) in different forms, so 500 mg of calcium carbonate and 500 mg of calcium citrate are not really the same amount of calcium. Add to that the different absorption and utilization rates (referred to as "bioavailability") of these different forms, and the equation gets even more complex. While calcium carbonate has the highest percentage of elemental calcium, it is not very bio-available. When comparing the amount of elemental calcium that is absorbed, it is much better to use a supplement with calcium citrate in it because the much higher bioavailability more than makes up for the lower amount of elemental calcium (See Table 1). The use of the citrate form will result in an overall higher level of calcium being absorbed by the body.