Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist
Ever wonder what makes a good vitamin good, and a bad one bad? Ever ask yourself, “Are those vitamins I’m buying really worth the money?” Do you wonder if vitamin labels can be misleading? If so, this month’s Ask Dr. P is for you. Many of us can dramatically benefit from vitamins, but often end up buying vitamins that are substandard, of poor quality, or spending money we don’t need to. This month’s Dr. P answers some important questions on vitamin labeling & quality. Enjoy!
Dear Dr. P, every company says their vitamins are best. What really makes a good vitamin? Thanks, Lisa
Lisa, a good vitamin is first, absorbable, meaning it breaks apart in you digestive system easily, then gets into your blood so it can nourish your cells. Second, it should be of high potency, with amounts higher than the outdated RDA levels, which are just too low for those of us wanting to maximize our health. Third, a good quality vitamin should be standardized, meaning the first cap has the same amount of vitamin as the last. Fourth, it should be free of preservatives, colors, lubricants, & fillers, which can cause reactions and prevent absorption. Last, it should come from a supplier that uses quality raw materials. What you must remember is that most vitamin companies (manufacturers) use suppliers for the raw materials to make their vitamins. Different suppliers provide raw materials that are dramatically different in quality. This is why there is often such a dramatic difference in vitamin quality between brands.
Dear Dr. P, isn’t vitamin C just vitamin C, or vitamin E, just vitamin E? Thanks, Tom.
Absolutely not! Many vitamins are contaminated with impurities, and additives that have no nutritional value or are potentially harmful. The purity of a vitamin depends on: the purity of the raw materials, (from the supplier,) and any additives the manufacturer decides to add. To complicate things, labels on the bottles are often misleading: First, there is no mandate that the label claim actually be what is in the bottle, so you are pretty much at the mercy of the vitamin company. Second, if any impurities & additives were present in the raw materials that came from the supplier, they don’t have to be included on the label. For example, “Vitamin C 500mg” on the label could mean 500mg of pure vitamin C—desirable, or it could mean 400mg vitamin C, 100mg of starch and/or sugars (the later of which could be omitted from the label). “400 IU of Vitamin E” on the label, might either be 400IU of pure, natural D-alpha Tocopherol vitamin E—desirable, or it could mean 200IU of mixed (not as good) tocopherols in a base of hydrolyzed protein, & sodium benzoate—things you definitely don’t need, and don’t need to pay for. Again, you can’t always rely on labels because they don’t necessarily reflect the purity, potency or the quality that you’re buying.
Dear Dr. P., are the time release one-a-day multivitamins better to keep my levels up throughout the day? Thanks, Helen
Dear Helen. Time release vitamins are coated with shellac to slow dissolution (the dissolving process). This is fine if the vitamin is absorbed throughout the entire intestinal system, but most vitamins are not. They are absorbed early, in your intestinal system. And, because of this, the coatings will prevent you from getting benefits of the vitamin. Sometimes, we even see undissolved, time-released vitamins on X-rays. The best multivitamins are not the one-a-day, or time-release type. They are the 3 to 6 a day kind, taken in divided doses, to keep vitamin levels in your blood consistent, assuring your cells have what they need all day long to be their best.
Dr. P., all the vitamin companies claim their vitamins are well absorbed. How do I know if this is true? Mike
Mike, you should check the label for lubricants that vitamin manufacturer will often add to hasten the tablet or capsule-making process. The lubricants keep the machines working better for increased production, and increased profits. Unfortunately, the lubricants inhibit your ability to absorb the vitamin. If listed on the label, they might appear as: stearic acid, magnesium stearate, calcium stearate, vegetable oil, and ascorbyl palmitate. Avoid vitamins that contain these lubricants.
Dr. P., I’ve heard that vitamins have additives that I should avoid. What are they? Thanks, Katherine.
Katherine, there are many. Some examples include: sucrose, glucose, sorbitol, aspartame (sweeteners); cellulose, starch, vegetable oil (fillers/ stabilizers); propylene glycol (a plasticizer); silicon or titanium dioxide, BHT, sodium benzoate, (preservatives); and yellow #5, blue #2 (colors). None of these are needed in your vitamins.
Dr. P., is vitamin supplementation really necessary for the average person? My husband argues against it. Anonymous
Dear Anonymous, unless you breathe unpolluted air, have an unprocessed, pesticide & antibiotic free, nutrient-dense diet, have several servings of fruits & vegetables daily, have little stress, no digestive or absorption problems, or other health issues; and, have maximum energy, vitality, and never get sick, then you probably need and can benefit from vitamin supplementation. Having said that, understand that vitamins are one small part of having the best health possible. To understand & address your unique needs, vitamins, nutrition, stress management & otherwise, see your naturopathic doctor. He or she will be able to get you on track so you can be your best. Have a great month!
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