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Supplements myth

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Supplements myth

March 3, 2024, 9:19 AM IST 

Growing up, our eating patterns are largely influenced by family habits, leading to a limited diet that may cause nutrient deficiencies. Unlike handling excess nutrients, our bodies struggle with deficiencies. Relying on inorganic or organic supplements to address these deficiencies can disrupt our body’s balance.

Food Supplements Industry

In the United States alone the food supplements industry boasts a revenue exceeding $160 billion and is expected to reach $265 billion by 2030. This industry thrives on confusion and doubt, funding studies to make you question your nutrient intake and promote supplement use.

Depletion of Soil

It is an acknowledged fact that today’s plant foods are not as nutrient-rich due to factors like river damming for hydropower, monoculture farming and inorganic fertilizers. These practices deplete essential trace minerals in the soil. When we use inorganic fertilizers, the focus is only on a few key nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium etcetera. This depletes the trace minerals in the soil and the food it produces. When we use compost made of human and animal waste these trace minerals are recycled back into soil.

The arguments presented by the food supplements industry to point out nutrition depletion in modern plant produce are valid arguments. What is not valid is why should one take supplements instead of eating another carrot or apple to make up for mineral depletion. People are eating fewer fruits and vegetables compared to our grandparents generation. They actually should be eating more to make up for deficiency in nutrients. Eating refined and ultra processed foods further reduce the nutrients in our diet. Our diets are becoming calorie rich and nutrient poor. This is one of the reasons why organic food is richer in trace minerals (besides of course the absence of pesticides). This is also the reason why food grown in the wild, like wild berries, is much healthier.

What About Not-Yet-Known (NYKnown) Nutrients?

A major problem with supplements is that supplements can only be made of nutrients we know about. But there are likely to be many more nutrients in food which have not yet been discovered. So when we take supplements, it creates imbalances in the not-yet-known nutrients.

Beta Carotene Study

To make my point I like to give the example of Beta Carotene, which is from a family of carotenoids. Beta Carotene was discovered almost two centuries ago and has since been believed to be an important nutrient, just like vitamin C, for heart health. Many cardiologists have been prescribing Beta Carotene supplementation for heart health. However a major study recently revealed that the groups of patients who received Beta Carotene supplementation were dying early compared to the groups that did not. This was quite perplexing and further analysis showed that there are actually 750 types of carotenoids and the human body needs about fifty of them. Our body cells have limited receptors to receive these carotenoids. When we supplement only one carotenoid like Beta Carotene, the receptors get flooded with this carotenoid, not leaving enough room to receive other 49 carotenoids. This created deficiency in these other carotenoids among those groups who received supplementation and led to earlier deaths.

Symphony of Nutrients

Nutrients behave in complex ways with other nutrients. Reducing them to a single nutrient at a time and consuming does not replicate those processes. As elaborated by Dr Colin Campbell in the documentary “Forks over Knives”, all nutrients work in a synergism, like various instruments in a symphony. Often you don’t even hear the individual instruments, but the symphony is very pleasing and sounds beautiful. To isolate one instrument and enhance it can spoil the symphony. Each of our bodies is like a symphony played out with various nutrients. We know now, after the discovery of Epigenetics, that each one of us has a very different microbiome composition. So it is like each one of us has a body playing out our individual symphony.

There are many other examples of nutrient imbalances. Here are few more:

Taking Calcium supplements depletes Magnesium because Magnesium is required by the body to absorb Calcium.
Taking Zinc supplements reduces Copper absorbability and taking Copper supplement creates imbalance in Zinc.
Presence of Phosphorus reduces calcium absorbability as in dairy milk.

Impact on Liver & Kidney

After food is absorbed in the small intestines all supplements consumed first go to liver, which is the chemical factory in our body. The supplements get metabolized there and filtered through the kidneys. This increases the load on these vital organs, reducing their healthy lifespan. This impact is only noticeable once we reach an old age.

How trace minerals and many micro nutrients affect our body is a science that is not fully understood yet, and lot more research has to be done. So the safest approach is to avoid all supplements. Vitamin B12 is the only exception because the municipal water supply that we consume is all chlorinated and kills the bacteria that produces vitamin B12.

False Sense of Security

Taking supplements can also create a false sense of security and makes us pay less attention to our diet. All nutrient deficiencies should be compensated by consuming balanced meals. We must add foods to our diet that we have been missing. My recommendation is to eat multiple varieties in each food group and specially green leafy vegetables, berries, flaxseeds and walnuts.

Reductionist Approach

As the science of nutrition evolved a century ago our focus was on understanding the roles of various nutrients in our body’s functioning.

The human mind has limitations and it works better in understanding linear correlations. As a result we tended towards a reductionist approach to nutrition. The role of Vitamin C became clear based on research on sailors who were deprived of fresh fruits and vegetables for extended periods and developed scurvy. The food industry was quick to provide solutions by isolating vitamins to make up for the deficiencies. Creating and propagating this reductionist and deficiency mindset serves the purpose of the Processed Food and Supplements industry well. Nutrition science has focused on these two approaches for the past century and, in spite of the wealth of academic knowledge on nutrition and chronic diseases, one does not see any dent in the growth of such diseases. It begs the question “Why is that so?” One explanation is that the field of nutrition has become more about marketing profitable products than educating people about the fundamentals of health and wellness.

There is a tendency on many people’s part, who are health conscientious, to look for ways to supplement their diet with healthy supplements. How does one define healthy supplements? Some think plant-based supplements are healthy and others think Ayurvedic or homeopathic supplements are healthy.

A cursory analysis of a typical Indian diet plan shows that we Indians consume over half of our calories from refined and processed foods which are empty calories. Replacing these empty calories with nutrient rich calories from plant based whole foods can easily take care of any nutritional deficiencies and should be the way to goAmerican Gut Project

A recent study known as the American Gut project (2013-2018) which involved participants from 45 countries showed some interesting results. It concluded that people who consumed a wide variety of plant based foods (over 30 varieties each week) were much healthier than those who consumed few (less than 10 varieties each week). Their immunity from infections diseases was also the highest in the first group. It is for this reason, I recommend that we should try to consume at least seven varieties in each of the five food group each week. The five food groups being Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Beans & Legumes and Nuts & Seeds. Besides this, one should also eat as many spices as one can each week.


Nutrition is about the synergy of a diverse diet, not just supplementing with isolated nutrients. Embrace variety, focus on whole foods, and question the necessity of supplements for a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Colin Campbell, who is considered the top nutritionist in the world today, emphasizes that one must unlearn everything one has come to know about nutrients and only remember that:


To Read this article on Times of India click here

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