Magical Pills

Remember that time Jax was shown to have taken a number of supplements? Stassi was  right in throwing them down the drain and right to be concerned about Jax’s health.

Last night, Frontline, a PBS investigative documentary program, aired a special and long-awaited report on vitamins and supplements. And yes, even those multi-vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin D you think are okay for consumption.

Remember Yolanda Foster’s medicine cabinet? That was filled with various supplements and makes me wonder how many of symptoms or issues could possibly be attributed to the use of those.

I strongly recommend watching the episode here:

A number of takeaways from this investigation:

  1. The FDA does not review any of the products before they are sold. There is very little regulation. Pretty much the only regulation that exists is that they cannot claim to cure specific ailments. But they can say “assist” and “support” without repercussions.
  2. There is no independent verification or proof of ingredients required. For example, nearly 75% of fish oil supplements do not even contain omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. In many cases, food is sufficient enough for vitamins. The example of Vitamin E is quite damning. For one pill, you would need to eat over 1,000 almonds in a day. That much intake of Vitamin E is potentially harmful.
  4. There is little scientific evidence for taking supplements. Study after study demonstrates this.
  5. Tens of thousands of medical emergencies are due to supplement usage. And we wonder if perhaps there are still
  6. A couple companies are trying to implement new technologies in order to verify ingredients. But the need for supplements is still questionable, even if the ingredients can all be verified

And frankly, many of them do not work, particularly diet supplements.

Dr. Paul Offit had it right, the notion of a magic pill is seductive. I wonder if the magic is magnified with bottles upon bottles of them.

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  1. What about prenatal vitamins though? I’ve been skeptical of vitamins for some time, but I took the prenatal because . . . well, because they make such a big deal about it and when it comes to my baby . . .


    • It’s safer and much better to simply eat more foods that are iron rich and contain folic acid. It is a myth persisting that prenatal vitamins = healthy outcomes for babies. When I was eating lunch in a teacher’s lounge recently a colleague was telling us about her own surprise that her OBGYN DIDN’T recommend taking any prenatal vitamins frankly because of the fact that we simply can’t verify what’s in each pill. Diet and fitness supplements seem to be the more harmful (as in leading to liver failure versions), but even if prenatals don’t cause severe complications we have to wonder what’s in them and do they actually work. Completely anecdotally, but they also seem to cause a lot of sickness which can be quite stressful and quality of life disrupting. Obviously, whatever you should take, you should consult a doctor, but I think the FDA needs to really step in with prenatals if nothing else because the myth is persistent, even among doctors.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, unless you have blood work and actually determine if you have any avitaminoses you can’t make assumptions for what you can get through food.

        Intensive culture and ripening of nowadays makes a lot of food a little bit less nutritious than what it used to be (for instance, linoleic acid can only be obtained in an absorbable form through grass fed meat and dairy, a high turnover meat hasn’t had this compound in it since the late eighties). Most Caucasian people present viatamin d deficiencies in the northern hemisphere during the winter months despite myriads of supplemented foods.

        Judgement should only be made based on blood work and we’ll, if you are getting something otc you can’t expect it to have the same level of production control of something you get from a pharmacist.


    • Hi!

      Ultimately you have to follow your doctors guidelines.

      This is great article for the general masses put it skims over a lot of very important issues.

      Prenatal vitamins are important because they often plug a hole when it comes to folic acid and vitamin d consumption. Folic acid is an essential factor for neural development (particularly the notocord and neural tube) and it can prevent malformations like spina bifida. Vitamin d is a whole other can of worms as it depends on where in the world you live and the amount of melanine in your skin. What is not mentioned in the pbs doc is that, the reason why a lot of supplements cannot be claimed as helpful is because controls are not properly set, intake is not normalized and fully monitored (they just send people home with a box of pills and hope they won’t skip intake, they also often to not control for lifestyle, type of diet or activity).

      The claims for improper composition of supplements only applies to otc stuff. When you get it through a proper pharmacist you do get proper dosages (except for a lot of European countries where you have pharmacies and parapharmacies-products from pharmacies are controlled in production, parapharmacies-products not so much).

      I really recommend taking a quick look at pubmed regarding the importance of folic acid in pregnancy. Be critical, remember that these are opinion articles on the internet and not absolutely medical truth as that is quite nuanced and very personal.


      • Prenatal vitamins are just as unregulated as other vitamins and supplements, so there is still just as much potential for those issues as with other vitamins and supplements. It also seems that PRESCRIPTION prenatals exist under a nebulous banner too- they are low priority by the FDA and they are ALSO unregulated:

        Additionally, it is folate that is may actually be better for pregnancy– folic acid is the synthetic form of form that isn’t exactly bioidentical to folate. It is just that many Americans don’t eat a varied enough diet, thus why supplements get blindly recommended- you can get PLENTY and then some of folate through dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, avocado, citrus, beans (1 cup of black beans has over 60% of your daily intake for example), seeds and nuts, corn, celery, squash, and more.


  2. I found this blog a few weeks ago and it is quickly becoming my favorite! Thank you for your insightful and well-informed discussions on these topics. Please keep them coming!


  3. I’m sorry but this is nutty. Sure there are problems with supplements, but to say taking vitamins C and D is bad, and prenatal vitamins, is ludicrous. And to say that nobody will have deficiencies, and that we will always get what we need from diet? That is certainly against modern medicine, just like Yolanda and her heavy metal treatments. I’m disappointed, I had found this blog pretty interesting.


    • Did you watch the PBS special?

      The problem is vitamins, including pre-natals, including Vitamin C and Vitamin D, are NOT REGULATED by the FDA, even though MANY people presume they are. Study after study shows that we do not know what is in them and they tend to be more ineffective than actually effective (the only one with mixed results is Vitamin D, but there have been some study flaws: Some people think that only applies to the kookier supplements like I pointed out with Yolanda or the fitness ones that Jax takes, but those undergo the very same scrutiny as those supposed good vitamins: NONE, minimal at best. A lot of supplements and beloved vitamins like C and D and prenatals are manufactured overseas where there may or may not be regulation as to what is in them. Even ones manufactured here, we don’t know.

      If you are actually vitamin deficient, you should adjust your food intake (which yes, getting what you need from you diet is your responsibility, even if you eat only ice cream or only steak or only blueberries, vitamins and supplements will not save you) because the nutrients in food have MUCH better bioavailability than vitamins, meaning your body can identify and process them much easier and utilize them more effectively where needed.

      I strongly recommend to watch the Frontline documentary which is thoroughly researched and even go through their citations, like I did- it is all there, includes some of the top doctors and scientists in the country. I should also note that the peer reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine, linked in the article above, wrote an extensive piece about it as well, citing numerous long term studies and effects:

      Liked by 1 person

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