Okay, today’s word is “supplements.” These are the things we all put in our mouth that are “supposed” to fill the gap between what we eat and what our bodies need.
The truth is, everyone is all over the board on these things, and up until a few months ago, I think I was, too. When I was younger, I worked at GNC – General Nutrition Center – in Newark, California. I had always been interested in alternative healing; I started being an herbalist in my late teens after reading Jeanne Rose’s Herbs and Things. Here I was, working at GNC, reading The Nutrition Bible and Diet for a Small Planet. In the early 80’s, it was the best and most up-to-date work that I could find and read.
It wasn’t long after that herbalism exploded and Chinese Medicine, TCM, wasn’t far behind. Now we’re learning even more about food, herbs, and alternative medicine. In fact, much of what we’re “learning” is what was available in the past – it was just often ignored. We’ve known, for instance, that “medicines” came to us from the plant form, in nearly all cases. What we forgot is that they are still there, still able to heal, and in many cases, better than the individual pieces.
It’s been hard un-learning all that was conventional wisdom at GNC. Learning more about who makes our vitamins, where they come from (food-wise), what use they are to us, what studies have proved or disproved, and my own body’s experiences have really turned all that “conventional” wisdom on its head. And, like you, I didn’t believe it at first. Yet, the things I learned, the science that I continued to read, has provided me a better way to look at vitamins and supplements as a whole.
In keeping with all this “constant learning,” I went to a seminar this last weekend on Advanced Vitamin Complexes. It was a fascinating step into organic chemistry, whole foods and “vitamers,” biology, and our own human relationship to food. It was engaging, to say the least.
The thrust of the seminar was that a) most chemists perform tests with individual vitamer constituents (a vitamer being the complex of chemicals that make up what we would term a “vitamin”) to isolate reactions. These tests were never intended to place individual constituents of vitamins – like alpha-tocopherol or ascorbic acid – above the need for food. Food, like the herbs whence pharmaceuticals came, contains dozens if not hundreds of co-factors which help the main vitamin complex do its job. There is no accounting for how these co-factors influence our body’s ability to absorb, utilize, and function with vitamin complexes. Here is an excellent definition of vitamer. Please note that it’s from Wikipedia, and subject to change. However, as of this date, it’s fairly accurate.
What does this mean? It means that we should be eating whole foods in places of individual vitamins. How can you tell if your vitamin is real or synthetic? That will be on the next blog. For now, eat real foods. Eat a carrot, not beta carotene. Eat fish, not d-alpha tocopherol. If it looks like a chemical, it probably is. You don’t need it. Really. (More on Standard Process later…)