The anthropological perspective
Over hundreds of thousands of years, humans evolved eating a nutrient rich diet of "wild" uncontaminated whole foods. For example, the mineral intake of our Paleolithic ancestors was 2 to 8 times higher than it is today. The vitamin C intake was 6.5 times higher and vitamin E intake was 4 times ours today. (1) This is all to say that our genetic machinery evolved in relation to nutrient abundance and our genetically determined biological systems still require nutrient abundance for optimum functioning.
Today, however, we live with a dangerous mismatch between our genetically determined nutrient requirements and our low nutrient intake. It is further exaggerated by an unprecedented toxic load of nutrient-depleting chemicals and chronic emotional/mental distress. This mismatch between our ancient biology and our modern life is largely responsible for the rise of degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer, our leading causes of death. (2)
Surviving versus thriving
The human body is a wondrous field of energy, information, intelligence, and biological matter capable of surviving under suboptimal and often downright adverse circumstances. Thriving, however, is another issue and this requires life-supporting circumstances. One major step each of us can take towards creating a life-supporting personal milieu is to optimize our nutrient intake.
One of the ways to do this is to use supplements. Let’s review the 6 major reasons why, in today’s world, we should take advantage of a high-quality multivitamin-mineral supplement.
1. We are not consuming the nutrients we need for optimum health.
As I like to say, we’re not playing with a full deck — we are not providing the body with all the resources it needs to flourish. For example, the National Dietary Guidelines for Americans reported wide ranging nutrient deficiencies of such minerals as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron, and inadequacies of many vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and folic acid. More specifically, half or more of Americans consume only one-half of the minimum recommended amount of magnesium, potassium, selenium, calcium, choline, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K, and vitamin D. (3)
Nutrient-depleted processed food compromises 70% of today's Standard American Diet (SAD). Only 9.3% of adults meet the daily requirement for vegetables and only 12.2% meet the requirement for fruit. Nearly 40% of all adults in the US consume fruit less than once a day, and more than 22% eat no vegetables. (4)
Food processing significantly reduces the nutrient value of our foods as shown in this example of moving from whole-wheat flour to white flour.
Soil depletion and modern farming practices also rob us of nutrients. Even if one consumes fresh whole foods, these foods have significantly lower nutrients levels than they did 70 years ago.
Figure 1. Nutrient Losses in Common Foods 1950 to 1999 (5)
2. Weak digestion and poor nutrient absorption are reaching epidemic proportions.
Sixty to seventy million Americans are affected by digestive diseases, which further limit nutrient assimilation. These include disorders ranging from constipation and GERD, to inflammatory bowel and gallbladder disease, to ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, SIBO, and ulcers. (6)
Many of the pharmacologic agents used to treat these digestive disorders further reduce nutrient absorption and assimilation. For example, 15 million people in the US use proton pump inhibitors, (7) (8) which decrease mineral absorption leading to low calcium, low magnesium, vitamin B12 deficiency, and iron deficiency anemia. Steroids such as prednisone (9) used for autoimmune digestive disorders reduce the absorption of calcium and interfere with vitamin D metabolism while increasing losses of chromium, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, selenium, and zinc.
As our digestion weakens, the incidence of food allergies and food sensitivities is dramatically increased, leading to restricted food choices and further weakened intake and absorption of nutrients. Thirty-two million people in US have food allergies and even more report food intolerances.
3. Low nutrient intake endangers immunity and every aspect of our health.
For example, low levels of vitamins D, C, A, E, and beta carotene increase our risk for infections of all sorts, including flu virus infections. Supplementation with these vitamins lessens the incidence and severity of infection and speeds recovery when infection does occur. (10)
Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that protects every cell, yet it is the 5th most common deficiency in the US, and 60% of adult men and 53% of adult women have vitamin C intakes lower than the ERA.(11)
Vitamin D inadequacy is associated with many diseases including osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, several cancers, diabetes, and is associated with an increased risk of mortality from the current viral respiratory infections. More than half the population is vitamin D deficient. You can learn more about vitamin D deficiency at Grassroots Health.
Low levels of the carotenoid beta-carotene have been significantly associated with increased levels of oxidative stress, inflammation, and disease.
Trace minerals like zinc, selenium, and copper are required in abundance to support immunity. These minerals are commonly underconsumed.
- Zinc, for example, is involved with more than 200 enzymes that mount an antioxidant defense. Low zinc status is linked to higher mortality from pneumonia, osteoporosis, and slow healing.
- Copper aids in our response to bacterial infection.
- Selenium is documented to aid in the treatment of viral and bacterial infections and is required for the synthesis of several antioxidant enzymes. Low selenium status is common.
- Magnesium is a co-factor for some 600 enzymes. Half of us suffer from chronic, latent magnesium deficiency, which interferes with numerous life-supporting enzymatic reactions.
- As Dr. Bruce Ames, noted cancer researcher, reports, deficiency of vitamins B12, vitamin B6, folic acid, niacin, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and/or zinc can cause cellular DNA damage, mutations, and excessive oxidative stress contributing to the development of cancer. (12)
4. Today’s unprecedented load of nutrient-depleting environmental toxins requires more nutrients for detoxification.
More than 7 million tons of pollutants were dumped into the atmosphere in the US in 2019.
1.2 billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed or added to US food crops each year (this is 5 pounds for every man, woman, and child in the US).
Our government periodically tests for average body burden of some 212 toxic chemicals. They report that the majority of individuals have a wide range of these 212 toxic chemicals within their body, from phthalates to chlorinated pesticides, heavy metals, and polychlorinated bisphenols. (13)
Even the umbilical cord of newborns in this country has been found to contain an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants.
This vast toxic load overwhelms our body’s antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral capacities. (14)
5. Many of the drugs and medications used by 50% of our population deplete nutrients.
- Antibiotics deplete calcium, magnesium, potassium as well as certain B vitamins and vitamin K.
- Acid suppressing drugs deplete calcium, folic acid, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin D.
- Statin cholesterol medications deplete vitamins A, D, E, and K, and reduce CoQ10 levels up to 50%.
- Birth control pills deplete folic acid, magnesium, and B6.
- Blood pressure medications deplete zinc, potassium, and often magnesium.
- Hormone replacement therapy depletes folic acid, magnesium, B6, and B12.
- Steroid medications like prednisone deplete calcium and magnesium.
- Diabetic medications deplete folic acid and B6.
- Diuretics can deplete magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
6. The Orchestra Effect: Why We Need a Multiple Vitamin/Mineral
With only a handful of essential nutrients the body magically produces tens of thousands of compounds to create and support human life. Every second an estimated 37,000 billion billion chemical reactions occur within our body, all working together and all fueled by the nutrients we consume.
And, just as an orchestra requires ALL of the different instruments to create a beautiful symphony, so our body needs every single nutrient in adequate amounts for optimum functioning. All nutrients are interrelated, all are interdependent, and we need a full complement of all nutrients for optimal functioning.
- Magnesium is essential for conversion of vitamin D pre-hormone into the active vitamin D hormone.
- Antioxidants work together and need each other. For example, vitamin C recycles and thus preserves vitamin E in cell membranes. And the antioxidant selenium assists in the recycling of vitamin C from its oxidized forms. Antioxidants need one another to function fully. (16)
- The entire B vitamin family works together and should be taken together.
- Low vitamin D depletes vitamin C.
- High zinc depletes copper and vice versa.
- All nutrients work together and as we age our need for all of the essential 40 nutrients actually increases due to weakened digestion, increased DNA damage, and accumulating oxidative stress.
- Deficiency of even one single nutrient can have a rate limiting impact on uncounted essential chemical and biological reactions.
Over decades of clinical nutrition practice, I have found that the use of a high-quality, pharmaceutical grade multivitamin/mineral is one of the simplest actions we can take to promote personal health optimization and to protect ourselves from the vast array of toxic pollutants we are exposed to daily. Such self care is both fundamental, essential, and life supporting.
- Eaton, S. B., and S. B. Eaton III. 2000. Paleolithic vs. modern diets — Selected pathophysiological implications. European Journal of Nutrition 39:67-70.
- Frassetto, L., et al. 2001. Diet, evolution and aging. European Journal of Nutrition 40:200-213.
- Grotto, D., and E. Zied. 2010. The standard American diet and its relationship to the health status of Americans. Nutrition in Clinical Practice 25(6):603-612.
- CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 2018. State indicator report on fruits and vegetables. CDC, Atlanta GA.
- Davis, D. R., et al. 2004.Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23(6):669–6826.
- NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases). Digestive diseases statistics for the United States. Accessed online Sept. 2020. NIDDK, US Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC.
- Drugwatch. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Accessed online Sept 2020. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Drugwatch, Orlando, FL.
- Garza, A. 2018. Proton pump inhibitors: How to deprescribe these nutrient robbers. Pharmacy Times 84(7).
- Kaiser Permanente. Drug information: Prednisone. Accessed online Sept. 2020. Kaiser Permanente Healthwise.
- Iddir, M., et al. 2020. Strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress through diet and nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 crisis. Nutrients 12(6):1562.
- Pfeiffer, C. M., et al. 2013. The CDC’s Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population is a valuable tool for researchers and policy makers. The Journal of Nutrition 143(6):938S-947S.
- Ames, B. N., and P. Wakimoto. 2002. Are vitamin and mineral deficiencies a major cancer risk? Nature Reviews Cancer 2:694-704.
- Crinnion, W. J. 2010. The CDC fourth national report on human exposure to environmental chemicals: What it tells us about our toxic burden and how it assists environmental medicine physicians. Alternative Medicine Review 15(2):101-109.
- Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine. 2015. Body burden and chronic disease and detox. Accessed online Sept 2020.
- Cass, H. 2016. A practical guide to avoiding drug-induced nutrient depletion. Nutrition Review Archive. Accessed online Sept. 2020.
- May, J. M. 1998 – 2009. Antioxidant interaction of selenium and vitamins C&E. Research Project at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH).