What’s in your Vitamin Supplement??

People simply do not realize the rubbish that can be in cheaper vitamin supplements. And by ‘people’, I mean not just the sick, but doctors, researchers and even the scientists who prepare reports praising or condemning them.

Synthetic, deficient and dangerous?

The cheaper versions are often simply synthetic, and deficient versions of the real thing, like Thai copies of Gucci handbags. Should you be surprised when the handle drops off?

But this is your health you are messing with. And matters can get worse when you realise what ‘fillers’ and even toxic ingredients can be incorporated in the tablet.

Unfortunately, most research studies simply talk about ‘vitamin E improving your immune system’ (positive) or ‘vitamin E doing more harm than good’ (negative) without any sensible or responsible comment on the vitamin quality used.

Vitamin E is a classic example of confusion – even the mighty Memorial Sloan-Kettering Medical School gets its commentary wrong on its website!

Vitamin E is available in nature in 8 related forms – 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols. These cousins appear in foods from grains to greens. Memorial Sloan-Kettering refers to all the foods in nature you can find vitamin E within. However, Memorial Sloan-Kettering then refers to vitamin E as alpha-tocopherol, which it is not. Alpha-tocopherol is but one constituent. It certainly is NOT present in all those foods mentioned.

The same applies to UK high street vitamin E, which, thanks largely to EU ‘health’ restrictions is this same constituent form – alpha tocopherol – and, worse, invariably synthetic and made by the petrochemical industry. In a review of a number of research studies by the Nordic Cochrane Institute it was concluded that the ‘vitamin E’ was of little benefit and arguably did more harm than good. A similar issue is found with beta-carotene, which in nature is available in cis- and trans- forms, but in cheap varieties is just one synthetic copy.

To put this in context, experts are agreed that natural vitamin E is effective against ageing, cancer, oxidative damage, diabetes, eye problems and more. Conversely, synthetic petrol-derived vitamin E is an endocrine disrupter!

Unwanted additives

Next there are the ‘innocent additives’. Typically these may include cows’ dairy products, sugar (like maltodextrin), gluten, corn starch, soy products, hydrogenated vegetable oil and yeast.

Then there are warnings on bottles about contra-indications, some of which are relevant while others are little more than scaremongering clap-trap. Inconsistency rules. Sadly, the same doctors who advise patients not to take vitamin supplements whilst taking drugs routinely forget to mention that many drugs have contra-indications with grapefruit and its juice, or with dried meats and eggs.

Fillers and ‘excipients’

The American International Pharmaceutical Council has stated that, ‘Excipients are substances other than the pharmacologically active ingredients, which are included in the manufacturing process or are contained in a finished product. In many products, excipients make up the bulk of the total dosage form’ (Czap, AL, The Townsend Letter For Doctors and Patients, July 1999, Vol.192; pg.117-119).

And it should be noted that such fillers and additives in supplements can ‘cause allergic reactions, impede absorption, and have undesirable physiological effects’. Often manufacturers call such ‘fillers’ by words like ‘glaze’ or ‘natural vegetable coatings’.

Typical compounds include:

1. Magnesium stearate – used as a flow agent to keep manufacturing equipment working smoothly. Made from cottonseed oil. (Concerns have been raised about GMOs, pesticides, T-cell damage and inhibition of drug absorption, but all seem overclaims)

2. BHT (butyl hydroxyl-toluene) – laboratory made chemical, added to various foods and supplements, to prevent rancidity and oxidation. Supplements of it go with claims that it can treat lipid-coated viral disease. But Berkeley Wellness newsletter expresses concerns over safety – the Center for Science in the Public Interest lists BHT in its “caution” column. It may be harmful in high doses.

3. Boric acid – known to have anti-fungal and anti-yeast activities, it has been used as an antiseptic, insecticide and even a flame retardant. It is also connected to DNA damage.

4. Cupric sulphate – Green Med Info is concerned it can contribute to heavy metal toxicity. Can be used as a herbicide, fungicide and pesticide.

5. Sawdust – although you won’t find it on the label some tablets have been shown to contain sawdust.

6. Talcum powder – the same is true for talcum powder, which may have even been dyed.

7. Sodium benzoate – Used as a preservative to stop the presence of moulds and bacteria. Has a known effect against mitochondria.

You get what you pay for

While, there is ample evidence that the levels of the above are small and that they have no negative effects at those concentrations, the question is, ‘Why take cheap supplements containing them?’

In 2012 at The National Cancer Institute, Dr Young Kim produced a study on controlling stem-cell cancer tumours and their re-growth. In that study, Kim identified certain food compounds that could prevent a cancer re-growing, and went on to say, ‘All of the bioactive compounds could be found in quality supplements’.

So what is a quality supplement? The point is that many supplements simply do not fit the bill. Take common vitamin C. Research covered in Cancer Watch at the charity CANCERactive showed that supplementation with standard vitamin C did not increase plasma concentrations of anti-oxidant at all, whereas antioxidant activity from vitamin C from a squeezed orange lasted about 24 hours. According to research, only about 7% of vitamin C from a cheap supplement even makes it into the blood stream. Liposomal vitamin C (which can cost over 40 pounds a bottle) is a different matter. Natural vitamin E with all 8 tocopherols and tocotrienols can cost over 65 pounds.

The crucial questions then become, ‘How much are you prepared to pay for quality nutritional supplements?’, and, ‘Even at these high prices, are you clear you are not introducing chemicals of concern into your body?’

At least now you know what to look out for!

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One comment on “Junk Science? Number 72: What’s in your Vitamin Supplement??

  1. Thank you for this insight into vitamins.
    I was taking 1000mg vitamin C to contain CRPS in my foot. Found lump in breast 2 years later and went off the vitamin 1 year ago I was contemplating if I should resume the vitamin. Now I know not too.

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