by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© December 2009, The Center For Development
An important debate in the holistic healing community has to do with whether the added cost and perhaps the inconvenience of food-based nutritional supplements are worth it. Here is my experience and observations on this subject.
I will define a drug as something that is foreign to the human body. If a vitamin, whether from a food or synthesized, is the same form as that used in the body, then it is not a drug. It is a nutrient.
For example, minerals are all natural products, so none can be called drugs. The form the mineral is in will vary, but the mineral itself can never be called a drug.
A mineral chelate is actually the form of the mineral that is absorbed in the stomach. The only problem with chemically-formed chelates is they are not naturally-occurring forms, but they are not drugs, either. Even many food-based minerals involve chelation, by the way. This is listed on the label.
Most synthesized vitamins are also not drugs, strictly speaking. If a vitamin is not the same as the food form of the vitamin, it must be labeled as a drug.
Certain pharmaceuticals, for example, such as Retin-A, are drugs because their form is altered. These are usually patented substances. If a vitamin, mineral or other product is not patented, it is likely to be the natural form, as these cannot be patented.
DOSAGE OR USAGE MAY DETERMINE A NUTRIENT OR A DRUG EFFECT
Some “natural” products are used in dosages that are so high that one can argue they are used like a drug. An example is the use of high-dose vitamin C, regardless of whether it is made from a natural food or synthesized from corn or some other substance.
This distinction applies to any natural substance, which could even include water, that is used in a non-traditional manner, one could say. This subject is discussed a little in an article that mentions the concept of orthomolecular vitamin therapy, also sometimes called megavitamin therapy.
As a general principle, I do not like using doses of anything that is not natural and I do not like using very high amounts of anything that is not designed to be used this way.
However, there are definitely exceptions when I do use high doses of natural substances, either food-derived or synthesized.
A. Vitamins in higher doses such as intravenous or high-dose vitamins C. This can be very helpful or even life-saving for viral infections, for drug detoxification such as heroine or cocaine addicts and for other temporary purposes.
I don’t like vitamin C intravenously for cancer, for example, because it stops working after a while and then the cancer may come back. In general, I don’t give vitamin C in doses greater than 1000-2000 mg daily over a long period of time for this reason.
B. High-dose minerals for several days are occasionally life-saving to offset poisoning with other, toxic metals. These toxic metals include lead, mercury, iron, copper, cadmium and others. This, however, is very rare in most people and we seldom do this.
C. High-dose minerals and vitamins can renourish a person faster. This is the rationale for some iodine therapy, for example, that is far above the ideal or normal levels. One must be careful with any single mineral therapy, however.
That mineral will interfere with the absorption and perhaps the utilization of other minerals in the body. For this reason, any single mineral therapy, which I do not use a lot, must not be done for more than a few months, in almost all cases.
D. High-dose minerals can stop a downhill slide in cancer, for example, by reversing some kind of hemorraghic condition rarely.
E. High-dose vitamins can bridge over biochemical imbalances and blockages. This is the basis for the orthomolecular treatment of schizophrenia, depression and other mental illnesses. While I admire the fast results, Dr. Eck and I don’t like this type of therapy if the slower, more balanced approach will work.
This I would call a pharmacological effect, as this is similar to how certain drugs work. They block one chemical reaction in the body or brain, which allows others to work more or better.
However, it is not strictly nutritional therapy as we prefer to practice it. The problems with the orthomolecular vitamin therapies is one must stay on them forever, as the defect is not corrected at the deepest level.
This is why we prefer to correct the underlying problem, which is often a toxic metal, a toxic chemical or some other nutrient deficiency, for example. However, this takes months to years, at times, because there may be several “layers” to undo.
Thus, the symptomatic or orthomolecular approach is best at times, especially if one can be using a balancing approach with it. This is often possible, though not done too often because most orthomolecular practitioners do not know how to balance the body chemistry perfectly.
F. Hormone therapy. This is definitely a drug therapy in my view, even if the products are “natural source” and “bio-identical”. A simple way to view this is that one is supposed to make one’s hormones, not take them in pills or shots.
Few would argue, for example, that insulin therapy or estrogen therapy are “natural” by any stretch of the imagination. However, I am sad to say, this does not stop many holistic physicians and consultants from offering bio-identical hormones as a “natural therapy”. For a much larger article on this topic see the article, Hormone Replacement Therapy on this website.
Women at menopause, for example, do not need ovarian hormones. The adrenals and other sites should provide enough of them, so menopause does not justify replacing hormones. I rarely need to recommend hormones if a if a person will go to the trouble of following a nutritional balancing program. Only rarely is a little progesterone needed, one of the safer hormones that are available today.
GIVING DOSES HIGHER THAN THE MDR IS NOT A DRUG USE OF NUTRIENTS
Often, I give much more of a nutrient than the MDR or RDA because scientists know several things:
1. The body needs more because digestion and absorption are not adequate for one’s needs. This may be due to a candida albicans infection in the intestines, parasitic or other infections in the gut, fatigue, poor eating habits, improper food, leaky gut syndrome and a hundred other conditions.
2. The body needs more due to a deficiency state.
3. The body needs more to balance the body chemistry in some way.
4. The body needs more because today’s food is so deficient that even a proper diet and good eating habits do not provide enough of certain nutrients.
5. The body needs more because stress or other lifestyle factors deplete nutrients faster than they can be replaced.
6. As stated above, we may use a much higher dose temporarily to handle an acute situation such as an infection, an injury or perhaps some other acute or even chronic illness.
SYNTHETIC VITAMIN E
In nature, most vitamins and foods are only D or dextro-rotary. This gives them a certain spin. When they are synthesized, however, this is very difficult to accomplish. As a result, the resulting product usually contains both d and l forms of the substance. You can usually tell this because synthetic vitamin E is labeled DL-alpha tocopherol.
In most doctor’s experience, the natural vitamin E products are superior, although the synthetic will work to some degree. Natural vitamin E is always made from food – usually either wheat germ oil or soy oil.
So, for example, vitamin E that is isolated from wheat germ oil or soybean oil is perfectly acceptable. One need not consume the entire oil or the entire wheat or soy plant. It is fine to isolate the vitamin E, as long as it is natural source. Usually this is labeled as such.
This does not mean the synthetic vitamin E does not work or is a drug. This is not quite true. However, it is not as effective and we don’t recommend it for this reason.
Once again, however, the important point is that natural source for some nutrients is helpful, including vitamins D, E, and K, fish oil, flaxseed oil and mostly other oils. This rotation problem does not affect the water-soluble nutrients or the minerals as much.
FOOD-BASED PRODUCTS MAY ALSO BE ISOLATED NUTRIENT PRODUCTS
While some food-based supplements are pure foods, many are not. For example, a food-based chromium made from yeast is still an extract. Even a food-based vitamin C is extracted or isolated from a plant such as the acerola cherry.
In some cases, the entire food is served, but usually not. So be careful with the word “isolated”, since it could apply to both food-based and synthesized or non food-based products.
SYNTHESIZED PRODUCTS ARE NOT JUST STIMULANTS
This is the most common lie told by the food-based product companies. As an example, synthesized vitamin C works excellently as an anti-oxidant. It also helps rebuild tissue, chelate heavy metals and can perform hundreds of other functions in the body.
The same is true of synthesized B-complex, isolated natural vitamin E, chelated minerals and others. Please do not buy into this lie.
While true at time, in other cases the body is very capable of absorbing the synthesized or isolated nutrient such as vitamin B or vitamin C, even if no other food components are provided.
Also, we always recommend people take their specific recommended supplements with a meal and with a digestive aid as well. Therefore, we feel that the absorption question is blown far out of any reasonable proportion.
ISOLATED NUTRIENTS ARE USUALLY NO MORE TOXIC THAN FOOD-BASED PRODUCTS
All food supplements are toxic to a tiny degree. So are all foods, for that matter. In fact, isolated nutrients are less toxic than many food products, a fact that the food-based crowd often overlooks.
For example, a prominent food-based vitamin company that sells to many chiropractors claims their products are quite superior to all others. However, they put oat flour in most of the tablets, perhaps as a binding agent or filler, though I am not sure.
The problem is that many people are sensitive to all gluten-containing foods and products. As a result, these “pure”, food-based products are causing severe reactions, while the so-called isolated, synthesized nutrient products work far better for the sensitive people.
I have found that people vary in their tolerance to all supplements, as well as to foods. To say that one is better than another is always a generalization that is untrue.
SYNERGETIC FACTORS ARE OFTEN NOT IMPORTANT IN SUPPLEMENTS
The food-based vitamin companies also widely advertise that their products are superior because they contain synergetic factors. This is also a specious argument in most cases.
In most cases, it is simply not true. In other words, if we desire to give zinc, we don’t need a copper supplement with it or a manganese supplement or some vitamins with it. In fact, this often makes the product less effective and perhaps inappropriate.
Vitamin C is another common example. We do not need or even want bioflavinoids with it. That just happens to be how nature packages vitamin C in some, but not all foods.
FOOD-BASED PRODUCTS MAY OR MAY NOT CONTAIN BINDERS AND FILLERS
In fact, additives must be placed in most any tablet, in order to make it stick together. It does not matter whether it is a food-based or synthesized product.
The food-based companies claim that their binder is “natural”. However, as mentioned in the section above, this is not always best for everyone.
Capsules are superior this way, though they must contain gelatin or a vegetable-based capsule material. The best would be powders and liquids as they should not require extra ingredients.
Liquids, however, might spoil due to the moisture. So whatever delivery method is used, one will need certain additives, perhaps, or have certain technological hurdles to overcome. To say that one company’s products are superior because no chemical additives are used is nice but not necessarily accurate or beneficial.
Having said this, I deplore vitamin companies that add artificial coloring and other useless ingredients to their tablets. This is reminiscent of the drug companies that add toxic metals and all sorts of useless additives to their products for looks, taste or even “feel”.
LOWER-DOSAGE FOOD-BASED VITAMINS AND MINERALS ARE NOT BEST FOR NUTRITIONAL BALANCING PROGRAMS
Another argument from food-based vitamin companies is that the dosages are too high in the synthesized products. As a result, they say, the dosages are not as physiological.
However, on nutritional balancing programs, often higher dosages are needed. They might not be physiological doses in healthy people, but many people today can only absorb 10% or less of their nutrients. Therefore, they need 10 times as much, or perhaps even 100 times as much of a vitamin or mineral, especially at first, in order to become properly nourished. Once the intestinal tract is restored to health, much less is needed, and often no supplements, or just a few are needed from time to time.
Low dose supplements therefore just require that we give many more tablets or capsules. This is more expensive and more trouble as well.
CHELATED MINERALS ARE NOT AS GOOD AS WHOLE FOODS, BUT THEY WORK WELL IN MOST CASES
Chelated minerals, which are used in both the synthesized and food-based products we have seen, are also often attacked as being less than ideal. This is the truth, but they are still excellent supplements in most cases.
Chelated minerals are those that are synthetically bound to an amino acid or some other type of mineral transporter molecule. There are few other forms of minerals available that are inexpensive and effective, so we use them. (see below regarding selenium)
The best absorbed minerals are in foods. However, foods contain many nutrients, so we have difficulty using foods alone to renourish people when we want to supply more of just one or another nutrient.
However, excellent food is essential and part of any healing program. One way to compress food nutrients is with juices, blended salads and other methods. These are excellent as well, but still not enough, in our experience, to rebalance body chemistry.
So powders, pills or liquid minerals are needed. While not perfect, good quality chelates are among the best forms of synthesized, isolated minerals available. They are far better than others, including very low-dose food-based minerals that have the problems we have discussed above.
Ideally, liquids best. Liquids would be best, by the way, for absorption. Liquids allow more absorption in the mouth. This is the right direction. At this time, however, cost , convenience and perhaps preserving some nutrients are the problems with liquid nutritional supplements. We will see more liquids in the future, most likely, even in drinks sold in the convenience stores.
We are observing much better effectiveness in the food-based Selenium product from Endomet Labs than we are with other selenium products. Even yeast-based selenium is not working as well for our purposes.
This is one case where I definitely recommend a food-based product. In this case, beans or some other fast-growing sprout is grown on selenium-enriched soil. This causes the selenium to be incorporated into the growing plant. The plant is then harvested and powdered, perhaps freeze-dried, to make a capsule.
Another confusing gimmick is that the food-based company that I see the most claims their glandular products are different and calls them protomorphogens. This is just a fancy name for the same thing.
Theirs are different, and this is true. What they don’t mention is they are simply extracted differently by an older process. This does not make them better, as the company claims. In fact, they may be better and they may be worse, depending on the product and the person’s need.
Other companies brag their products are patented. This may be so but, once again, it does not make their product superior in any way. It just means it is synthesized or made in a special way that cannot be copied exactly without legal consequences for a certain number of years.
For example, all drugs are generally patented. They used to be called “patent remedies” and had a bad reputation. They are usually not natural, as natural substances cannot be patented. Many are quite toxic, of course, as we find out years after they are on the market. So beware of fancy words.
SUMMARY: REASONS WE DO NOT RECOMMEND FOOD-BASED PRODUCTS IN MOST CASES
1. We find that the food-based substances often do not work as well as the synthesized or isolated nutrients. Here is why, at least in theory:
a. Dosages are too low in food-based products. This means that many more tablets must be given, rendering the program awkward or even impossible for some people.
b. Specific metabolic formulas are not available at this time. This means one has to mix and match many food-based products to create the metabolic formulas we need. This also causes the programs to be awkward, hard to design and more costly.
Also, often important nutrients are omitted or others included because that is the only way to approximate the correct nutrients.
c. Higher cost, due to more tablets, renders the programs less attractive and more difficult to follow.
1. Only the isolated nutrients provide exactly what we want. When combined in a food or even an herbal product, one is getting the nutrient, but also getting extra nutrients that often counteract or antagonize the desired nutrient.
For example, suppose we wish to give 25 mg of zinc to a person. In a food-based product, the zinc will be combined in a food or herbal form that most likely contains a little copper, manganese, selenium, chromium and other minerals.
However, the other minerals directly compete with zinc for absorption. So, no matter what the label says, the person is not getting the same amount of zinc as he would if there were no antagonistic or competing nutrients present.
Food-based and other vitamin companies may add herbs to their products without realizing that the minerals in the herbs can and do also compete with the desired advertised mineral in the product. This can also reduce the effective dose of the desired mineral.
2. Food-based nutritional balancing programs are often far more costly for three reasons:
a. The products themselves are often more costly to purchase.
b. More product is needed to obtain the same dosage in most cases.
c. Specific metabolic formulas for the oxidation types and other hair mineral ratios are not available. Mixing and matching many more products to approximate the ideal formulas adds more cost.
3. Food-based programs are less convenient due to the larger number of tablets or capsules required.
4. Problems with sensitivities to foods and inexact dosages of desired nutrients and undesirable nutrients that are in the food-based products are other minor problems as well.
HERBAL PROGRAMS HAVE MANY OF THE SAME DIFFICULTIES AS SOME FOOD-BASED PRODUCTS
We would love to use herbs more and will do so in nutritional balancing in the future. However, while this article mainly concerns food-based programs, we tend to run into the same difficulties with herbal-based supplement programs. Problems with herbal programs include the following critical ones:
1. The toxicity of herbs. Especially those from India, China and other foreign nations often contain toxic metals and other impurities.
2. Many herbs are toxic by nature. Toxicity may be okay for the short term, but is harmful in the long run. People often must abandon their large Sunrider or Nature’s Sunshine herbal programs, for example, if they want excellent results for this reason.
3. Herb dosages vary tremendously. This depends a lot on where the herb is grown and how it is processed before use.
4. Herbs have so many combinations of nutrients and other chemicals that designing specific programs with them is difficult.
For this reason, we don’t recommend many herbs. Soon we will compile a list of herbs used in nutritional balancing that we have found are safe and effective for most everyone.