Contrary to common belief, there is no value in consuming extra vitamins in the form of supplements, above what is necessary, i.e. not more than 100% of the recommended daily amount. It has been shown that supplements can actually be harmful when taken in amounts greater than what is considered beneficial.

Food Acupuncture: Vitamins & Minerals

Small but significant: Tiny amounts big results Structuring/building/connecting/energizing/repairing/healing…

The power of vitamins comes from the power of real food

Most of the time, supplements generate disappointing results when tested in trials. We must remember that “too much of a good thing can make you sick”. Furthermore, when nutrients are isolated from whole food, they don’t always act in the same way and may, in fact, become harmful. So healthier eating is the best way of getting all your nutrients to keep your body functioning.

Supplements: less is better

It is important to know the difference between vitamins in food and vitamins in supplements. When a vitamin is on its own in a supplement it is vastly inferior. In the whole food, the mixture of nutrients interact with each other, sometimes joining forces at other times cancelling each other out. Vitamins are not as effective on their own and really need the supporting players. Furthermore, we evolved over millions of years to eat whole food and not to eat what is in vitamin bottles. We must remember that genes and diet co-evolved, and with this in mind, it is best to get our vitamins daily from the food we eat.

Vits-vs-veg 2

Food vitamins are more valuable than those from supplements;
eating vitamin-rich foods is better for you than taking vitamin supplements.

The Department of Health sets Dietary Reference Values indicating the minimum daily intake level of each specific vitamin and mineral needed to prevent clinical deficiency in almost all healthy people. This is called the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

If you do not consume an adequate and balanced diet, do not have access to natural products or cannot afford them, or cannot make time to prepare nutritious meals, you may need supplements. Furthermore, there are other conditions, certain groups at risk of deficiencies who should use supplements to meet their needs:

  • All pregnant and breast-feeding women should take folic acid, Vitamin D supplements and iron;

  • Individuals living in high northern or southern latitudes, particularly those with darker skin, should take vitamin D as a supplement;

  • The elderly should take vitamins D and B12;

  • Individuals on low calorie/fat diet should take vitamins A, D, E, K;

  • Vegans should not only take Riboflavin (vitamin B2), but also iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc.


Although we need only tiny amounts of vitamins—and they are present in good quantities in many foods—it is possible to become deficient in vitamins, which will endanger our health.Vitamin deficiency is defined as low blood levels or levels associated with reversible metabolic changes. The concept of deficiency has evolved since vitamins were first discovered, from obvious deficiency syndromes to the subtle effects of sub-optimal vitamin intake on chronic diseases. The prevalence of vitamin deficiency on typical Western diets is higher than generally believed, especially in older adults.

Inadequate intake or low serum levels of some vitamins can be associated with biochemical abnormalities. Therefore, testing for specific deficiencies with detecting low blood levels of given vitamins is appropriate and promoted. Measurement of serum levels of several vitamins is widely available, but there is insufficient information about the optimum blood levels of vitamins, making it difficult to interpret subtle deficiency states. Test results are useful but the meaning of “normal” value is sometimes uncertain.

As well as deficiencies, toxicities (hypervitaminosis) are also possible with vitamins. Although toxicity is not likely to occur from food alone, it is more common when people are taking supplements. It is always useful to talk to your GP about what you are taking and how much. Fat soluble vitamin A is a good example. When accumulated in the liver, following taking high levels of it over long periods of time, it leads to acute or more chronic outcomes. Acute toxicity outcomes include headaches, skin cracking, rashes, bone pain, birth defects, and mouth ulcers; whereas chronic toxicity can lead to liver damage. This should be taken as a word of caution, bringing awareness to keep an eye on how much vitamin A one is consuming.

On the other hand, with water soluble vitamins toxicities are less common and mostly occur from supplements rather than food consumption. For example, high levels of niacin (vitamin B3) can cause skin flushes. Safe upper limits of many vitamins and minerals have been set by the Food Standards Agency (2003 report). Too much of some vitamins can cause toxicity in the body, which explodes the myth that loading yourself with supplements is a great idea. In reality it is all about getting the balance right. Another pitfall is that patients may mix supplements with prescription medications. This creates a bit of challenge, because, every time you mix more than one thing, you increase the potential of a possible interaction that you don’t anticipate.

Studies of the effects of vitamins on the prevention of number of diseases (CVD, cancer) have tended to be contradictory. It is not well established that the vitamins in supplements can prevent or reverse chronic diseases in many healthy adults. Genetic factors may affect how vitamins are utilised; micronutrient needs vary from person to person since a number of factors can impact overall vitamin needs, including stress, exercise, ageing, sex and medications.

It is also important to note that, poor storage and preparation of food can result in decreased vitamin content in the food. It is best to consume food soon after harvest or buy foods that have been frozen quickly after harvest. The sooner a fresh fruit or vegetable is frozen, the more vitamins content that will be preserved.


Vary your diet! Variety is the spice of life!

Experts agree that an adequate and balanced diet should provide all the necessary nutrients, without the need for dietary supplements. A balanced and varied diet—one containing plenty of fruits and vegetables and grains—offers a mix of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that collectively meet the body’s needs. Perhaps what counts is the synergistic interaction of this complex mixture of nutrients, which might also help to explain why clinical trials of single nutrients often don’t pan out.

In conclusion:

We evolved to eat real food:

  • When nutrients are isolated from whole food they don’t always act in the same way;

  • There is a role for supplements in people with special conditions, such as those who have difficulty absorbing certain vitamins;

  • Be mindful of any recommendations: when choosing a supplement do not go with the perceived but “unproven benefit”, but with the one that comes from strong mechanistic justification for potential benefit;

  • Healthy diets containing certain nutrients make sense and are associated with good health outcomes.

In later instalments, we will talk about a number of important vitamins and mineral, and their food sources.


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