Live Longer Retreat: Vitamins & Supplements, Good for You?

Live Longer Retreat: Vitamins & Supplements, Good for You?

This summer, the Telluride Ski Resort and The Peaks Resort & Spa in Mountain Village are hosting week-long wellness intensives titled Live Longer Retreat. The Big Idea is to support your annual resolution to get really healthy and therefore live longer well. Half the year is in the rear view mirror. What progress have you made? 

With an evidence-based, scientific approach to health and longevity and featuring an experienced staff of medical professionals, personal trainers, Pilates and yoga instructors, dietitians, and chefs, all focused on your unique wellness profile, each Live Longer Retreat is one-of-kind in the U.S. 

The intensives, limited to only 10 – 15 participants, include personal consultations, hiking, spinning, yoga, Pilates, talks and demonstrations related to nutrition, cooking classes, and more. Dates this debut summer/fall season are August 19 – August 25 and September 27 – September 30.

The program is led by Dr. Alan Safdi, a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine. Dr. Safdi also has a gift for delivering evidence-based medical findings for healthier living in easily digestible sound bytes.

In the run-up to the retreats, Dr. Safdi is posting regular updates on Telluride Inside… and Out based on the latest, closely vetted research about subjects in the field of health, wellness and longevity. 

This week, Dr. Safdi writes about vitamins and supplements. 

Feel free to sign up now to participate in a Live Longer Retreat   or call 1-877-448-5416 for further information. 

We are endlessly in search of the magic bullet for health and longevity, the mythical Fountain of Youth in a capsule.

Might I suggest a good place to start is at the Farmers Markets, not the pharmacy.

Americans and especially older individuals are hooked on vitamins supplements: dietary supplementation is approximately a $30 billion industry in the United States, with more than 90 000 products on the market.

In recent national surveys, 52% of US adults reported use of at least one supplement product; 10% reported use of at least four such products.

Vitamins and minerals are among the most popular supplements, taken by 48% and 39% of adults respectively, typically to maintain health and prevent disease.

No matter how rigorous our studies are showing little to no benefit for some vitamins, sales never plummet. Fortunately we are all different and we eat differently.

I may be deficient in Vitamin D (which can only be found by a blood test) and need a different strength supplement that someone else. Too much of something can be just as bad as or worse than too little. Vitamin-rich foods can cure diseases related to vitamin deficiency. When we try to deliver the key ingredients of a healthy diet in a capsule, however, those efforts nearly always failed.

There are numerous active phytochemicals in an orange, not just in vitamin C. We are naïve in thinking we know what the best phytochemicals are to isolate from  a fruit or vegetable. It is often the combination of nutrients that is important. It is possible, even highly likely, that the chemicals in the fruits and vegetables on your plate work together in ways that we don’t fully understand and which cannot be replicated in anyone of a large number of supplements for sale

Americans eat less than two servings of veggies a day and just a single serving of fruit. Rarely do we choose the more vitamin-rich legumes or whole grains over refined breads, white rice and pasta. With a diet so nutrient-poor, it’s little wonder Americans flock to supplements.

Supplementation can be important in specific circumstances. Pregnant women should take folic acid to prevent birth defects. Vegans need to supplement with vitamin B-12 to maintain healthy nerves. And if you’re not out in the sun often, you should consider extra vitamin D – although almost all of us may need extra Vitamin D. Supplements support important health needs that our diet can’t always meet.

But beware if you’re taking vitamins or mineral supplements to fend off chronic disease in place of a nutrient-rich diet. It just doesn’t work.

Healthy foods contain a complexity that is lost in supplements.

So the solution is simple: eat nutrient-rich foods like veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains and seeds. These foods pack in the vitamins and minerals we need, plus a whole lot more.

Take your ordinary grapefruit. It combines fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C and folic acid with hundreds of other phytonutrients like flavonoids and limonoids. The way these nutrients interact leads to health benefits that don’t occur when each is taken in isolation.

It’s no wonder then that study, after study, after study finds eating plenty of veggies and fruits prevents the chronic diseases we fear most: diabetes, heart disease, dementia and even cancer.

For the record, micronutrients made of a single element, like potassium, are called minerals; small compounds are termed vitamins.

Unlike carbs, fat and protein (macronutrients) that are broken apart for energy, vitamins and minerals are kept intact for specific uses by our body. And despite their small size, they carry a big load.

Take vitamin C. It helps create collagen, activates immune cells, and detoxifies free radicals.

Or consider the mineral calcium. It supports our bone structure, the contraction of muscle and blood clotting after injury.

It’s no wonder that when any one of these vitamins or minerals goes missing, our health can take a serious nosedive. And though you’re not likely to see a person’s gums bleed from scurvy these days, micronutrient deficiencies aren’t a thing of the past.

Researchers evaluated the adequacy of dietary supplements in the primary prevention of cause–specific death, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and cancer by utilizing meta–analytical approaches. They observed deficient proof to bolster the utilization of dietary supplements in the primary prevention of cause–specific death, the incidence of heart disease, and incidence of cancer.

Vitamins are not inert. They are biologically active agents. We have to think of them in the same way as drugs.

If you take too high a dose, they cause side effects. Sometimes the supplements with lower doses of supplementation near the RDA (recommended daily allowance) may be better than one of the mega dose vitamins. Unfortunately vitamin studies are difficult since it may take decades to show a difference and vitamin users often start out healthier and avail themselves of preventative healthcare more than non-users.

The Physicians’ Health Study II found an eight percent reduction in cancer incidence in the vitamin takers over placebo and men 70 and older experienced an 18 percent reduction in cancer. They were taking normal dose vitamin supplements like Centrum Silver. Taking into consideration the above, the jury is still out especially in women.

Recently there was a study which again pointed out the potential risks of taking excessive amounts of certain vitamins.

Many years ago we thought that since carrots have a lot of beta-carotene, we can take this Vitamin A precursor and put it in a pill to prevent lung cancer. Beta-carotene is the precursor form of vitamin A, which is found in fruits and vegetables. We were really surprised when the study results came in. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables containing beta-carotene can help to prevent cancers, but taking high dose supplements turned out to be linked with an increase in incidence of lung cancer in smokers. We were increasing incidence or growth rates of lung cancer in some smokers in this study.

New research suggests long–term, high–dose supplementation with vitamins B6 and B12 – long touted by the vitamin industry for increasing energy and improving metabolism – is associated with a two- to four-fold increased lung cancer risk in men relative to non–users.

Risk was further elevated in male smokers taking more than 20 milligrams of B6 or 55 micrograms of B12 a day for 10 years. Male smokers taking B6 at this dose were three times more likely to develop lung cancer. Male smokers taking B12 at such doses were approximately four times more likely to develop the disease compared to non–users.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements suggests that men who are age 51 years and older need B6 at a dose of 1.7 mg daily (women, 1.5 mg daily), while for B12 the recommended dose for adults is 2.4 µg daily.

Men and women have different susceptibility to tobacco-induced lung cancer and supplementation with high-dose vitamins B6 and B12 for longer duration may support more rapid cell growth and promote carcinogenesis in already mutated cells in smoking men.

I have to point out that this was an observational study and, as such, it cannot provide proof of causation. There may be an entirely different factor that is affecting the risk of cancer, which just happens to be related to supplement usage. Although the researchers did their best to account for known factors that influence cancer risk (such as age and history of lung disease) there may be other yet-to-be-discovered factors.

High-dose vitamin supplements are equivalent to taking medications and all supplement or vitamins that one takes should be discussed with your physicians. Again, we are simply not smart enough to know what is the best part of a blueberry or carrot to put in a pill, so stick with whole foods and take supplements under physician guidance. There are a lot of beneficial phytochemicals that are not vitamins and just taking a vitamin with not give you those very important compounds.

For these vitamins the risks, benefits, alternatives and unknowns are not well studied. More rigorous experiments needed to be done because of this study so we can actually prove a causal effect on the incidence of lung cancer.

There are a lot of good reasons to make sure you have enough Vitamin B6 and B12 in your diet or by supplement, but we have a lot of work to do evaluating very high doses of these vitamins. Too little of a lot of vitamins may be deleterious such as Vitamin D, but too much also has serious adverse effects. The same can be said for a lot of minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes, so please take these agents with guidance and always ask your health care provider if anything new was recently published.

What about herbal medicine?

Data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Alternative Medicine Supplement showed that 17.7 percent of United States adults had used natural products in the previous year, including herbs and other naturally occurring non-botanical supplements such as glucosamine sulfate (derived from crustacean shells) and fish oils.

There are a variety of reasons to consider these natural products. We often will consider turmeric, fish oil, prebiotics and probiotics, melatonin, and glucosamin,e but we have to continue to review the literature to evaluate the risks and benefits.

The makers of dietary supplements are not required to prove efficacy, safety, or quality of a product prior to marketing. Supplement manufacturers are also not obligated to report post-marketing adverse events to the FDA. In general, regulation of the quality of herbal products is significantly greater in the European Union than in the United States.

Multiple reports of inaccurate herb labeling have been documented. As an example, a study of commercially available Asian ginseng products showed that among products with a labeled concentration of ginsenosides, the actual measured ginsenoside varied from zero to over 300 percent of labeled concentrations.

Increasing data shows the potential for herbal medicines to interact with prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals, so always discuss their use with your healthcare provider.

I have found certain of these products to be very beneficial, but only in the correct circumstances.

We all need to understand and metabolize the fact that taking very high dose vitamins are at our own risk with an unclear benefits. Nutrient-rich foods offer us something beyond abundance. They give us the health that supplements can’t provide. There’s no substitute if you want a long, active life.

More about Dr. Alan Safdi:

Dr. Alan Safdi

Dr. Alan Safdi is a board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, Safdi has been featured on the national program “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts. He has been an investigator in over 581 studies and is President of both the Consultants For Clinical Research and the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute.

Dr. Safdi has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for about 35+ years and is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong. He lectures internationally on the subjects of wellness, nutrition, and gastroenterology.


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